The green deck that hangs on the back of the pro shop at Bixby Village Golf Course in Long Beach ebbs and flows with people across an afternoon. The low clouds and coastal breezes mean customers linger longer, popping open cans of cheap beer and swapping stories about life on the course. There’s no fancy clubhouse at this 42-year-old nine-hole par three course, just friends laughing, reliving old tales, and hanging out. Stay long enough, and one of Dave Trepanier’s burgers will find its way in front of you, too.
Everyone who stops at the Bixby Village Golf Course gets a burger eventually – or they should. Trepanier’s airy, thicker-than-smashed backyard beef burgers are not only keeping golfers around at the tiny executive course with the worn fairways, they’re also drawing in a whole new clientele of young, hungry Long Beach diners who are always in search of the next great meal. Soon enough they’re here, eyeing the long flattop grill of the golf course patio restaurant known simply as Crack.
“When I first got here, it was just an old sandwich shop,” says Trepanier, talking fast and sporting slicked-back salt and pepper hair. He’s always joking around with customers, except when it comes to his food. The space he now occupies, one-third of a small building just off the parking lot, sat empty for seven years before Trepanier started cooking. Getting people to know he’d even arrived was serious work. “I couldn’t get these old golfers off their oatmeal to come up and eat with me,” he jokes, “so I took a flattop grill out to the deck and started putting onions and bacon on it, just to permeate the course with smell. Then I started with a $ 5 burger; I had to have something when they got here. ”
In just over a year, Trepanier has gone from bacon lures to Long Beach’s hottest new underground burger. His place has almost no signage and sits inside another business. But the whispers about his hidden burger are out. “Now 80 percent of my business is non-golfers,” he says, making sure to point out his five-star Yelp rating. “I don’t like Yelp, and they don’t like me, but the numbers don’t lie.”
Nor do the burgers. At $ 12 a pop, each is stacked with well-griddled beef, seared to a burnish backyard. There’s an opening swipe of the loose patties that helps to sear the meat, but everything else is in the details. “It’s not my meat, it’s what I don’t do to the burger, ”says Trepanier,“ I don’t touch it. ” The finished result is thick and hefty, far from the paper-thin smashed versions around greater Los Angeles these days. The loose form means lots of crags and spots for fat to pool; it’s a style similar to Venice staple Hinano Cafe or Hawkin’s House of Burgers in Watts. The shredded lettuce and thick tomato slice nod to LA’s burger traditions as much as hot pop-up Yellow Paper Burger, but it’s Trepanier’s slow-cooked sweet bacon and onion jam that rounds the burgers into form.
“My palate is salt and sweet,” says Trepanier, who – after a year as a one-man operation, including a stint doing breakfast foods – only now is starting to let someone else cook the meat. He keeps a close eye, alternating between telling bawdy jokes to customers and giving stern advice to the cook. It’s been hard for him to let go, he admits, because the restaurant is his whole world at the moment, and because cooking has always been a place for him to find perspective. He spent much of his childhood cooking for himself while his mother worked long hours; he even remembers getting a small set of pots and pans as a birthday gift. Then he grew up and moved on, falling into blue-collar jobs in the metal industry before life took a turn.
“I spent three years in prison,” says Trepanier. “I was a derelict, a drug user, and I learned how to manufacture. I was in a small camp in Baker and I needed a job there, so I got one in the kitchen. It’s where I wanted to spend my time. ”
“I joke with customers,” he says. “They ask me where I learned to cook and I say ‘In prison,’ and they just laugh because they don’t really know.” Then comes the punchline, for him: “Manufacturing [drugs] was just another cooking job, but it’s one I don’t get to brag about. ”
Now Trepanier gets to brag about Crack, this little up-from-nothing burger restaurant that’s really just a golf course deck. He gets to brag about his Ortega burger with hatch chiles, his thick, rich bacon jam and chipotle burger called the Dirty (a playful nickname for his best friend and biggest supporter), and his growing customer base. Trepanier sells around 100 burgers a day, Tuesday through Sunday, along with specials like prime rib sandwiches, wings, and whatever else he wants to whip up – and those numbers are growing.
“I want this to be a little hidden gem of a place,” he says as burger fans and golfers mill about, eating and drinking and trading tales. “I just love that people come in and say it’s like eating in their friend’s backyard.”
Crack sells from 10 am to 6 pm, Tuesday through Sunday, at the Bixby Village Golf Course at 6180 Bixby Village Drive in Long Beach.