The Zen of Zinburger
Three Burgiatrists Ponder the Conundrum of a Boutique Burger Chain
As a wine, Zinfandel runs the gamut from cheap, tarty white zinfandel designed to be swilled by mindless twenty-somethings who just want something sweet, to brawny, tannic red zinfandels that can stand up to the burliest steak. The atmosphere and menu of Zinburger encompass a similar spectrum. The upscale boutique burger chain is situated in trendy Streets of Southpoint in Durham. It is bright, garish and loud, catering to a young, well-heeled white zinfandel crowd busy with their smartphones. The burgers, however, are red zinfandel serious. How can this place be both? That is the Zen of Zinburger.
This place is loud. Even a roadie for an 80s hair-metal band would say, “Man, that place is loud.” Loud music, big TVs. I thought they tried too hard to make the place trendy, so my hopes for a good burger experience were not high.
THIS IS A GREAT BURGER!
I eschewed the Manchego cheese and fancy shmancy Neuske’s Maple Bacon and ordered the Double which consisted of two 3.5 ounce patties, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and ketchup. It is hard to cook a thin patty without turning it into shoe leather. The cook nailed it beautifully, but the burger experience took a big hit with the bun. The thickness of the bread was far greater than the burger and toppings inside. A simple potato bun grilled with a little butter would have vaulted this burger to top ten status in my book. I still give it a 4 out of 5 as that is the only complaint that I had.
What is the sound of one bun flapping? No, wait, that’s not right. It doesn’t matter anyway, you’d never hear it over the noise level in Zinburger, one of the latest boutique burger chains to call the Triangle home. It’s loud, it’s friendly, and they make a decent burger.
They also make a very messy burger. Listen, burger joint owners, toast your buns. If you pride yourself on particularly juicy burgers and then slather that burger with any kind of sauce, you have a disaster in the making if the bun doesn’t have some structural integrity. The signature Samburger boasts Neuske’s Applewood smoked bacon, American cheese and Thousand Island dressing. It tastes pretty darn good. But pair that with a squishy bun and big, sloppy leaf of iceberg lettuce and you have a burger patty that squirts out the back of the bun on the first (and every subsequent) bite. I ended up eating it with a knife and fork. At least until it got cold, which happened alarmingly quickly. I suspect my burger sat on the pass while waiting for the others to come up for service.
On the other hand, the Zingria sangria was quite tasty and the zucchini fries were excellent, making up for a slightly disappointing burger experience. The underlying burger was well prepared and should have scored higher. The build, the bun and the serving temperature knock it down to a 3.0 out of 5.
I have to admit, I was looking forward to Zinburger much like I would going to any chain- with much trepidation. But I put my game face on, climbed up to my bench seat, to peruse a fairly succinct menu. The Breakfast Burger stood out as a burger aimed directly at my sensibilities – burger, bun, bacon, egg, mayo, American cheese, and avocado. The first bite showed me that the burger meant business, with very good flavor and the first of a series of happy accidents. The burger was a little closer to medium rare, than the medium I had ordered it- which I actually prefer. This first bite also showed me that this was going to be a messy dining experience. The next happy accident was that the egg was hard fried, meaning no runny yolk adding to the concoction of burger juice, mayo, and avocado now residing in my beard. The bacon was a very nice accompaniment to the burger, egg, and cheese, really rounding out the flavors and not over powering them as it is apt to do.
As I worked through this spiritual journey of a burger, I became enlighted to a few things that would make this burger better. First, toast the bun. I don’t need to go through all the issues with a non-toasted bun, just toast it. Second, the 1/3 of a whole avocado was a bit excessive and it acted as a fulcrum to dislodge all the other ingredients into my beard with each bite. But this did allow me to enjoy my burger again driving home, another happy little accident. 4.0 out of 5
Overall 3.66 out of 5, putting Zinburger 27 out of 57.
Southern lifestyle magazine Garden & Gun recently published a paean to a quintessential dive bar: Our Kind of Place: Nu-Way Lounge & Restaurant
Photo spread from Garden & Gun article on Nu-Way Lounge & Restaurant. Click to read.
I said to Becky, the owner who worked the grill on this particular day, “I want a Redneck burger, and I need a plain burger with nothing on it for my dog.”
She said, “Your dog’s outside?” I nodded. She said, “You got a leash? You can bring him in.”
I said, “Yeah, I do. How nice,” and got Dooley out of the Jeep.
I don’t want to get all existential and dog-whispering about this, but when I brought Dooley in I pretty much felt him saying, “Wow! Thanks. Can we play that bowling game?” (George Singleton, Garden & Gun, Aug/Sep 2014)
This place sounded too good to miss. Luckily Spartanburg designer and artist Jane Beckler Bird is an old friend and a fan of classic cheeseburgers. She quickly was sworn in as Adjunct Burgiatrist and guest reviewer. Here’s what she had to say.
“Despite being a resident of Spartanburg, South Carolina, for a decade I had visited only two of the three known “burger dives” in this town – The Beacon and Ike’s Korner Grille. At last, I made it to Nu-Way Restaurant and Lounge, a renowned player in this heavenly trifecta. The White Trash Burger did not disappoint…
Nu-Way is truly a burger dive with no frills – just a row of barstools, a handful of tables and a fully stocked bar (complete with the usuals as well as local craft beer). Friendly staff, who seem to know everyone in the place, are eager to please. Clever menu items make selection tough (they all sound great) with Redneck Cheeseburger, Trailer Park Burger and such, but I settled upon a favorite there: The White Trash Cheeseburger.
Nu-Way White Trash Burger: hand pattied beef, homemade slaw, mustard, pickles, onions, chili, jalapenos, and American cheese
The White Trash features a sizeable angus patty grilled to taste and includes American cheese, pickles, onions, jalapeno chiles, slaw, mustard and whatever else you wish added for that matter. It’s served on a classic sesame seed bun that perfectly soaks in all the ingredients’ deliciousness. Yeah… a good ol’ messy burger you only eat around those you really love! Paired with some crispy shoestring fries, this burger really hit the spot. It was so filling I elected to take half home for later, and trust me, this is one burger that does leftover very well. It was even amazing the next day!
I am not a well versed foodie or writer of reviews, but I do know a great burger when I find one. Nu-Way’s White Trash Cheeseburger is a must if you’re in downtown Spartanburg. It has close rivalry, but that’s for another writeup another time. Enjoy!” Jane Beckler Bird
Photo borrowed from the Nu-Way Facebook page. Looks like they really are pet friendly.
THIS JUST IN!
The Straight Beef Ties DiMaggio’s Streak of 56 Straight
by Old-Timey McSportswriter, Sr.
(AP) Time to scram, Joltin’ Joe! There’s a new big cheese in town, and it’s The Straight Beef.
With their once-over of Gypsy’s Shiny Diner in Cary, The Burger Boys of Beeftown extend their hot-streak to 56 straight months in the burger-reviewin’ biz. It’s a mark that brings TSB neck with The Yankee Clipper himself. That’s killer-diller in my book!
Listen to a snippet from the original radio broadcast!
It all started with Chad “Sugar Daddy” Ward.
“The first pitch was a big fat meatball,” said the squad’s speedy leadoff man. “A classic diner burger with bacon and cheese. Any hash slinger shoulda hit it out of the park. Instead, it was out by a mile. The bacon tasted like it got the business end of a heat lamp, and the under-seasoned meat just plain chickened out.” Ward’s review? 2.75 out of 5.
Then Donald “Knuckle Sandwich” Corey stepped up to a chili burger.
“The pitch was hotsy-totsy,” said TSB’s two-hole man. “A real doozy. But the patty was out of the strike zone on account of its being too dry, see? The chili had some bite, so that gave the burger some pull, but horsefeathers if it was gonna get to first base.” Corey’s review? 3 out of 5.
Scott “Nice Gams” Blumenthal was up next.
“The Shiny Diner’s the cat’s meow,” said the Beef’s burly slugger. “So I ordered mine classic-style and got ready to cook with gas. But it sat in my stomach like rocks in my stompers, see? I got the heebie-jeebies so bad I could barely noodle my way to the bag.” Blumenthal’s review? 2.75 out of 5.
Now, it was up to Michael “Wise Guy” Marino to put the capper on the streak.
“I was ready for a juicy slab of ground, flat-grill chuck,” said TSB’s cleanup man, “but my two-fer with bacon, American cheese, lettuce, mayo, and mustard was a dead hoofer. Lucky for me I got a nubber between short and third or I woulda snapped my cap.” Marino’s review? 3 out of 5.
Gypsy’s overall ranking: 45 out of 57.
Did these guys just equate eating 56 burgers with me hitting in 56 straight games?
Test-tube burgers: miracle meats or monstrosities with cheese? The Straight Beef decides.
Download the podcast here.
Hero Burgiatrist Eats 10 Sliders in One Hour at Asheville’s Battle of the Burger
Our own burgiatrist Michael Marino recently served as a judge at the WNC Battle of the Burger in Asheville, NC. The Battle wasn’t just a great way to benefit western NC’s Eblen Charities—it was also an official qualifying event of the World Burger Championship in Las Vegas. So it was kind of a big deal. Thanks to our buds the NC Beer Guys for helping to get us involved in this fantastic event.
Here’s Michael’s report:
Local bands played as 10 western NC burger purveyors—all hoping for a chance at the big prize—grilled and griddled thousands of burger samples. Pepsi of Asheville, Sierra Nevada, and Pisgah Brewing kept things cold while the competition got hot. Finally, it was time to taste.
King James Public House. Hands down my favorite. Really nice combination of smoked gouda, fried onions, and an especially delicious patty of ground chuck, short rib, brisket, and lardo (an Italian charcuterie that’s cured for a month, then hung for another two). Honestly, one of the most flavorful patties I’ve ever had. If TSB’s current number 1, Chuck’s, used this patty, it would probably be the best burger in the universe.
All kneel before the King (James) of Burgers.
Rankin Vault. This was the winner of the competition—topped with bacon, white cheddar, arugula, red onion in a house-made vinaigrette, and spicy Duke’s mayo. The peppery arugula and onions were an interesting choice and made for an overall savory experience. I thought it was exceptional, but its patty couldn’t match King James’.
Viva Las Vegas!
Ambrozia served a simple pimento cheeseburger with a twist: bacon jam instead of bacon. It mixed well with the tangy pimento cheese. I’m not a pimento cheese connoisseur like my colleague Chad, but I think he’d approve. It was firm and not soupy, and I wasn’t a mess by the time I finished.
Food of the gods.
Mojo Kitchen and Lounge. Mojo went sweet instead of savory, topping its burger with mozzarella cheese, caramelized onions, sweet plantains, and chimichurri. I might have gone with Brie over mozzarella, but that’s nitpicking an otherwise fine burger. In this rarified air, quibbles make all the difference.
All the sorority girls are clamoring for the plantains, Lois.
Farm Burger gets a boost because it impressed my daughter, who’s tough to please burger-wise. She went back for seconds on this goat cheese, microgreens, heirloom tomato, and basil pesto-topped creation.
These five were solid, but not quite ready for the big leagues:
Creekside Taphouse tried hard to be different, using a dollop of bacon jam on the cheese and floating a sunny-side-up quail egg on that. A neat effect, and the presentation was great—looking like a tiny toy burger—but its taste was nothing special. Solid, but not outstanding.
Farm to Fender represented the Battle’s lone food truck. Fender served my personal favorite type of bun—the poppyseed sesame similar to what’s used at Ray’s Hell Burger—but the chipotle pimento-smothered concoction was the saltiest thing I’ve ever eaten.
If you’re going deer hunting, bring along one of these babies.
Buffalo Nickel, like Creekside, tried to gimmick themselves apart, using creamy white cheddar with a whipped cream dispenser. It was neat—and the cheese was akin to high end Cheez Whiz—but the burger was so-so.
The Social was the Battle’s previous champ. But either its fellow Asheville burger purveyors significantly raised their game, or The Social was having an off day. The fried pickle chipotle burger was nothing special.
Ben’s Tune Up. Its chopped skirt steak and bacon sandwich, topped with tomato jam and miso slaw on a baguette, fits better in a “loose meat” category. Nice flavor, but a little chewy—and just not really a burger.
How did this sandwich sneak into a burger competition?
Though the organization of the WNC Battle of the Burger was a bit chaotic—and the first tables had an advantage over the last few, which people reach when they were stuffed—overall the event was lots of fun, and the opportunity to eat 10 heavy sliders in an hour was truly an honor.
But really, people: Enough with chipotle seasoning already. We went through this with the equally meaningless “applewood smoked bacon.” It’s played out. What about cumin? Cumin’s nice.
Warning: Everything you know about Kobe beef is a lie. Take a listen.
This month’s edition of Notes from the Burger Underground is an overview of burger news and reviews that have appeared in major media outlets. Enjoy.
The Roman Burger. Photo by NPR.
This is the Roman Burger from M Burger in Chicago, which uses grilled cheese sandwiches for buns. The fearless correspondents at NPR’s Sandwich Monday give it a (gut) glowing review.
The pimento cheeseburger from Southside Smokehouse. Photo by Michael Stern.
Jane and Michael Stern of Road Food fame declare the pimento cheeseburger at Southside Smokehouse in Landrum, SC, the ultimate southern cheeseburger.
NY’s The Gander only sells this sweet baby during the day. Photo: Paul Wagtouicz
Grub Street laments the disappearing burger, a loss leader in NY restaurants that have proven so popular that chefs limit access to their meaty goodness. “More top New York chefs limit their burgers by selling them in very small quantities, or only at lunch, or only for the first 30 minutes their restaurant is open, or maybe just to the people sitting at the bar but not in the dining room, or possibly only on Mondays.”
Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman
Author Michael Ruhlman reminds us that if we want to make the best burgers we need to grind our own meat. Why?
First and foremost: taste and texture. When you grind your own, you can regulate the amount of fat you include; your hamburger should contain 20 to 30 percent fat for a juicy, succulent burger. I can season the diced meat before grinding it so that the burger is seasoned uniformly throughout. And I can use the large die so that it’s got real bite to it.
Importantly to me, when I grind my own, I know it hasn’t been contaminated by any of the bad bugs that can get into ground meat these days at big processing facilities, or even through carelessness in the meat department of my grocery store. Provided I give the whole muscle a thorough rinse and pat it dry, I can eat the ground meat as tartare or serve it to my kids as rare as they want it.
And finally, the NY Times’s Sam Sifton deconstructs the perfect burger, dividing the universe into diner-style griddled burgers and thick pub-style. The trick? “Cook on heavy, cast-iron pans and griddles. Cook outside if you like, heating the pan over the fire of a grill, but never on the grill itself. The point is to allow rendering beef fat to gather around the patties as they cook, like a primitive high-heat confit.”
It’s review #55, and we’re eating a burger at a converted gas station. Is it possible not to think of Sammy Hagar and/or his magnum opus “I Can’t Drive 55”? The answer is no—it is not.
Which is fitting, because I felt about the burger at Chevy’s Sports Bar exactly how I felt about the Sammy version of Van Halen. (And yes, I know that “55” was pre-Halen; work with me here.) That is to say: I wanted to like it more.
Chevy’s had a lot going for it—a cozy, relaxed feel, super-homey service, an admirable beer selection, and fine boneless wings—but the burger (not unlike Van Hagar’s “Finish What Ya Started,” “Poundcake,” and the unrepentant nightmare that was “Dreams”) kept my taste buds well within the speed limit.
Scott’s review: 2.25 out of 5
Being snarky is easy. A professional burgiatrist can delight in delivering a righteous smackdown to a burger joint that just doesn’t get it. What is hard is rating a burger place that you want to like—a place that’s clearly trying but isn’t quite sure what it is yet. Chevy’s is one of those places. A gas station burger joint is funny—I don’t care who you are—but we couldn’t go for the easy joke. (Well, Scott could.) They obviously cared about what they were doing.
My burger, a classic combo of cheddar, bacon, mayo, and pickles, was decent. It was a little overcooked, but the beefy flavor came through. The pretzel bun was a little dry. My rating comes with an asterisk to denote that I’d like to go back when they’ve finished renovating and have found their groove. Chevy’s has potential.
Chad’s rating: 3.25 out of 5
How would I characterize this burger experience, set at a former gas station? Middle of the road.
The patty was overcooked but still juicy enough. The bun was toasted nicely but fell apart. The caramelized onions were good but not quite caramelized. My tailored burger order—of a fried egg, bacon, caramelized onions, and American cheese—came together nicely, but was missing the bacon. Despite these issues—and overall pedestrian flavor—the burger was OK. I hope that they work through the kinks and bring the burger to the sunny side of the street.
Don’s rating: 3.0 out of 5
“Potential energy is energy stored in a system of forcefully interacting physical entities.” (Physics for Scientists and Engineers)
A burger too is a system of forcefully interacting physical entities. In the case of the burger at Chevy’s case, these entities didn’t all interact the way a great burger should. The patty was cooked well with a nice char, but wasn’t seasoned especially well. The pretzel bun was nice but fell apart midway through. The lettuce was green and fresh but was placed under the bun, effectively sluicing the burger juices onto the plate. The cooked-to-order bacon was crispy and flavorful, which saved this burger from being merely average.
The burger at Chevy’s was chock-full of potential energy. They need to harness that energy to elevate their good burger to a great one.
Michael’s rating: 3.5 out of 5
Chevy’s overall ranking: 44th of 55
Sir, I’m going to tell you this one more time. I don’t care that you can’t drive 55. You’re under arrest for wearing that awful shirt.
BURGER HISTORY, PART 1: SADDLE MEAT
How was the first hamburger invented? Look under your saddle, pardner. Download here.
BURGER HISTORY, PART 2: FUN ON A BUN
Where was the hamburger really invented? The Straight Beef explores the six leading theories and determines which is the least insane. Download here.
The burgers at Craft Public House in Cary are average. Exceedingly so. They’re so extraordinarily ordinary, in fact, that they inspired these burgiatrists to recall other outstandingly unremarkable experiences gone by. To take a stroll, if you will, down Mediocrity Lane.
Eating a burger at Craft is like crashing in front of the tube for an evening of Full House, King of Queens, and Two and a Half Men.
It’s like taking test drives in a Honda Accord, a Ford Explorer, and a Toyota Camry.
It’s like curling up at the beach with a paperback collection of John Grisham, Danielle Steel, and Dean Koontz.
It’s like going to a concert featuring a lineup of John Mayer, Steely Dan, and Phil Collins.
It’s like watching a movie starring Greg Kinnear, Eric Roberts, and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Michael’s rating: 3 out of 5.
Scott’s rating: 3 out of 5
Chad’s rating: 3 out of 5
Don’s rating: 3.5 out of 5