A new no-frill burger joint in Ventura
Simply perfectly cooked
By Michael Sullivan 01/10/2013
The Iron Horse Bar and Grill
4722 Telephone Road
Having grown up in Ventura, there were two burger places you had to go to: Fuddruckers and Hudson’s Grill. If anyone remembers these places, Fuddruckers was well-known for its large sides of beef hanging in the windows, the salad bar of fresh tomatoes, lettuce and pot of boiling cheese, and Hudson’s Grill for the Cadillac coming through the wall and its accompanying old-timey images of surf and car culture. It’s been more than 20 years since I visited either of those places — both of which are now closed. In their stead, Wood Ranch replaced Fuddruckers and, three months ago, Iron Horse Bar and Grill has taken up the former Hudson’s Grill location. While Wood Ranch has brought a different style of restaurant with its famous barbecue, Iron Horse is making its way in a competitive culinary market where anything goes.
For lunch, my companion and I decided to try Iron Horse Bar and Grill. Somewhat awkwardly located in the midst of strip malls off Telephone Road, it’s a tough market for luring in the crowds, especially since Mervyns closed its doors a few years back. Luckily, a new grocery store is under renovation in the strip mall housing Burlington Coat Factory, so business should pick up for everyone soon enough.
Upon entry to the Iron Horse, if you are nostalgic for Hudson’s Grill, be forewarned; it is still just getting its bearings. The walls are fairly bare, with scattered images of old cowboys, including John Wayne. With only a handful of booths and mostly two- and four-top tables with chairs, it’s a bit lackluster when it comes to that warm dining experience. Though we were a bit disappointed with the ambience, we decided to peruse the menu and see what fun dishes we could try. Going with barbecue/Mexican cuisine, we had a variety of options, from hot dogs and burgers to tacos and burritos. It even features fried pickles. We opted for onion rings for an appetizer and the Margaritas “Flaming Hot Temper” Burger and the tri-tip sandwich.
The service was a tad slow, so waiting for onion rings that could have come complimentary with our meals instead of other options like fries or homemade chips was a little frustrating. Nonetheless, these were cooked just right. Not too greasy and with a slight crisp. Nothing special or unique about the batter, but just what an old cowboy would want. They came served with ranch, though I would highly recommend barbecue sauce for the slightly sweet with a bite, or ketchup for its salt content, which the onion rings seemed to lack.
Next up came our sandwich and burger. The thinly cut tri-tip was piled high — just as the menu said — but almost too high as it fell off the sandwich (though we would never complain about too much good tri-tip), served on a brioche hoagie. The menu indicated it came topped with sauce, chipotle barbecue or garlic aioli, but my companion’s was served on the side. She chose the chipotle barbecue and spread just a little bit on her sandwich with caution as chipotle tends to be spicy. It was pretty mild for what it was but the tri-tip was tender and practically fell apart in her mouth.
As for the Margaritas “Flaming Hot Temper” Burger, I’m a tough sell when it comes to spicy. I am the kind of woman who puts Sriracha on mashed potatoes and jalapeños in chicken noodle soup. So obviously I was sold with the description of a certified Angus burger served with a garlic-jalapeño purée, jalapeño jack cheese and fresh pico de gallo. Upon my first bite, however, when my burger didn’t bite me back, I was a little saddened. After all, I have high standards when it comes to anything claiming to be “flaming hot.” But what it lacked in sweat-causing flavor, it made up for in a perfectly medium-rare-cooked patty. The combination of the cheese, puree, fresh pico de gallo plus bacon (which I didn’t ask for) served on a brioche bun made for a smoky, juicy, slightly spicy, slightly crunchy taste sensation that I hadn’t come across before. I went there weeks ago and I am still reminiscing.
As for our sides, I ordered the cole slaw, which was fresh but lacked flavor and came served practically dry. The homemade chips were crispy with a slightly smoky flavor. Next time, I’ll go with onion rings or chips.
As with most new restaurants, there is always a period of adjustment. It’s been three months so far, and with the memories of Hudson’s Grill, it’s still a far cry from that over-the-top decoration overload, but it’s got some potential. Iron Horse has had some tough critics on the World Wide Web, but if you want no frills and a cocktail with an amazing burger, I suggest you drop by sometime. I do hope Iron Horse invests a bit more in the ambience because a burger like that shouldn’t be left without fun visual stimulation for a great overall experience.