Shades of Fog City – Lamb Burger with Chutney and Smoked Cheddar

When I first moved to San Francisco, I occasionally visited a restaurant called Fog City Diner. A well-heeled but touristy place at the base of the Filbert Steps, Fog City was an out-of-towner and yuppies’ haunt. Singles crowded the bar and the bridge and tunnel set hogged the booths. Often you had to wait forever for a table and  sometimes the food and the service were uneven.

Still, I kept going back because there were a few things I loved about Fog City. One, they made a perfect Pimm’s Cup. Okay I did have to coach the bartender a little bit on how I like it – with fizzy lemonade and a long slice of cucumber, but he was game. The lemonade was made from fresh lemon juice, simple syrup and soda and it made an excellent Pimm’s. Also, the onion rings were exemplary: a crisp cloud enclosing an almost melting interior onion. My favorite though, was the lamb sandwich on focaccia with homemade chutney.  I seem to remember that it was apricot, but it may have been tomato. Whatever. Whether tomato or apricot, it was spicy and floral with that chutney tang I love. The rosy, gamey lamb, the tangy chutney, the chewy focaccia – it was perfect.

Perhaps you think a proper British Pimm’s Cup would be out of place with something so flavorful and almost exotic? No. Not for me anyway. The spicy, sweet Pimms found its match in the spicy, sweet sandwich. And all those people lurking at the bar, wheeling and dealing or on the hunt? Why would anyone subject themselves to that racket after a long day at work? I didn’t even notice them once we scored the booth. Socked in by the San Francisco fog, the restaurant glowed like a beacon. I would run for the glowing windows from work to meet good friends. Cozied up together in a booth, chatting happily and looking out at a gloomy night with the perfect sandwich – who cares if you’re surrounded by yuppies on the prowl?

Fast forward and 20 years later, here I am in Seattle, three kids, a husband, a dog and a cat – I am not running around at night, my mouth watering for a lamb sandwich and a cocktail that complements it perfectly (although some nights I might wish I were). I can’t go back to being twenty-two. Maybe though, maybe, I can conjure up something like that sandwich, since I definitely can’t go back in time. Some weekend in the future, when I have all the time I need to roast a leg of lamb and make focaccia, and whip up a little homemade tomato chutney, I can make the lamb sandwich exactly the way I remember it. Tonight I was in a hurry though – and this quick version made me smile:

Lamb Burger with Chutney and Smoked Cheddar – serves 4

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
  • 1 slice white sandwich bread, processed into fine crumbs
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 clove garlic grated on a Microplane or pressed in a garlic press
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp Major Grey’s Chutney, plus additional to serve – I like Patak’s which has a looser set than most chutneys
  • 1/4 pound smoked cheddar – I used Beecher’s
  • (4) brioche buns
  1. Heat a gas grill on high for 15 minutes. Then turn down one (or two – if you have a three burner grill) of the burners to low, so that one burner is left on high and you have a cooler part of the grill to heat the buns.
  2. While the grill heats up, in a medium sized bowl, combine the bread crumbs, the milk, the garlic, the 2 tbsp chutney and the salt and pepper. Mash with a fork until the bread crumbs have formed a thick paste.
  3. Add the ground lamb to the bowl and combine the lamb with the paste lightly but thoroughly with your hands. Form into 4 equally sized patties.
  4. Spray each patty on either side with olive oil.
  5. When the grill is hot, place the patties over the hottest burner for 3-4 minutes, closing the lid. Then turn the burgers, again closing the lid,  and set a timer for 2 minutes. After two minutes, place a slice of smoked cheddar on top of each burger. Close the lid again!
  6. When there is just about 45 seconds left, lightly toast the brioche – be careful! Brioche burn so easily!
  7. Serve immediately accompanied by more chutney.

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