The Bucket is probably most (in)famous for its Cardiac Burger. A heap of greasy onions and mushrooms piled atop bacon, grilled ham and two massive 1/2-pound beef patties. The burger is served open-face, as are all the burgers here, with tomatoes and lettuce resting demurely on an adjacent bun."Where's the beef?" we wondered. Not because it's not plentiful. It's hiding. Slicing through this behemoth, it generally takes three or four bites before hitting paydirt. Putting aside the circus-like spectacle of the Cardiac Burger (there really should be a prize for finishing one of these), it's The Bucket's basic burgers, grilled up and dished out from this unassuming Eagle Rock shack since 1935, that win the day.
One of the best things about The Bucket is that long before you step inside, from about half a block away, you can smell the delicious smokey fumes wafting down Eagle Rock Boulevard. Inside, at the small counter curving around the shoebox of a kitchen, the scent is even stronger, easily breaking the will of even the most devoted dieter.
Meat & Bun: This is a hefty burger, the kind that makes other burgers look puny in comparison, like standing Shaquille O'Neal next to Allen Iverson. The menu says it's 1/2-pound. We're not sure how that's possible, given how much larger this wide, flat, moderately thick patty looks. Maybe it's a trick of the eye, a contrast between vertical and horizontal mass. Maybe The Bucket means 1/2-pound after cooking. Maybe all the other "1/2-pound burgers" we've been eating were a lie. We have no idea, but we do know that at only $7.50, this is a deal.
The meat seems too finely minced and too tightly packed to be house-ground, though the texture is definitely rougher than a fast-food patty. The cooks at The Bucket put plenty of char on the burgers, which is a bonus in our book. The meat itself is a bit dry and a bit grease-soaked and served on an oversized though otherwise standard bun. All in all, an exemplar of the classic, American greasy spoon burger, but with better quality meat and cooked with love.
Toppings: The classic burger comes with a leaf of romaine lettuce, a slice of thick-cut tomato, raw white onions, floppy jarred pickles, ketchup, French's yellow mustard and your choice among a standard array of cheeses: cheddar, Jack, etc.
If you want to get funky, they have five pre-fab combos. The Malibu adds grilled ham and Thousand Island dressing to the standard burger. The Freddy includes Thousand Island and salsa. You can probably guess what's on the Mushroom Burger. Most interesting among these is the Julio, a burger smothered in a creamy orange sauce of cayenne, paprika and other spices.
Sides: After falling in love, or at least very strong like, with the kosher chips at Schnitzly's, we were intrigued by The Bucket's round fries. Instead of the crisp potato discs we dreamed of, they were soft, way too greasy and with barely any crunch. Standard fries or onion rings are a better option.
We're told the hot wings here are killer, but we went for the oddest option on the menu, the Julio Shrimp. Sized like a softball and looking like a turkey, it's a mass of breaded shrimp and fake crab, that's stuck together, breaded again, wrapped in bacon, deep-fried and covered in the aforementioned Julio sauce. Despite the bizarro factor, it's actually pretty good and definitely worth trying, if only once. As the menu points out: "This is NOT for cholesterol counters." No kidding.
Dessert: Nada. If you can still walk, head up the block to Auntie Em's for a coconut cupcake. Or make beer your dessert. For a such an unassuming burger joint, The Bucket has a great little rotating beer selection. It includes a seasonal brew from Eagle Rock Brewery on tap and bottles of Widmer Heffeweizen, Nibble Bit Tabby's red Irish ale and Equinox IPA.
The Upshot: The classic burger is the best, and for only $7.50 it's a deal. A side of fries and a glass of beer make it the perfect meal.