Monday, June 4, 2007

Cheeseburger at Taylor's Automatic Refresher, St. Helena CA

Today we did a little roadtrip to Napa Valley and I had a change to visit original Taylor's Automatic Refresher in St. Helena. They have another location in the San Francisco Ferry Building which I haven't yet tested.

The original location in the middle of Napa valley has been around for 54 years. Lloyd Taylor opened up the place in 1949. Back then Napa wines were thought as a joke and burgers cost only 24 cents. Current owners, winemaker Joel Gott and his brother Duncan bougth Taylor's in 1999 and gave the place an extensive facelift through professional branding and extended menu.

Taylor's roadside stand is still on the same spot as it use to be. Behind the stand you can find a lawn with red picnick tables with white umbrellas. When your order is ready they announce your name through crackling loudspeakers. Bing-bing! John, your order is ready. Bing-bing! Janet, your shake is ready.

It was Sunday morning and we went there around 11am. There were only two families in front of us. We weren't in a hurry so we took our time, eat our burgers, feed the baby and then took off. When we moved from the lawn to parking area we realized that the place was packed. In front of the counter there was a 70+ feet line of people waiting to make their order. And more people arrived all the time. That was pretty mad.

Taylor's menu could be called eclectic. Among several burger choices you have a choice of Ahi Burger - A raw tuna burger with ginger wasabi mayo and asian slaw. There's also sandwiches, tacos, hot dogs, soups, salads, fish'n'chips and a wine list. Yes, a wine list, we were in the wine country. I ordered a Cheeseburger, medium rare like always. My wife had the same, well done like always. We also had chili cheese fries on the side, chocolate milkshake and soda. All this totalled for $25.81 with tax, that's not particulary cheap.

Burgers are nicely stacked between a golden-yellow egg bun which is toasted from the inside. Beef is hormone free California beef. Burgers come with lettuce, tomato, pickles and secret house sauce. House sauce is a mustard based thousand island type of sauce and it has a nice kick to it. It's a type of sauce that can make the burger or destroy it. For me it did latter. There was too much sauce and besides that the only thing I really tasted was the egg-tasting bun. I had bite of my wife's burger and it was much better. There was much less sauce and the burger had a good balance between tasty bun, beef, condiments and sauce acted as a gentle seasoning.

At some level I was happy with Taylor's, on some level it felt like I just took a visit to a mini-Disney Land of burgers in the middle of Japanise tourist group. I expected Taylor's to hit my top list but it wasn't even close with this experiece. I would still recommend you to stop by if you visit Napa. Just be aware of long waiting times during tourist season.