Food Critic Review
Napa Valley Register
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
PHANTOM FORK: Squeeze Inn goes
back to the dawn of the burger age
The Fork reviews area restaurants, with an emphasis on more affordable establishments. Reader suggestions are welcome.
To a first-timer, Redwood Plaza’s Squeeze Inn looks like the most unimpressive burger joint on the planet. A few tables, a few stools. The menu is basically hamburgers and fries. But for a few movie posters, the walls are bare.
This is no McDonald’s or Burger King. Even an In-N-Out is 100 times more glitzy.
And therein lies the charm. The Squeeze Inn has stripped away all the extraneous stuff and gone back to basics: meat, cheese, grill, end of story.
The joint was jammed when we popped in on a Friday night. Every table was full and a customer at the counter was taking home two bags full of burgers.
The menu board was short and to the point: The Squeezeburger is one-third of a pound of meat with fixings on a sesame bun. Extras include cheese and bacon; grilled onions, mushrooms, jalapenos and ranch dressing.
What else? Fries, of course. Unskinned and fresh-cut daily,
or non-hamburger types, there are alternatives: a breaded chicken sandwich, a steak sandwich, a hot-dog, a grilled cheese sandwich, a veggie burger, and a corn dog.
I didn’t think twice. The Squeezeburger, with a small order of fries, I said.
Did I want cheese with that? No, I said. Just the Squeezeburger.
The clerk gave me a quizzical look, as if to say, Was I sure about that?
Having second thoughts, I asked what was Squeeze known for? Everyone orders cheese with their burger, she said. It’s a classic.
She pointed to a photo of the strangest looking cheeseburger I’d ever seen. The burger was wearing a cheese skirt that extended an inch beyond the bun. If the moon were made of cheese and had a ring like Saturn, it would look like this.
I upgraded to cheese on the spot, while my companion ordered the steak sandwich, which features slices of rib-eye.
We sat at the counter where we could watch the kitchen chef flip burgers and heap them with shredded cheddar that melted to form those amazing yellow orbs.
Meanwhile, his support crew was frying potatoes and piling on cold fixings on the bun bottom (the top is heated over the grill).
We got the fries first. From fryer to my mouth, 30 seconds. These were the hottest fires I’d ever tasted. And very good. The skin made the potato taste better, as if these spuds had returned to their roots.
The burger and steak sandwich arrived moments later. The burger with its Hula Hoop of cheese is a spectacular creation. You think: How come nobody ever thought of this? All those years of dull cheese slices when we could have had cheese flying saucers.
The Squeezeburger is a mighty object to get one’s teeth around. The bun is substantial, so everything piles high.
If you get the standard fixings, you get two or three slabs of dill pickle and a generous squirt of mustard, plus some lettuce and two small slices of tomato.
The steak sandwich had essentially the same condiments as the burger. The meat wasn’t as tasty and there was no ring of cheese, so it wasn’t as much fun.
We ate with gusto. It was as if we were eating a burger for the first time. The primitive decor at Squeeze Inn is a come-on. We felt we were back at the dawn of burger age.
Hats off to Squeeze Inn for deconstructing the burger restaurant and getting back to basics, with a cheese twist.
We both liked the burger better than the steak sandwich. And maybe we liked the fries best of all.
I’d had the cheeseburger their way. Next time, I realized, I’d have to take charge and ditch the pickles and mustard and substitute the grilled onions and maybe the ranch dressing. The burger of my dreams awaits if I choose wisely.
Squeeze Inn serves soft drinks, no alcohol. A TV over the counter was playing an NCAA basketball game.
The staff was efficient and friendly. While we ate, an employee wiped down the cherrywood counter with intensity and swept the floor. Big sloppy burgers such as these require considerable housekeeping.
Squeeze Inn is located on the back side of Vallerga’s in Redwood Plaza, at the corner of Solano Avenue and Redwood Road.