Cathie Anderson: Burger masters coming home

Published: Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B

Go ahead; do it. Sell your home in Land Park with its dormer windows and backyard pool, move down to the desert in Southern California, open a hamburger joint and rake in $1.2 million a year.

Richard Ameil and Dean Talbott did just that. Their success didn't stop them from missing Sacramento.

In the end, they sold their Grill-A-Burger restaurant in Palm Desert. They're now using a portion of the proceeds to open a new burger joint at 1407 Howe Ave. sometime in April.

Seeking firsthand knowledge of Grill-A-Burger, I emailed my co-worker Darrell Smith. In a former life as a columnist for the Desert Sun, Smith wrote about the desert's treasured people and places. He materialized at my desk, full of questions about when the fresh, juicy burgers would be available here.

Grill-A-Burger perennially appeared on "best-of" lists in the desert region, and last summer, Ameil's recipe for what he dubbed the H-Bomb Burger won the Los Angeles Times' Battle of the Burgers competition. The fiery hamburger gets its name from habañero relish. Here's the recipe.

Ameil told me that his Sacramento burger joint will be called Giant Orange as a tribute to the orange-shaped juice stands that sprang up along California's byways beginning in the 1920s. Fries, burgers and more will be made by hand, only after the customer places the order. It's a formula that has served Ameil well over the years.

"I started in the burger business when I was 12 years old," he told me. "My first job during the summer was on the boardwalk in Santa Cruz. I was a dishwasher and a busboy. Then I became the french fry king there. During my seventh or eighth summer, I learned the whole grill. …

"Then in 1979, I got a small-business loan when I lived in San Francisco and opened a burger place down in the Castro called Hot 'N Hunky hamburgers. There were lines immediately."

Ameil and Talbott found their Sacramento location with the help of Colliers International broker Mark Engemann. Brenda Miller of Associates West Commercial represented the landlord in this deal.

He's game for anything

Folsom's Scott Leysath gets recognized in airports, usually by people wearing camouflage and carrying gun cases, and yes, that's a good thing.

Leysath has stitched together a successful career as a celebrity chef. His focus is wild or exotic game, and he's known nationally as the Sporting Chef to those who watch "HuntFishCook" and "Dead Meat" on the Sportsman Channel.

Leysath, who prepared and served exotic game for several years at Peter B's Freeport Inn down in the Delta, produces "HuntFishCook" with a partner, so they must sell the program to networks, help find and keep sponsors, and then shoot the segments.

"Dead Meat" is a different story. After Leysath had spent a little more than a decade building his TV career, the Sportsman Channel came to him.

"It was a coup for me to have a network show that I don't have to pay for," said the 56-year-old Leysath. Besides his TV programs, he brings in income by producing cookbooks, selling gear at and cooking at dozens of events.

"I just looked at my schedule," he said, "and I'm home for eight days between now and March 10."

That includes Friday and Saturday when Leysath will serve rabbit-rattlesnake sausage at the International Sportsmen's Expo at Cal Expo in Sacramento.

Eww, rattlesnake?

"Rattlesnake is nothing," Leysath said. "You know, you've had worse things in your sausage. Rattlesnake has no flavor. … Python is the one you don't want to eat. It's really, really high in mercury and chews like a tennis shoe. Rattlesnake, I'll eat all day."

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