Gourmet Burgers… Really?

IMG_0936Gourmet hamburgers are what’s trendy these days. “Gourmet hamburger” is an oxymoron. You can spend hundreds, yes, even thousands of dollars on a hamburger. “Where is the best burger” is a regular topic in local papers, with florid descriptions of blue cheese, chipotle, bacon, pesto, avocado, mushrooms – or truffles! – with Kobe beef and even foie gras. Restaurants boast about their third-of-a-pound or half-pound or pound, high-calorie, high-fat burgers. What fast-food chain has the best burgers is an on-going argument.

And then there’s the Nob Hill Bar & Grill. Not the famous Nob Hill neighborhood in San Francisco. Albuquerque, Nashville, Kansas City also have their own Nob Hills. The Nob Hill Bar & Grill is a determinedly downscale watering hole in the upscale Nob Hill area of Portland. In an old Victorian house at Northwest 23rd and Lovejoy, cater-corner from Good Samaritan Hospital – “Good Sam” to locals – the Nob Hill has been serving up beer and food since the Depression years.

Portland’s Nob Hill, bordering the hip Pearl District, comprises a collection of high-end shops, trendy restaurants and the requisite chocolate and ice cream purveyors. In the midst of this, the Nob Hill Bar & Grill attracts a clientele across all ages: grizzled tavern veterans, couples, groups – both male and female – neighborhood denizens and an occasional hipster. And me.

Originally the Adams Sisters’ Café, then the Dunsmoor Inn, it became Nobby’s Tavern in 1957 and then the Nob Hill Bar & Grill at the end of the 1980s. Yelp reviews include a few five stars as well as some one star assessments. Negatives are about poor service and allegedly not great food.

The service can be, shall we say, inconsistent. But it is always friendly, some servers more effusive than others. This being the 21st century, they do have a web site. If you click “Nobby News,” the April 2013 newsletter will appear. You can peruse the menu on-line. I can’t critique the menu because I order the same thing every time: cheeseburger, potato salad and a local brew. The burger is a lightweight by today’s standards. A quarter-pound patty with crisp iceberg lettuce, thick tomato slices, chopped onions and secret sauce that is suspiciously like thousand island. A plastic red squirt bottle is on the table if you need ketchup. Perfect, none of that fancy stuff. The potato salad is made in-house: a mayonnaise/mustard concoction that satisfies.

View from the Nob Hill Bar & Grill
View from the Nob Hill Bar & Grill

I can sit and eat and sip my ale while watching people carrying their gourmet ice cream cones pass by outside. The people watching inside is pretty good, too.

For more on the Nob Hill Bar & Grill, and other Portland establishments, check out Paul Pintarich’s History by the Glass: Portland’s Past and Present Saloons, Bars and Taverns.

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  1. I’ve always appreciated Nob Hill’s tenacity – along with Escape from New York Pizza – in the face of gentrification and ever-shifting food trends. I’d like to think of places like this giving the metaphorical finger to the insufferable hordes of selfie-snapping “Foodies”.

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