Restaurateur Wolfgang Peter Schlicht and head chef Lothar Manz teamed up in the southern California city in 2006 to create “Crazee Burger,” a restaurant not for the faint-hearted. Deciding not to serve the usual German fare, they came up with burgers made from unexpected meats, once even making a snail burger.
Schlicht, 64, and Manz, 52, initially wanted the name “Crazy Burger,” but it was already taken, so the duo simply decided to spell it their own way, “Crazee,” for their daring entry into the area’s highly competitive restaurant business.
“I’ve almost tried everything on the menu - ostrich, wild boar, kangaroo, deer and even the alligator burger,” says regular customer Nerin Gonzales proudly. “Naturally I’ve also tried all the varieties of beef, but my favourite is definitely deer.”
Manz, who honed his culinary skills in France and Switzerland, said his favourite burger is “deer meat with red-wine soaked pears, bacon, a little cream and plum sauce,” calling it a “fine” combination.
The two Bavarians have proved to Californians that they can serve American food “with a European feeling,” they said. Interest in their daring fare was initially just local, but soon came the restaurant critics, TV-cameras, tourists and finally the award for “Best Burger” in San Diego.
“Despite the recession, our place is always packed full of customers,” says Schlicht.
What began as a small operation now sees around twelve thousand burgers per month on its grill.
By the early evening “happy hour,” the forty places in the restaurant are filled. Bavarian beer bunting festoons the ceiling, and on the menu guests can also find bratwurst and sauerkraut to sooth any cravings for traditional German cuisine.
But it’s all about the burgers, $5 for a “classic” beef burger and up to $40 for a “crunchy gator” burger with a fruity curry sauce.
“You do need a little more courage to eat some of the more daring stuff, like alligator,” admits regular Gonzales. “It certainly doesn’t taste like beef, more like a kind of chicken from the ocean.”
But she insists that everyone must try it once in their life, “if only so you can tell your friends about it.”
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the Bavarians, though. Their menu originally featured a rattlesnake burger, but they sourced the meat from the neighbouring state of Nevada where the sale of rattlesnake meat is forbidden. They were unaware of this until the authorities arrived at the restaurant one day. The meat was then confiscated and the burger removed from the menu.
Now the pair says they are extremely careful about sticking to California’s exotic meat regulations. But Schlicht maintains that, barring regulations, “technically you can throw anything on the grill.”
Their snail burger, however, failed to make a positive impression on their customers.
“For this we pureed the snail and mixed it with turkey meat, but our customers just couldn’t seem to get along with it,” says Manz sadly. He estimates that around sixty percent of their orders are for the “normal” meats.
Still the “Crazee Burger” concept appears to be catching on. Manz and Schlicht plan to open a new branch in San Diego's Old Town in October, set to be double the size of the current branch.
But they are unlikely to bring their burgers to Germany any time soon – they’d miss the California sun too much.