I love a restaurant with a simple menu. It shows confidence to specialize in just a few dishes (Lucky Wishbone, International House of Hot Dogs and Falafel King come to mind), rather than trying to be all things to all people. It's audacious and it makes me feel like I'm in good hands.
So I was excited for the opening of Kriner's Burgers & Pies in the shiny new shopping center adjacent to the Bass Pro Shop in Mountain View. I've heard good things about its parent restaurant -- the well-established Kriner's Diner on C Street -- so, with expectations high, I dropped in for an early weeknight dinner with my daughters, ages 13 and 9.
Ordering is fun. The burger menu is limited, with just four varieties: the Sam Burger (plain), Jim Burger (with cheese), the Storman Norman (with cheese and bacon) and Andy's Awesome Burger, which boasts crispy onion rings, barbecue sauce and jalapeno cheese. First, you choose your burger, then you choose your bun (plain, wheat, gluten-free or a low-carb wrap) and then you customize your burger from Kriner's comprehensive list of toppings. All your basics are here -- ketchup, mayo, lettuce, tomato, onions and mushrooms -- but there are some surprises as well, like candied jalapeno peppers, bread and butter pickles or, for an extra charge, a fried egg.
My older daughter's Storman Norman ($9.99), dressed up deluxe-style with lettuce, tomato and onion, was a big hit. "It's like Five Guys," she said after one bite, referring to our favorite East Coast burger chain (a yearly culinary pilgrimage for us when we go to visit family).
My Andy's Awesome Burger ($10.99) was a behemoth. Piled high with onions, spiked with barbecue sauce, generous on the bacon and zippy with jalapenos, it comes precariously to the table with its top bun at a rakish angle. It requires a good squash to make it manageable. This is a terrific burger and I had to defer to my daughter's judgment. It is reminiscent of a Five Guys burger -- and for me, that's high praise. Next time, I would order it without the barbecue sauce -- it's too sweet and it overwhelmed the burger's more interesting elements, like the delicate curls of fried onion and the pungent, peppery cheese.
My youngest daughter (and winner of the 2014 Picky Eater Award) ordered a naked burger ($8.99), which is a patty on a bun. I repeat: A patty. On a bun. No cheese, no sauce, no bacon. However strenuously I object to this kind of puritanical sandwich, it had the benefit of allowing me to taste the burger itself, without the distraction of all those toppings. It holds up well to scrutiny. Generously proportioned, well seasoned and flavorful. These towering burgers have a good foundation.
Fries ($2.99) come separately and two orders were more than enough for three eaters. These fries are hand-cut, skin-on and of the soft, tender variety. I know some people prefer a crispy fry but I like these as they are -- perfectly salty and ever-so-slightly greasy. At Kriner's, even the fries come with choices: Six dipping sauces are on offer. We opted for the Jo Jo's dip (a basic ranch) and the mayo/steak sauce combo known as "bullfighter sauce." To add even more variety, you can visit the Tabasco bar, which has four varieties of hot sauce (original, jalapeno, Buffalo and chipotle) and create your own dipping sauce. We turned our table into a virtual test kitchen. Our favorite? Ranch plus ketchup plus Buffalo Tabasco. We call it Ranchalo. We're going to be rich.
My daughters both had milkshakes ($5.49), which according to them is another form of french fry dipping sauce. I tried them each and while they were admirably creamy, they were outrageously sweet. I'm not known for my sweet tooth and my kids weren't complaining, but these are all "shake" and no "milk."
A quick word about the prices. Individually, everything seemed priced fairly, but our tab mounted up quickly. Three burgers, two fries, two shakes and an iced tea came to almost $50 -- what I might expect to spend for a more upscale meal with table service. Next time, we'll be sharing fries and sticking with water.
I returned over the weekend for lunch with a friend. Apparently, we arrived during shopping rush hour; the room was packed and there was a long line at the register. Clearly, the word is out. To the staff's credit, the line moved quickly.
This time, I ordered the Storman Norman with blue cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, dill pickles and mayonnaise. I ordered Jo Jos ($4.49) on the side with the "Leaping Leopard" sauce -- a bizarre-sounding concoction of strawberry and hot chili. While we waited, we watched the action in the kitchen. These burgers require time and attention to detail, and the team behind the counter was hustling.
A word about the atmosphere. The dining room, when it's not busy, is a bit off-putting. It's a cavernous, echoey space with high ceilings, industrial finishes and spare furnishings. It has a chilly feel to it -- both metaphorically and actually -- and we kept our coats on as we ate. When the room is crowded, it feels much more inviting -- less hard-edged and shiny. Maybe the space will get homier as it ages but for now, the room leaves me, literally, cold.
Our burgers arrived relatively quickly considering the packed house. Mine was well prepared, stacked high and satisfying. Jo Jos were a welcome change from fries and the strawberry/chili sauce was a winner, bright and tangy with a pleasant, lingering heat.
My hat is off to anyone who can eat a slice of cream pie after a Kriner's-sized burger, but I personally was not equal to the task. Instead, I ordered three slices to go ($4.99): maple bacon (because bacon), Oreo and Thin Mint. "We're going to have a Samoa pie soon," confided my server. As I've said, I have an underdeveloped sweet tooth and so cream pies aren't really my thing. But I was impressed with the strong maple flavor in the bacon-topped pie. After that, I handed the critique over to my family. Momentarily wise beyond her years, my youngest declared the pies to be "something 9-year-olds would like. But maybe not grown-ups."
So, attention grown-ups: Go to Kriner's for the burgers but bring a child for the pie. Or just bring your inner child. After all, Samoa pies are next.
Mara Severin reviews restaurants in Anchorage. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Kriners Burgers & Pies
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun.
Location: 3074 Mountain View Drive
Options: Dine-in or take-out