Monday, January 9, 2017

Hoping These Burgers Can Stand On Their Own

The Stand
5633 Alton Parkway #200 
Irvine, CA 92618

A new year and a new burger concept comes to OC. There are few things you can count on in life. Death, taxes, that it'll rain a day after you wash your car, and the fact that there's always a new burger chain ready to take a crack at the OC market. Last year we were invaded by Hopdoddy, Burger Boss, Burger Lounge and others, while this year is already looking like we will get another round of new burgers to try. We are getting the ball rolling by trying out one of these new concepts, The Stand in Irvine.

The Stand has been opened in this Oak Creek Shopping Center, which is situated at the corner of Alton and Jeffery, for three months now. The Stand is not new, though. They have been in business since 2003, and have locations in Encino, Northridge, Century City, and Woodland Hills. This is their first spot outside of LA County and comes to us from Murray and Jason Wishengrad, the father and son duo, who also operate TLT Food.

While TLT concerns itself with serving chef-driven, California street food, The Stand is more into classic American diner food. They started out as a burger and hot dog stand, but the menu has grown over the years, which is a strategic business plan, to encourage customers to visit more times a week to partake in the more varied menu. Their menu now includes sandwiches, salads, and sides. More menu items seem like a novelty these days, but it looks like it's working with guests, as this Irvine spot boasts four and a half stars on Yelp. Needless to say, I had some high hopes for our visit here.

We decided to meet my parents here for a long overdue dinner of catching up. This 15 table, or so restaurant was pretty lively on this particularly chilly evening. The space is pretty modern, with a video menu board above the register, and one along the side wall, where guests line up to place their orders. There's even a window into the kitchen so you can check out the handy work of the culinary staff. After your food order is taken, they bring it out to you when it's ready. Let's see how everything came out for us on this evening.

When we had finished ordering our food, our cashier happily mentioned the pickles near the register and exclaimed that we could help ourselves to as many free pickles as we wanted. I'm not really too into pickles, but I took a few to try. They were a solid dill pickle, crunchy, but nothing earth shaking about them, but hey they were free.

Our food started making its way out to us in waves, starting with the Stand Fries ($2.50) and the Onion Rings ($3). The fries were pretty good, although they could have been a little crisper and hot. The onion rings are the things to get here. The breading and onion underneath achieved a very delicate balance of not overwhelming the other. Not too greasy, and lighter than I imagined, these were a winner in my book, and they went well with the provided ranch dressing.

Not in the mood for a burger, and proving the point that The Stand is more than just burgers and hot dogs, Katie selected the Cilantro Lime Chicken ($8.25) for dinner on this evening. The grilled chicken was joined on the bun by sliced avocado, arugula, red onion, tomato, and a cilantro lime aioli. Katie liked this sandwich, as the chicken was tender and the cilantro lime was understated, but still added some flavor bursts. She really liked the sturdiness of the bun, and the fresh produce used on this. She felt pretty confident that she's found her go to item on her first visit here.

Next out was part one of my meal, the Big Red Chili Dog ($5.25). This big red is a quarter pound spicy hot dog, and it did have a great pop of heat to it, which I was not expecting. Usually, when something says spicy on the menu, it registers just a little heat, but not the case with this tasty hot dog. Along with the nice heat, this also featured a good snap to the casing, which released a beautifully done beef flavor, which set the tone here. I had wished for a little more flavor from the chili, but the heat from the hot dog helped out. The bun was ply-ably soft but did a great job of maintaining its structural integrity. There was plenty of onion on this, but they needed to add more cheese to help push this chili dog to even greater heights. Still good, though.

I had asked about three employees what burger they liked most here, and they all said without hesitation, The Business Burger ($11.50). This stacked burger included a beef patty, porchetta, bacon, pickled peppers and onions, garlic mushrooms, and sweet chili aioli. I liked this burger, but I kind of expected a little more from it, with all the pork going on here. The garlic mushrooms and the pickled veggies kind of overpowered, and left the bacon and porchetta in the background. The bun was nice and toasted, which was a nice touch, but the sweet chili aioli, which kind of appeared to be mustard based, could have been applied with a heavier hand for my taste, but I love things to be a little saucier. I'd probably try one of their more basic burgers on future visits, like their ABC Burger (Avocado, Bacon, Cheddar), or the Onion Stack Burger.  Also be on the lookout for seasonal specialty burgers when eating at The Stand, we heard good things about their French Onion Soup Burger.

My mom likes things pretty simple, and after having breakfast earlier in the day, my light eating mother only wanted to try the Stand Dog ($3.75) on this evening. She did get a little crazy by getting some mustard and relish on the side. They do offer a nice selection of free condiments for the build your own hot dog option, and then they have what they call loaded toppings, which range in price from fifty cents to a dollar. She enjoyed this basic hot dog, which featured a soft bun reminiscent of grocery store hot dog buns, but of a higher quality. Not sure who makes their hot dogs or sausages, but they were meaty and pretty solid. A thumbs up from mom.

Our last entree, with an assist from my dad's excellent hand modeling, was the Ultimate Egg Burger ($9.75). This breakfast inspired burger utilized a very runny fried egg, bacon, American cheese, pickled pepper and onions, and the sweet chili aioli. This burger was very satisfying and filling for my old man. He could only manage to finish three-quarters of it, but I obliged by finishing the rest of it off. I liked this burger more than mine, and would not hesitate to get it next time, but I might sub out the sweet chili aioli next time, for maybe mayo, ketchup, or the cilantro lime aioli.

The guys behind the counter really talked up the brownies here, as I guess they are made on the premises each day, so we had to give the Brownie Sundae ($5.25) a try. They do not use ice cream here but instead use frozen custard, which I'm kind of leery of. I'm definitely more a fan of ice cream. This sundae was just the right size for the four of us, after eating our meals. I liked it, but felt it needed more frozen custard, as the brownie to frozen custard ratio was off, which lead to intense spoon fighting between the four of us. The brownie was good but did not stand out, and a thicker hot fudge would have made this even better. It was almost the consistency of chocolate syrup.

The Stand is definitely a welcome addition to the neighborhood and is a good option for people that want a burger around this part of town. I'm not sure this is a travel-worthy restaurant based on this visit. If I had to rank this place against their other burger competitors, I'd say they are way better than Burger Boss, on par with Burger Lounge, and not as good as Hopdoddy. Just my opinion, and only based on this one visit. The service was very good, and the employees were very active going through the dining room and making sure everyone was doing alright. I thought the prices were more than fair here, especially based on the neighborhood. Now that the calendar has turned to 2017, it'll be interesting to see how many new burger concepts come around this year.

Out of five joysticks, (because the biggest non-academic employer in Irvine is Blizzard Entertainment, maker of video games, and the last time I played video games, a joystick is what I used as a controller), five being best to zero being worst, The Stand gets 3 joysticks.

For more information about The Stand, head to their website here:

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