With the Churchill having passed its first birthday, it’s inevitable that some turnover would occur among the tenants in the development’s shipping container space. The space initially occupied by an ambitious sandwich shop has now become home to what might be called, with only partial irony, an artisan burger stand. Commander Hamburger, named for the vague comic book theme in its signs, offers a small selection of basics built from quality ingredients. It’s not exotic at all, but instead seems designed to fill a comfort food niche in a outdoor bar atmosphere.
The signature item to order at the counter is, as expected, a straightforward hamburger. It’s a thin patty of grass-fed beef topped with pickles, lettuce, onion, tomato, and a condiment identified as “Commander Sauce.” The most notable ingredient, however, is the bun from Noble Bread. It has a sheen like brioche but with a lighter interior, ensuring that the bread complements the meat and toppings instead of overwhelming them. The entire assemblage is seems like a better-than-usual backyard burger, minus the frustration or fumes of starter fluid.
The other sandwich on the menu is built by filling the same Noble bun with fried chicken breast, pickles, coleslaw, and buttermilk sauce. It’s a satisfying choice even if the thin sauce makes it a bit messier than the burger. In addition to the burger and chicken, there is typically a featured sandwich written on the glass near the counter. Recent offerings have included grilled cheese on Noble country bread and a Phat Burger with Moneterrey jack cheese, mayonnaise, and mustard. Adding a slice of cheese or extra patty to a sandwich is possible for an added charge.
The side dishes, sold on an a-la-carte basis, are crisp French fries and tater tots. They’re both served with a packet of Heinz ketchup, although a choice of aioli or some other condiments might be appreciated. The non-sandwich entree on the menu is the Original Chopped Salad, an often-imitated dish introduced by Chef Bernie Kantak at the late, great Cowboy Ciao, where he worked long before creating his place at the Churchill. Served by default with smoked salmon, it’s also available with grilled chicken or diced avocado as a meatless alternative.
While these sandwiches, salad, and sides are all thoroughly enjoyable, Commander Hamburger is less consistent with its desserts. The concept is simple: soft serve from local favorite Daneizen Dairy, available in vanilla, chocolate, or a combination swirl described as “twist.” Despite the single-source, glass bottle goodness of the milk used, the texture is sometimes more icy than creamy. While that might be forgiven at typical soft serve prices, it’s hard to overlook when a cone costs six dollars and a milkshake goes for eight, toppings not included.
Complaining about milkshake prices go back at least as far back as 1994, when the topic was an unlikely topic of conversation in the movie “Pulp Fiction.” Of course, that film also dissected the concept of a “Royale with cheese,” the French name for a Quarter Pounder, and Commander Hamburger offers something like that at a better ratio of price to quality. The Churchill will no doubt continue to evolve with changes in its lineup, but the rapid filling of vacant space with this new tenant is sign of success for this project just two blocks from the Roosevelt / Central light rail station.
901 N. 1st St. #107, Phoenix, AZ 85004
Roosevelt / Central Station