With Pasadena fired up for its annual Cheeseburger Week, Jan. 7-12, diners are hankering for specially crafted burgers across the city.
While visitors converge to partake in the food scene of Old Town, locals in the know venture farther out to spots like Plate 38, which is as far east as a restaurant can be and still technically reside in Pasadena.
“We’re in a world of our own,” says Robert Humphreys, owner and chef of Plate 38.
The neighborhood of East Pasadena has yet to be recognized as a culinary destination. But for the past eight years, Plate 38 has enjoyed true gastropub credibility as a place to watch sports and sample exotic dishes such as venison, braised rabbit, and escargot.
Changing the menu daily and using locally grown ingredients certainly brought intrigue, but it wasn’t enough to bring in the customers. Humphreys said the catalyst was the decision to sell oysters during happy hour for $1.50 each. The oysters are brought in fresh every day, and due to their popularity, each customer is limited to 12 per night.
“We make no money on them,” said Humphreys, adding that those losses are worth it because they bring in the crowds. The success of the oysters and Plate 38’s extended happy hours fuel Humphreys’ belief that East Pasadena has eager diners nearby, or people are willing to drive the distance for a bargain. Happy hours run 3-11pm on Mondays and twice a day the rest of the week: 3-6 pm and 9-11 pm.
The steady stream of customers has given Humphreys confidence to try more things that loyal customers and newcomers alike would appreciate, such as pumpkin cheesecake, pasta made from scratch, a Bastille Day celebration menu, and cocktails based on the HBO series Game of Thrones.
“We like to do certain things that are off the beaten path,” Humphreys said.
For the occasion of Cheeseburger Week, Plate 38 is plating four varieties: the Classic Burger with cheddar, the Barbeque Burger with blue cheese crumbles, the Smoked Mozzarella Burger, and the Truffle Mushroom Burger with truffle cheese.
Cheeseburger Week gives diners a chance to vote on their favorites. Plate 38 is entering three categories: favorite bar burger, favorite gourmet burger, and favorite cocktail with (or before) a burger.
The secret to creating an exceptional burger is to not mask the flavors with a bunch of ingredients, but let the core components speak for themselves, said Humphreys.
Plate 38 grinds its own meat for the patties, which are grilled and served with a pinkish center for a juicier burger. “I trust the quality of our meat,” he said.
To top it off, Plate 38 burgers are cushioned between soft flavorful buns from Bread Los Angeles, an artisan bakery that adds butter to their bun recipe.
But even if you miss out on Cheeseburger Week, it’s worth a journey to the edge of Pasadena to try something new from Plate 38’s ever-changing chalkboard specials.