Merrill Shindler- Pasadena Star News

Big Daddy’s is fast and fun with unexpected pleasures


If it’s true that God Is in the Details, then God has been working overtime at Big Daddy’s Fire Grill. Consider the small touches, the elements that aren’t really necessary, but they’re there anyway. They serve beer at Big Daddy’s, which comes as a bit of a surprise for a place that’s essentially a stand with tables (both inside and out). And not just beer: There is Bud Light, but also Shock Top Wheat Ale and Shock Top Wheat IPA, Fat Tire, Modelo Especial, Stella Artois as well as a Big Daddy’s Light and a Big Daddy’s Bock. There are wines too, including the Rodney Strong Cab, and the Tamari Malbec. At a burger joint! The beers are served both by the glass and the pitcher; the wines both by the glass and the bottle. I don’t think they have a sommelier.
But I could be wrong.
They also have a Tea List. What burger place has a tea list? The tea is from the excellent Peet’s Coffee & Tea, and runs to
their Summer House Iced Tea, and a choice of eight hot teas. There are milk shakes as well; you can choose from vanilla,
strawberry and chocolate, tricked up with banana, Nutella or crunchy peanut butter.
There are cake pops for dessert.
And when it comes to sauces and condiments for the burgers and dogs, along with all the basics, there’s
also garlic aioli, pesto aioli, housemade smoked ketchup, ranch dressing and barbecue sauce, all made at
Big Daddy’s. Big Daddy is a busy guy. His Fire Grill sits on the eastern side of Pasadena, far from the barely contained chaos of Old Pasadena, and the shop-till-you-drop aesthetic of Lake Avenue. It’s an unexpected landmark of good eats on Foothill Boulevard, a comfy-cozy place, with lots of families in the booths, and at the
handful of outside tables (with their view of the traffic on Foothill Boulevard; I prefer to eat inside).
We are, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, in an Age of Serious Burgers. We used to be in an Age of Sloppy Burgers. But that’s been
largely wiped away by the rise of the Umami Burger, the
Counter Burger, the upscale restaurant burger. At Big Daddy’s, bless ’em, they split the difference between Serious
and Sloppy, with the option for making their more Serious Burgers sloppy with their various sauces and condiments. Their
defining creation is the Daddy Burger: 100 percent Angus chuck (we’re told that on the menu) packed with crushed garlic,
onions, basil, Italian parsley, egg, bread crumbs, black pepper and “our top-secret ingredient.” It’s topped with pickles, more
onions, lettuce and tomato, and a slather of their Dijon aioli. There’s a bun, too. It’s a lot of burger for $5.95. And when you
bite into it, juices gush out, either onto the table or you.
The beef burger variations are relatively finite. There’s a Hawaii 5-0 Burger model (with teriyaki marinade and grilled
pineapple on top), and a Mushroom Madness Burger (sautéed mushrooms and red wine reduction). For purists, there’s a
Classic Burger. For veggies, there’s a Veggie Burger, or maybe a Turkey Burger, for those who are simply avoiding red meat.
There’s a Lamb Burger, too, which with its mint leaf filling, onions and garlic, tastes more like lamb kofta. At Big Daddy’s, the
ethnicity of some of the creations is all over the map.
Consider, for instance, the “dawgs.” The basic is “All American,” followed by a Southern “Porky’s Smoked Bacon Dawg,” a
“San Antonio Chili Dawg,” a “Spicy Macho Nacho Cheese Dawg,” a German bratwurst, a Southwestern chicken dawg, a
sweet Italian, and a Cajun andouille.
There’s a French dip sandwich though that may or may not actually be French. (It was created in downtown Los Angeles,
after all.) And really, no meal is complete here without too many sides. There’s a trio of fries, rings and sweet potato fries, that
just does it right. The chili cheese fries are a diet buster, and proud of it. And Big Daddy makes some of the best coleslaw in
town, crafted from red cabbage, red onion, garlic, peanuts, mayo, olive oil and red wine vinegar.
Big Daddy’s may have dreams of elegance, but when you get down to it, this is a place to eat in washable clothing. Those
burgers do drip, and the chili marks your clothes forever.