If you're someone who subscribes to the theory that food is the new rock, then you might have see last Wednesday night as a watershed moment. Umami Burger, the L.A.-based gourmet burger chain that's set to open it's thirteenth location next week, released the first of what it's calling its “artist-exclusive burgers.”
The idea of designing menu items around musicians isn't new — back in 2008 Denny's infamously introduced a list of “rockstar” menu items including a Katy Perry-themed “Hot 'N' Cold Cherry Chocolate Cappuccino” and a “Hooburrito,” a chicken strip and cheese sauce-filled abomination inspired by Hoobastank. (Apparently it did to your small intestine what their music did to your ears.) But the slicked-out Umami Burger franchise is no Denny's, of course, and you can be sure that when these burger-marketing gurus pick an artist to design a burger around, it's going to be one with plenty of hipness to spare.
Umami's first candidate for burgerfication was Mayer Hawthorne, the bespeckled singer best known for his Motown-influenced brand of blue-eyed soul. In a certain way, Umami Burger and Hawthorne make the perfect match — they both have just right amount of indie edge without being so subversive or offbeat that you would think twice before recommending them to your cardigan-wearing parents.
Better still, it turns out that Hawthorne is a huge foodie; he even has his own YouTube show called Mayer v. Food, which entails him visting various hot dog/burger/barbecue joints and acting as a kind of watered-down Adam Richman (nobody has alerted the I.P. lawyers over at the Travel Channel yet). In fact, in an interview on the website Immaculate Infatuation, Hawthorne names Umami Burger as one of his favorite burger spots in L.A., praising their “[d]esigner, California hamburgers crafted with Japanese precision and style.” Now that's what we call a tagline.
So what's on “The Hawthorne” burger? How about cognac-infused parsnip puree, cognac fondue sauce, hatch chiles and fried chile straws. According to the press release, the ingredients were said to represent Hawthorne's “flashy but classy” style. It's worth nothing that the cognac was Hennessy, not the Ladies' Man-approved Courvoisier as we might have expected. Fondue, of course, is the official food of sexy fireside rendezvous. And parsnips? Ain't nothing but fancy ass carrots. Surely this was going to be one “smoove” burger.
At the burger's official launch party at Umami Urban in Hollywood (so named, we think, for it's obscure back alley location) hordes of scenesters lined up for free sliders, an open bar, and a DJ set by the man of honor himself — along with a few special guests. The DJ sets were pretty good, consisting mostly of the songs sampled in 80's hip-hop songs and some obscure 70's soul hits pulled from Blaxploitation films. Hawthorne took turns between fiddling with his headphones, doing some light scratching, and posing with his namesake burger/eager fans.
Disappointingly, the kitchen ran out of full-size Hawthorne burgers within the first couple hours, but we managed to sample several mini-burgers. They weren't half-bad. You couldn't really taste the cognac or parsnip, granted, but there was plenty of green chile zip and a nice gooey glob of molten white stuff that tasted vaguely of Swiss cheese. Overall though, Hawthorne's burger gives us hope that musicians and menu designers might be able to cooperate successfully after all. If Umami is still looking for suggestions, may we suggest an Ice Cube-themed “Two-in-the-mornin' Fatburger.”
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