Jim Brown grew up eating cheeseburgers at Sternberger’s Rite Spot, the famed diner where Pasadena short-order cook Lionel Sternberger claimed to have invented the cheeseburger in the 1920s. It may be a coin toss whether he was truly the first to smother cheese on a burger patty, but what Sternberger was really known for among locals was his burger relish, a tangy-sweet tomato-based sauce loaded with onions, peppers and a dozen spices. The recipe was a highly guarded secret, a formula that reportedly only Sternberger and his lead line cook knew and would make late at night when no other employees were on site. When Sternberger’s Rite Spot closed in 1967, the relish recipe was lost in the shuffle.
Fast forward ten years, when Jim Brown was trying to get his own line of fast-food diners up and running. He hired Sternberger’s old short-order cook and got the recipe for that relish. Although Brown closed his diners after two years, he couldn’t get memories of that relish out of his head. A few years ago, Brown tinkered around with the formula (mainly to eliminate any preservatives in the original) and hired E. Waldo Ward to produce and bottle the relish. The result is a fantastically tangy relish that’s great with grilled chicken, roasted veggies and, of course, burgers. And at $4 a jar, it’s truly a bargain for so much history in each bite.