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  • Allen Pierleoni /

    The hamburgers that Maranello, in Fair Oaks, recently introduced stack up well. So do the french fries.

  • Allen Pierleoni /

    Seafood cakes are one of the many delights in the cold case at Mill Valley Market. You may catch a Huey Lewis sighting, too.

Counter Culture: Burger Battle ahead, but no Maranello, at least yet

Published: Friday, Jul. 27, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 32TICKET

The hamburger is a simple concept – a ground-beef pattie on a bun, with condiments.

Easy, no?

Well, no.

Variations, ramifications and experimentations have made it deliciously complicated, much to burger lovers' delight.

We've made a national obsession out of a sandwich that originated as beef tartare in the Baltic province of Russia. In the 1800s, the story goes, German sailors brought back the strange dish to Hamburg, a seaport town, where somebody was inspired to roll up a handful, flatten it and cook it. The burger as we know it debuted at the St. Louis Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904.

Closer to home, Elk Grove website designer Rodney Blackwell (burgerjunkies. com) has organized the Sacramento Burger Battle, a throwdown and tasting event to be held Sept. 18 at Raley Field. Fifteen restaurants will flip their best offerings in a sizzling quest to determine what some judges will claim to be the best burger in Sacramento.

Tickets are at

Unfortunately, one burger that would have been an odds-on favorite won't be there because "we're booked up (with restaurants)," Blackwell explained. That would be the half-pound cheeseburger at Maranello, where contemporary California cuisine takes on surprising twists.

Executive chef Gabriel Glasier and chef de cuisine Tom Daly conceived the sandwich.

"We took the traditional American burger and stretched our imaginations," Daly said.

Their cooking mantra is a wise one: quality in, quality out. The burger ($13.25) starts with Niman Ranch shortrib meat house-ground into a half-pound pattie. It's topped with Spanish sheep's milk manchego cheese, Little Gem lettuce (known for its sweetness and crispness), heirloom tomato confit (six hours to make), onion straws and a "dijonnaise" of house-made mayonnaise and Dijon mustard from France.

All that is plopped on a buttered and grilled-to-a-crunch roll from Grateful Bread bakery of Sacramento. Skewered on top is a house-made pickle.

This is a world-class burger – tall, juicy, meaty, oozing with rich, beefy flavor complemented by the tastes and textures of the condiments and bun.

The accompanying hand-cut and twice-cooked french fries – almost shoestrings – are dark, crispy-creamy and addictive, dipped in housemade spicy ketchup.

The burger was introduced just 3 1/2 weeks ago and shares menu space with the likes of grilled watermelon salad, honey-hoisin glazed pork chop and pasta with crab and crayfish. How popular has it been?

"It's our No. 1 seller. It blew all of our other entree sales out of the water," Glazier said.

Maranello, 8928 Sunset Ave., Fair Oaks; (916) 241-9365, www.maranellorestaurant .com.

At the base of Mount Tam

Mount Tamalpias has long been a major destination for top mountain bikers. On weekends, that spandexed crowd floods the affluent town of Mill Valley at the mountain's base.

Next time you're in town, join them at the Mill Valley Market. You might recognize some of its other regular customers – rock 'n' rollers Sammy Hagar and Huey Lewis, former Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir, comedian-actor Dana Carvey, celebrity chef-restaurateur Tyler Florence, actress Minnie Driver and singer-songwriter Bonnie Raitt.

The market is very much a community meeting place and center for local gossip, owned since 1929 by the same family. Brothers David and Doug Canepa are the current third-generation grocers, and their two young-adult sons recently came aboard in managerial positions.

We cruised the cold case, hot-foods and cold-salads bars, and the dessert display on a recent Saturday and wanted to sample everything – Cajun salmon, grilled veggies, filet of sole amandine, grilled steak-stuffed peppers, cassoulet, golden beets with feta cheese, glazed lemon cake. Plus more than 1,000 wines.

"We've always been and always want to be the local market," said David Canepa on the phone. "We've evolved by what our customers have told us they want – hard-to-find (items) and local (products)."

Mill Valley Market, 12 Corte Madera Ave.; (415) 388-3222,

Nearby is Sweetwater Music Hall, the reincarnated and relocated cover of what once was one of the Bay Area music scene's most venerated sites.

For decades, the old Sweetwater hosted a long list of big-time musicians, including Doc Watson, Queen Ida, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Mary Wells, Carlos Santana and Odetta.

The new Sweetwater has a killer sound system, which will get a workout in August from the New Riders of the Purple Sage, God Street Wine and the Monophonics.

Its little restaurant offers a serious small-plates menu – duck hash, wild mushroom pastina with truffle butter, filet mignon sliders.

Sweetwater Music Hall, 19 Corte Madera Ave.; (415) 388-3850,

Take time for a look-see at the amazing decor inside 142 Throckmorton Theatre, originally a vaudeville house circa 1911. Owner Lucy Mercer collaborated with set designer Steve Coleman to create a fantasy land of visual delights (including the ceiling), and she encourages sightseers. We even got to see part of a rehearsal.

142 Throckmorton Ave.; (415) 383-9600,

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