It was bound to happen. No writer or eater could wade into the sticky morass of pitting burgers against one another without stirring up a storm of burger anger. The reactions to our Essential L.A. Burger Battle have been every bit as furious as you might imagine.
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On Twitter, readers told us the bracket was flawed from the get-go. Comments on each post through every stage of the tournament informed us why we were idiots. But my favorite reaction came in the form of an email from Sebastian C., who, in reacting to the final matchup between Petit Trois and In-N-Out (in which I declared Petit Trois the winner while In-N-Out was the reader's choice), took it upon himself to poetically stand up for In-N-Out lovers everywhere:
You are slighting the history of the SoCal burger, which in itself should be the benchmark, not some French-slanted concoction too big to even eat. Petit Trois is the aspirational's Outback.
In-N-Out has the sun-bleached soul of generations in the pocket of its starched white shirts, but like the chaparral it keeps growing despite the char. Almost all Southern Californians will experience the Double Double, and despite the problematics of fast food and factory farming it does have some place in the anthropological record of L.A. & environs. Petit Trois never will, and the number of citizens who will dine there proportionate to those who have the In-N-Out urge is about 1:1,000,000, conservatively. Which begs the question: How does the reader's participation in this even matter if in the end you proclaim an esteemed chef the winner? Next: a pancake masterpiece seething with experimental cow butter and rare earth syrup, too massive to contemplate eating, beats IHOP's blueberry Tuesday?
It is about the whole experience, not just the menu item. In the end it is the populist vs. specialist structure that has to go. It's fine if you like the Big Mec burger, and proclaim it your favorite, but do that outside a poll program, please. It is offensive to override the poll, in my opinion, especially as a native who grew up in the tradition that I&O is a treat, not an everyday thing.
Can you imagine the tantalizing prospect of your dad saying, "Let's go to In-N-Out!" The anticipation to see how long the line of cars will be, the wait in the line and what you do — like organize your order before you get to the speaker. Then the gentle and patient voice of the order taker, who you would get to see in just a few minutes, and will be as kind as a nurse in getting to the bottom of your condiment needs. Then there is the moment, whether you sit at the tables or dine en voiture, where the life-affirming, hangover-erasing blast of the burger's chemistry hits you, and everyone in your party is like: Yes, this is the shit.
A sensitive approach would have claimed the popular winner for what it is: a cultural experience of history through taste, iconic for a reason, and different from other burgers because of a philosophy embedded in history and beloved. The Petit Trois burger could be gone tomorrow and tough shit.
Got opinions on my or Sebastian's burger loyalties? Leave a comment, or email me at the address below.