The slogan that Big Daddy's Fire Grill plasters on its menu doesn't offer much hope. “We put excitement between your buns,” the words blare over a photograph of a silver-eyeshadowed woman getting ready to bite into a massive burger. The man in the photo next to her reveals an expression somewhere between salacious and silly. Look man, I don't want you anywhere near my buns, but I'm willing to try your sandwiches.
The Pasadena “gourmet fast-food restaurant” delivers on a promise of fresh ingredients. It offers a range of burgers, hot dogs, bratwurst and other sandwiches. You order in the small, rather loud interior and head to a table with your number, and a staff member brings your food out. You can sit inside and watch the flat screen, or outside and watch another flat screen. Or you can sit outside and ignore the screens and instead watch the traffic on Foothill, the pet owners coming and going from the vet clinic across the street, or the folks lining up at the In-N-Out right beside Big Daddy's.
My companions suggested that a shade or screen between the patio and the drive-through's parking lot might improve the patio’s vibe. But I like the incentive for Big Daddy's. They know the food has to be good, or they're going to one day hear, “I should have gone to In-N-Out.”
I doubt they're going to hear those words. Big Daddy's is a cut above the double-double. The Daddy Burger, an angus chuck patty with egg, bread crumbs, parsley, basil and garlic, is flavorful with a dijon and mayo aioli slathered on a French garlic roll. And for $5.95 it's a deal. For an additional cost, you can add avocado, sauteed mushrooms and onions, chili or bacon. But on its own, the burger is a delight. We ordered the bratwurst with sweet peppers and caramelized onions. Salty, messy, juicy, perfect.
For a place that feels a lot like a burger joint, the other sandwiches were standouts. The salmon fillet sandwich was full of flaky, flavorful fish. We had the aioli on the side and instead just sprinkled the fish with lemon. It made for a light, relatively healthy lunch. (Remember, we're staring at an In-N-Out.) The grilled cheese and bacon sandwich? Maybe not so healthy, but dripping with flavor. The sharp cheddar and American cheese is covered with honey-cured bacon on sourdough that’s been buttered and grilled to a sheen. The favorite, however, was the marinated chicken sandwich. Garlicky, with hints of basil and lemon, the white meat is piled on a French roll and slathered with pesto aioli.
Big Daddy's offers a variety of sides, including fries, garlic fries, chili cheese fries, sweet potato fries and onion rings. We had the Daddy's Trio, a plate (actually it was a styrofoam box) of potato and sweet potato fries and the onion rings, which are made with sweet red onions dipped in tempura-style batter made with buttermilk. They came with aioli and a smoky, cayenne- and chipotle-spiced ketchup.
The menu offers beer, wine, coffee, tea, soda and some mouth-watering shakes. The vanilla with Nutella sang with flavor and childhood memories of after-school snacks — creamy and perfect on a sweltering afternoon. The waitress, who said she handcrafts the shakes herself, beamed about her work, as well she should.
Good thing for Big Daddy’s, its food has more taste than its slogan.
REBECCA BRYANT has covered crime, courts and calzones in her 25 years of journalism.
Big Daddy's Fire Grill
Where: 2122 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena.
Hours and prices: Open Sunday through Thursday 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 10:30 a.m. to midnight. Sandwiches from $4.95 to $10.95; sides $1.95 to $4.95. Beer and wine by the glass, pitcher or bottle.
Info: (626) 796-1266, bigdaddysfiregrill.com