30 Burgers in 30 Days: Apple Pan Keeps on Truckin' (Day 7)
The Apple Pan is the kind of place where a counter man might pour you more ketchup before you ask for it, might offer you a napkin before you even think to smear the hickory sauce off your lips. Food is served almost as soon as you order it, the counter men presiding over their domain with stoic, impenetrable efficiency. Long before Father's Office, customers would crowd around the U-shaped counter, hovering like hawks to grab the first empty stool. There's nothing gourmet about the Apple Pan or its burgers, but this burger joint built into an old house is an avatar of the classic Los Angeles fast food burger.
Meat & Bun: The Apple Pan has been around since 1947, and it's still cash only. They only serve two burgers, their standard Steakburger (a beef patty with mayo, crisp iceberg lettuce and tomato) and the Hickoryburger, more or less the same burger but with a tart, sweet, smoky ketchup known as hickory sauce. (Either burger costs $6.75; cheese is $.50 extra.)
Apple Pan puts a nice char on their meat, but it's the hickory sauce that makes the burger. Without it, the Steakburger is pleasant but unremarkable. It's a good example of the upper tier of fast-food burgers, but so is Fatburger. So is In-N-Out, for that matter.
The Apple Pan patty is thicker than a standard fast-food burger and the meat a wee bit more coarsely ground, though it's still densely packed. The fluffy white bread bun is heartier, taking more time than most before it disintegrates in your hands. It's comforting. It's classic. It's nice to know that a little corner of West L.A. still looks and feels like this, but after 60 years, we come to Apple Pan as much for an imaginary slice of Americana as we do for a burger.
Sides: The fries are medium-thick, of a squishy consistency that recalls a junior high cafeteria, though they're golden brown and much better cooked.
Dessert: The banana cream pie here is semi-legendary, crowned with a layer of whipped cream nearly as thick as the trembling mass of custard and banana chunks underneath. The apple pie's not bad, though the moment a slice is cut from the mother-pie, it flattens out and spreads across the plate. Pro Tip: Forget pie à la mode and order it with whipped cream. The wedge of cream is nearly as big as the pie itself. They really ought to ask, "Want any pie to go with that cream?"
The Upshot: Avoid peak hours. Bring cash. Buy a hickory burger. Buy a slice of banana cream pie. If not banana cream pie, buy a slice of any other pie and ask for whipped cream.
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