Sunday, May 18, 2014

Where to Eat: Organic Burgers @ Pono Burger

The Eats: Organic, grass-fed beef burgers

The Location: Santa Monica

The Vibes: Laid-back, casual

Good for: Families, solo, groups, kids

When-To-Go: Sunday – Thursday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Friday – Saturday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

The $ Factor: $8-$14 for burgers

The Names behind the scenes: Windy “Makani” Gerardi is the Chef/Owner

The 4-1-1: Dine in the Quonset Hut (pictured above)—a former bunker from the World War II era that’s been transformed into an airy, naturalistic sanctuary

Parking: Free—but very limited—parking is available in the underground parking garage underneath Pono Burger

I’ll Be Back…: For The Paniolo burger!

Earlier this month, I checked out Pono Burger when The Minty invited me to a dinner here in honor of its first anniversary.

On the night of this special occasion, Chef Makani, who’s originally from Hawaii, revealed that while still living on the Big Island, she dismissively scoffed that she’d never move to Los Angeles. Those telling words set her in motion on a path to opening Pono Burger, where the focus is on all foods and beverages being organic, local sourcing and creating burgers that are more than just meat, bun, cheese and a few simple condiments. Her burgers are made from certified organic, grass-fed beef from the SunFed Ranch and are topped with gourmet garnishes, like quail eggs, a housemade BBQ with bourbon and coffee, and buttermilk beer battered onion rings (Note: for those of you who don’t eat beef, turkey and Portobello mushroom patty options are available).

The event showcased all of what Pono Burger's has to offer in a fantastic three-course dinner, complete with wine and beer pairings.

The first course included the Farmers Market Salad—La Oveja Negra organic Manchego cheese stacked upon a mixture of arugula and fennel, Fuji apples and pistachios, and lightly tossed in a Dijon-apple vinaigrette. Even with the apples included, this salad has an earthier rather than sweet kick to it, and the cheese adds a nice sharpness to it.

The second course showcased the three Spring 2014 Creations burgers, just in miniature form.

My absolute favorite was The Paniolo, with smoked cheddar, Niman Ranch bacon, housemade Kona coffee bourbon BBQ sauce and buttermilk beer battered onion rings. It’s literally the ultimate BBQ bacon cheeseburger!

The Kahiki has a Mediterranean flair to it, with roasted bell pepper, grilled eggplant, a housemade tzatziki sauce and cucumber in a light citrus mint sauce.

And lastly, The Palani is an intriguing blend of Herbs de Provence with grilled tomato, goat cheese, bacon and arugula, with a sunny-side-up quail egg. It’s quite a daring blend of flavors, with the pungent greens in contrast to the flavorful crispy bacon and the warm, soft patty.

Burgers were complimented by russet fries and sweet potato fries, topped with fresh thyme, parsley and kosher salt. I’m not even really a fan of sweet potato fries, but these right here, I couldn’t stop eating. Crispy, sweet and addicting!

The last course included milkshakes in three flavors: hot fudge, strawberry and salted caramel with Niman Ranch bacon bits. I opted for strawberry, which was rich, thick, creamy and all sorts of deliciousness. I did take a few sips of the salted caramel with bacon bits shake to see how strong the bacon flavor was, noticing that it’s definitely more subtle and not overpowering at all.

The first anniversary dinner also included two beautiful hula performances and the chance to chat with Chef Makani. Listening to her story, it’s apparent that when coming to L.A., she brought with her a little bit of Hawaii, reflected in every aspect of Pono Burger, from its name to the ambiance and how staff treat customers. Pono is a Hawaiian word, used in the Hawaii state motto: Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono: "The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness." The ambiance, especially in the Quonset Hut, is simplistically serene, with peaceful music quietly playing in the background and accents of natural woods, glowing candles and photos and phrases about organic foods hanging from the walls. Also, “a little bit of love and gratitude goes a long way,” says Chef Makani, as she’s instructed staff to take care of every customer as if it was their mother, uncle, daughter, nephew or best friend that had walked in. 

Congrats to Pono Burger for making it one year, and here’s to many more to come. I’m really excited I found out about this place and will definitely be back, the next time I’m in the mood for enormous, delicious burgers in a calming, relaxing environment.

See you there soon!
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