The Straight Beef brings burger podcasting to a new level with its interview of George Ash, owner of the legendary Buns of Chapel Hill. Come for the burger wisdom, stay for the condiments game.
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Pop Culture A-Plenty
On the menu. On the walls. In the enormous fish tank (which was featured on Animal Planet’s Tanked). Everywhere you look at Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar in Raleigh’s trendy North Hills is a reference to pop culture images, symbols, and icons. So when it came time to sit down and write our review, we just couldn’t get ‘em out of our head.
Eating at Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar is like eating inside a pinball machine. It’s bright, it’s loud, chipper urbanites bounce off one another on the way to the bar (free ball!) and the bathroom (double bonus!), and everybody watches the big scoreboard, where their assigned cartoon fish get closer to the LCD surface while they wait—and wait and wait—to finally be seated (high score!).
But tune out the frenetic motion and noise and just groove on the burger, and you’ll be at the table all night. The Boursin Burger was a fine example of burgerdom. The patty was properly cooked with just a little char around the edges, and the garlic and herb boursin cheese added a nicely sharp counterpoint, though the grilled onions were overpowering, and I ended up removing them.
All in all, a rock solid 3.75.
Pete Best, as you know, was the Beatles’ original drummer. There’s lots of debate about why he was sacked—maybe he was too conventional for John, too quiet even for George, or just too good-looking for Paul’s liking—but whatever it was, he just wasn’t quite right.
Of the burgers we ordered at Cowfish, the Black Truffle Cheese Burger was the Pete Best of the group. While my fellow burgiatrists found at least some greatness in their burgers, I couldn’t help but feel that despite the promise, mine wasn’t quite right. The cheese covered only about half of the burger, there wasn’t quite enough roasted garlic aioli, and the overall taste was inconsistent at best. I’m willing to give Cowfish another try, with the hopes of getting a Ringo.
Michael’s review: 3.5
Think of Elvis—but the 1975 Elvis. Very good, very entertaining, but perhaps more than you could—or wanted to—handle. That’s how I felt after eating The Arnold Hamandegger at the Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar. It wasn’t the fault of the patty, which had a nice flavor and was cooked to temp. It wasn’t the fault of the egg, which was cooked perfectly so that its yolk broke on impact, showering the burger with yellowy goodness. Maybe it was the grilled onions…or the bacon…or the Black Forest ham…or the “Cowfish sauce”…or just the overall combination of all these things that brought me to the verge of the meat sweats after eating this hunka-hunka burning love.
Don’s review: 3.75
I’m about to break a rule—kind of.
The Straight Beef does not allow non-burger variables like atmosphere, art, or service to influence its ratings. A burger is what the burger is, be it served at Versailles or Penn Station. But I gotta say: The décor at Cowfish—with its burger-themed send-ups of Warhol, Lichtenstein, Broadway, and anime—is pretty darn amusing. So much so, in fact, that I couldn’t help but question whether I was enjoying the burger, which struck me at the time as downright solid, just a teensy bit more for the beef-in-cheek visuals. It’s likely that I’ll never know.
Scott’s Review: 4.0
Overall position, Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar: 21 out of 47 (3.75 avg)
I stand before you today with a warning. Yea, I beseech you to turn away from the allure of the ever-unholy combination of meats and sauces and frivolities known as the “signature burger.” These “unique combinations” are ne’er less than distractions, ruses, barriers to burger enlightenment.
Barriers, my flock!
False burger prophets preach the graces of their scandalous creations, tempting you with their “unique combination of select ingredients” and the impossible enlightenment that you, my brothers and sisters, will surely attain. I beg you, rebuke this temptation! Rebuke it!
Only through the basic burger may true enlightenment be achieved. Only through simplicity may the burgiatric kingdom be built.
Courtesy of our McDonald’s-lovin’ burgiatrist-in-residence, here are some fun facts about everybody’s [TSB: Dave’s] favorite restaurant.
We find our humble burgiatrists wandering around Merritt’s Store & Grill, each of them eager to successfully execute the Sisyphean processes of ordering, receiving, and paying for a hamburger.
ACT I: ORDERING
Michael: Well, hello there, stranger! Why don’t you sit a spell? What’s that? Can’t find a seat? Heck, just wait in line, order your food, and worry about the sittin’ later. Which line, you ask? Well, the orderin’ line, of course. Just make sure you don’t get in the pick-up-yer-food line. Dag-nabbit, son, it don’t matter when you pay. You look like a smart city slicker. You’ll figure it out.
Chad: Uh oh—looks like Michael has fallen into his front porch curmudgeon persona again. Happens every time we get near one of these country store-type burger joints. I swear, if there’s a rocking chair nearby, Marino turns into a bad community theater version of Our Town. We can’t even drive by a Cracker Barrel without him getting out and spewing folksy wisdom to frightened children. Good thing Don keeps the tranquilizer gun handy. He’s in one of those lines here…somewhere…I think.
Don: Oh boy—I’m confused. This carpetbagger definitely does not understand the three-line system. An old-timer was gracious enough to point this greenhorn to the line to the left, but only solved one of the problems. When I got to the front of the second line—what I think was the second line—I was told that my burger would be at least 15 minutes more. So I went to the third line to pay and kill some time, but then I—hey, my B.L.T. burger is ready! All the way back in the second line. I think. Dangit.
Scott: This place can use a sign—you know, with some instructions. While I’m wandering around, I’d might as well jot down a few sentences they might find useful…
ACT II: REVIEWING
Don: The burger was good. Not great, but good. Slightly overcooked, not really worth standing in three lines for. The tomato was the best part—big, juicy, and ripe. I give it a 3.5 out of 5.0.
Michael: Those whipper-snappers. I remember when you could order your food and it would be cooked right then and there! Nowadays, bacon and patties are cooked ahead of time and kept in some fancy-shmancy warmer plate for assemblin’ time. I will give ‘em the tomatoes, though. The size of your fist and as red as a sunrise before a rainstorm. Hoooo-ey! All told, this here burger’s a 3.5.
Chad: You know what? I think I’ll join Michael in one of those rocking chairs. I’m feeling a bit cranky and curmudgeonly myself. Merritt’s makes a good B.L.T., I’ll give them that, but reports of their burgers are greatly exaggerated. Leaving aside an ordering and pickup system designed by the makers of Mouse Trap, the burger—even with Merritt’s vaunted bacon and tomato—was disappointing. It was overcooked and a little bland. The patties are prepared on a tiny, non-stick Presto-Daddy type electric griddle, so there isn’t even any crust or char to give the beef a boost. Not bad, but it definitely didn’t live up to the hype. I have to go with a 3.0.
Scott: Send help. Stop. Lost in Merritt’s. Stop. Ate burger, then got trapped in line. Was decent, not stupendous. Stop. Good tomato, though. Giving it a 3.25. Stop.
Average rating: 3.31
Overall position: 32 out of 46
In what he describes as his “ongoing search for the perfect ground cow,” associate burgiatrist Brian Kachel brings us his review of Angus Barn’s Wild Turkey Lounge.
Most people consider Angus Barn a place for after-work business meetings, birthday celebrations, and people with deep pockets dressed in serious clothing. Well, that’s mostly true. But climb a set of creaky stairs to find The Wild Turkey Lounge, where you’ll find the Barn’s burger—“16 oz. patty [yes—a pound] of our Angus Barn beef, ground by our butchers”—for a measly $17. The staff will gladly explain how the burger can be spruced up with just about anything they’ve got in the kitchen, from the basic toppings to béarnaise sauce and crab. I personally stand by my faithful favorite formation: bacon and cheddar, medium rare, with a side of mayo.
The burger arrives on a large plate surrounded by a buttered, toasted bun, with massive, charred edges, melted shredded cheddar, and three pieces of crispy, curly bacon on top. I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan of the AB bacon. I prefer thick slices on my burgers, but AB puts the little curly crispy guys on theirs. I take a massive first bite to look back and see a pink inside while juice drips down the sides and onto my hands.
Closer to the center I find a warm, deeper pink—almost red—core. The beef is soft and moist on the inside, with a crisp shell from an open flame, with a unique flavor that I can only associate with the seasoned grills of AB. I quickly find my inner peace in this perfectly cooked medium rare patty from heaven.
Brian’s review: 4.5 out of 5.0
Corbett, the man who owns Corbett’s Burgers & Soda Bar, knows a thing or two—or twelve—about hamburgers. He’s spent countless hours refining the blend of the beef, which he grinds fresh, in-house, every day. To me, these things were obvious. My burger—with its glorious char, correctly prepared bacon, and grilled buttered bun—was simply close to perfect.
If you need a great burger in Cary without a lot of fuss, stop by Corbett’s and order a bacon cheeseburger (and a blueberry lemonade soda). I, for one, will be a regular.
Michael’s rating: 4.5 out of 5.0
Corbett’s Burgers & Soda Bar offers more than 250 regional and specialty sodas, which is great gimmick to get folks in the door. But the real attraction is the freshly ground burgers.
My double pimento burger delivered rich, beefy flavor, with a little char from the open-flame grill, and the toppings were spot on. The burgers are served wrapped in foil, so the patty steams a bit, turning the house-made pimento cheese into a soupy mess, but that was well worth it for a burger that holds its own with the best in the Triangle.
Chad’s rating: a very solid 4.0 out of 5.0
Especially when a place is new, it’s easy to get caught up in its specialty burgers, when you can actually learn more from how well it does the simple things. This in mind, I ordered a double cheeseburger, “all the way” (traditional toppings), with American cheese. The patty had a nice accent of char on the outside and was pink and juicy in the middle—just the right contrast, amplified by the double slices of melted cheese.
If you’re looking for a very good old-fashioned burger, then I have the place for you: Corbett’s Burgers & Soda Bar.
Don’s rating: 4.25 out of 5.0
Truth be told, I was rooting for this place. Given how close it is to my home, I wanted the burger to be good. I wanted a place to stop by with my kids after school to teach them one of the most important lessons of the day: This is what a great burger tastes like. I’ve rooted for places before, only to be disappointed, but halfway through the open-grill masterpiece at Corbett’s, I knew that I was rooting for a winning team.
Cary needed a great, independent burger place. It got one.
Scott’s rating: 4.5 out of 5.0
Average score: 4.31
Overall position: 12/45
$380,000 Test Tube Burger Makes its Debut
Special report: ‘In vitro’ beef – it’s the meat of the future This is the original article from the UK’s The Independent
This is definitely a “Look at Me!” burger, but we’re not sure we’d be willing to review it until we see whether the first batch of tasters grow additional limbs.
What two tastes make the greatest taste combo? No, it’s not peanut butter and chocolate—though that’s close. It’s burgers and beer, of course. That’s why The Straight Beef teamed up with our hoppy counterparts the NC Beer Guys for an outing, to see what burgio-beeric magic we might conjure up.
We wound up at Brewster’s Pub in Cary—a new sports bar at the corner of Lake Pine Drive and 64—and while the fare was just fair, the joint buzzed with burger and beer wisdom aplenty. Keep your ears out for a future Straight Beef podcast for more on that. For now, we’ll give our review of the Brewster’s burgers, then hand the mic to the beer experts…
The Straight Beef
Michael, of course, went with the nuttiest burger on the menu: the “Brewster Bomb,” with bacon, grilled onions, mushrooms, and “drizzled with Monterey jack queso.” Though the burger wasn’t spectacular, Michael could tell that the kitchen knew a little something about burger magic. The patty had a nice char on the outside, without the too-often-predictable overcooked middle, and while the unorthodox use of what’s essentially a cheese sauce might have worked against it, the combination of toppings came together nicely. Michael’s review? Solid overall. A 3.5 out of 5.0.
Scott went with the straightforward and aptly named “Hamburger,” with traditional veggies and condiments (if you subscribe to the school of thought that considers mayo traditional). Liberally throwing around words like backyard and serviceable and respectable, Scott landed close to Michael’s view: Brewster’s serves up a decent open-grill burger that isn’t quite stand-out, but offers hints of burger magic to come. Scott review? A 3.25 out of 5.0.
The beer selection, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired. For a discussion of that, we’ll turn things over to the beer experts.
NC Beer Guys
Beer expectations run pretty high when we enter a place that has named itself both “brewsters” and “pub.” The beer-pairing selections we had for our burgers at Brewster’s Pub left those expectations dashed. It’s especially disappointing for guys that work promoting North Carolina craft beer to see so few NC-produced options on the menu! With all the local breweries located within a few miles of the pub that would love to have their tasty craft beer on tap?
Anyway, they did have four good NC-produced beers in the Carolina Blonde, Caroline Strawberry Blonde, the Cottonwood Endo IPA from Foothills, and the Sweet Josie out of Lonerider. Good, if limited, options, but how do they do paired with burgers.
Dave chose the “Brewster Bomb,” but with all those toppings, what beer do you pair it with that won’t be overwhelmed by the burger? Dave’s first choice was Sweet Josie. You got the beef, bacon, onions, and mushrooms to contend with, and a brown ale is a wonderful complement. You have roasted malt flavors of caramel and chocolate, which match up great with all those toppings. A burger like this would kick a wheat or fruit beer to the side. Even with Glenn selecting a burger with cheddar cheese, Sweet Josie handled it with ease. These are big burgers, so it took two beers to finish them off. Do you want the same, or is there something else on the menu that can handle the challenge?
Cottonwood Endo IPA to the rescue! India pale ales are really good at putting a bite on flavor—and also cleaning up on the end. This particular IPA has a lot of citrus flavor and a nice hop bitterness. It easily handled and paired well with all the flavors it was up against.
What NC craft beer do you like to pair with your summer burgers?