Is Blue Dog a beer bar that happens to serve really good burgers or a burger bar with an impressive selection of craft beers? We don't know. Fortunately, we don't have to choose. This Sherman Oaks tavern -- dominated, not as its name might suggest, by the paintings of George Rodrigue, but by snapshots of canines -- does burgers and beer, and does both of them well.
We never thought it would come to this. Here we are, more than halfway through our quixotic gastronomic quest and hitting a wall. It's a wall made of ground chuck, fluffy brioches and gooey aoili, but it's a wall. The problem isn't the eating, it's the writing. How many different ways can you say "charred," "loosely packed" or "medium-rare"? Is there any appropriate synonym for "salty" aside from... well, "salty"? Is there any bun beyond the brioche? Let us try.
Meat & Bun: The burgers at Blue Dog have a good fat-to-protein ratio. They are juicy but not greasy. They are moderately ground, densely packed and modestly seasoned. They are served medium-well. The waiters don't ask how you would like your burger cooked. They should. The burgers would taste better if they were medium-rare.
The buns are an improved version of a classic hamburger bun. They do not have sesame seeds. They are toasted on the flat side. This is good because they hold up better, especially if your toppings include egg or grilled onions.
Toppings: The Blue Dog's eponymous burger comes with grilled mushrooms and onions, Swiss cheese, barbecue sauce and two slices of thick-cut bacon. It is large and messy. The bacon is very good. Aside from the cheese, the other toppings seem like overkill. The burger comes with a side of fries. It costs $10.99. That is a good deal.
The Blue Dog has many specialty burgers, some of which seem to be designed more for notoriety than pleasure à la The Bucket's Cardiac Burger. The Chi-Chi Burger ($13.99) is a glorified McGriddle. It includes hash browns, bacon, a fried egg and maple syrup. It is hard to finish one of these without feeling gross. Don't do it. Other burgers include pepperoni, marinara sauce and parmesan or pepper jack cheese, deep-fried jalapenos and raspberry chipotle sauce.
Minimalism is not the Blue Dog's forte. The closest they come is the Batman burger, served, as they do at Cassell's, with nothing on top. Instead, everything is ground into the burger: onions, bacon, garlic, cheddar, blue cheese, mushrooms, roasted peppers and jalapenos. It sounds intriguing, but we were too full to try it.
Sides: The fries are solid. They are thicker than fast-food fries and cooked until their exteriors are lightly crisp. You can get a salad instead for no extra charge. We hear the mac 'n cheese is excellent. Again, we were too full to try it.
Dessert: They serve it. We stick to beer. If you can't decided between a pilsner and a Belgian strong ale, you can choose a $12 flight of four beers from their eight taps. We are partial to the Unibroue Blanche de Chambly for its creamy mouthfeel and light but non-floral flavor. As long as you avoid those wantonly over-hopped IPAs, it is hard to go wrong when pairing a burger with a beer.
The Upshot: This is a cozy, laid-back place to hang out, sample atypical beers and eat good burgers. The cost of a burger at the Blue Dog is lower than in most places, especially when you remember it comes with fries. A very good deal.
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