Reviews #90 and #91 – Shake Shack vs Square Burger

Shake Shack vs Fake Shack

Square Burger and Shake Shack are new entrants to the burger landscape of the Triangle. Shake Shack started in Madison Square in the early part of this century. They have decided to take their successful formula and branch out from its NYC environs and let people wait 45 minutes for a burger in other parts of the country. Shake Shack has a simple menu using simple ingredients, and they do it very well. Burgers, dogs, chicken sandwiches, fries, frozen custard, and various forms of those things. You may remember Michael’s Renegade Review from 2010. He ordered the same burger. Still fantastic. “Looking back at my original review, I may have been a little light on the rating.”

I probably should’ve gotten the beer with my meal.

Chad was a little skeptical that the NYC Shake Shack magic would transfer to NC. His skepticism was unfounded. “The double SmokeShack burger was perfectly seared and beefy, with the chopped cherry peppers adding a scintillating (but not overwhelming) bit of heat.”

Carolyn and Don felt the same as Michael. Carolyn brought up the good point of the giant leaf of lettuce. Cut that glorious green leaf into shreds, and it would be in contention for a 5.

Michael’s rating: 4.5 out of 5

Carolyn’s rating: 4.5 out of 5

Don’s rating: 4.5 out of 5

Chad’s rating: 4.75 out of 5

I would like to say that Square Burger has valiantly tried to ape the Shake Shack style. However, that would be giving them too much credit. The eponymous Square Burger was a quarter pound mess of lackluster ground beef. Chad likened his Square Burger to NuWay Burgers. “My burger fell apart as soon as I picked it up, with crumbles and bits falling away in an avalanche of underseasoned gray meat.”

I don’t think this was supposed to happen.

Michael said he had sloppy joes that held together better than this burger. The Square Sauce was a weak knock-off of ShackSauce. The people in the kitchen of Square Burger took zero care in putting this together. Don’s response when asked what he thought of his Square Burger, “Nope.”

The only thing this place has going for it is that it is in Moore Square. If you find yourself hanging out there and want something to eat, get a hot dog. Michael, Chad, and Don each gave it a 2 out of 5. Carolyn was spared from reviewing this burger.

Shake Shack: 4.56 for an overall rank of 12 out of 91

Square Burger: 2.00 for an overall rank of 89 out of 91

Ten years of The Straight Beef

Ten years ago today Scott, John, and I posted our first review. Scott and John have moved on to other things. Now Chad, Don, and Carolyn join me in celebrating the burgiatric arts. It has been a real pleasure meeting a lot of you online and in real life — those of you who care enough about eating hamburgers to read what we put up here.

It has been a great first 10 years, and I appreciate all your support. I don’t know exactly what the future will hold, but I hope it has juicy patties and shredded lettuce. And for God’s sake, no kaiser rolls.

Burger on,

Michael

Review #89 – Local 22 (Durham, NC)

Michael: Damn!* 4.75

Carolyn: Daaayyuum!* 4.75

Don: Daaaaaaaammmnn!* 4.75

Chad: Lamb? Damn!** 4.75

Overall rating: 4.75 out of 5

Overall rank: 7 out of 89

*The overall consensus was that the build kept the burger from being a 5. The large leaf lettuce and the pickles speared to the top of the bun were dealbreakers.

** Holy crap, the lamb burger was good. The only thing that kept it from a rock solid 5 on the Straight Beef scale was a bun not quite capable of holding up to the wonderful juiciness of the burger.

Review #88 – Burger Boy (Wilson, NC)

Over the Memorial Day weekend, my family and I went to Wilson to see the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park. What do you do when you are in a city for the first time and find yourself hungry? You search Foursquare for the closest burger joint. I lucked upon a little place known as Burger Boy. It turns out 2019 is the 50th anniversary of Marion Boykin serving burgers and dogs to the people of Wilson. For the history of Burger Boy check out The Wilson Times. I’m here to talk about the burger.

Everything about Burger Boy screams classic — even the drink sizes. A small drink is 12 oz, medium is 20 oz, and large is 32 oz. I ordered the bacon double cheeseburger combo which included a large drink and fries. It arrived wrapped in paper on a foam plate with my fries. There were two (I’m guessing) 4-oz square patties with American cheese in between. Then came crisp bacon, tomato, then some of the whitest iceberg lettuce you have ever seen. Mayo was adequately slathered on the top bun. Bonus points for no toppings under the patties.

I like the fact that a place like Burger Boy exists. If you want a decent lunch, not spend a lot of money, and support a local business, this is the place to go in Wilson. I wanted it to be more, though. The patties were nice and salty but mostly dry. It could have used another slice of cheese to hold the bacon in place. The tomato was juicy, but that lettuce was pathetic. The only way to salvage that business would have been to shred it.
I really wanted my burger to be better. I was expecting Johnson’s. Unfortunately, I got a slightly better version of a Wendy’s double. It rates a 3.25.

Overall ranking: 62 of 88

Review #87 – Royale (Raleigh, NC)

Deconstructionism, the Royale burger, and Objective Burger Truth

Listen to The Straight Beef Podcast for more on the Royale and the topic of when a burger is not a burger

Oh those wacky French and their Deconstructionist philosophy. In theory, Deconstructionism questions traditional assumptions about certainty, identity, and truth; and challenges the idea that we can discover objective meaning outside our own biases and belief systems.

Yeah, we don’t get it either, but we suspect that the burgers at Royale in downtown Raleigh are the result. These burgers certainly make us question our firmly held beliefs about hamburgers, namely that patty+bun=hamburger. Even the much-loved patty melt was viewed with some skepticism. An open-faced burger? On toast? Pish posh.

Then we ate at Royale, an undeniably French restaurant that undeniably deconstructs its burgers and does so in spectacular fashion. Chad had the Royale Burger, which came on an over sized English muffin. Michael’s burger, Le Grand Garçon, had no bun at all! Sacré bleu! What were we to make of this?

We had to rethink our entire belief system in the course of one meal. Rationalization played a large part.

As Michael said, “We have railed against terrible buns like the kaiser and how it detracts from the experience. Even a decent bun simply gets out of the way. You would think that in order to appreciate the true essence of a burger, it makes sense to get rid of the bun. Why have something there that is neutral at best? But if a burger doesn’t have a bun, is it still a burger?

“Such was the dilemma I was presented with at Royale. The Plat du Jour each Tuesday is always a burger. Le Grand Garçon burger was a 6-oz patty, prosciutto, a sunny side up egg, and Bearnaise sauce served on a hash brown.”

No. Bun. Hash brown. Let that sink in for a moment.

But…but…where’s the bun?

The build was perfectly constructed. The hash brown served as a dense foundation for a perfectly-cooked peppery patty. Lightly crisped prosciutto served as an interesting departure from bacon. The Bearnaise sauce was artfully spooned around the yolk to drape over the egg white and everything else beneath. Micro chives dusted the entire creation.

Michael was wowed. “This burger was flavorful and rich. Sumptious, even. It was served with a tasty side salad, but it needed some arugula on top of everything. Something light to counterbalance the overall heaviness of the burger. I give it a 4.75. It just needed some greens to make it a 5. Usually a fine-dining restaurant such as this has a burger on the menu for the unwashed masses who are intimidated by fancy foods. Royale serves it proudly with care and with pride.”

You know what they call it? A royale with cheese.

Chad’s Royale Burger was the same 6-7ish ounce patty ground from short rib, brisket and chuck but served with gruyère and au poive aoili on a toasted English muffin. Again, the burger was extremely well prepared, the result of a chef and a well-trained staff turning their skills to re-think something as potentially mundane as a hamburger. The flavor was rich and beefy with a precise level of crispy char that highlighted the juiciness of the perfect pinkish-in-the-center patty. And, as Chad said, “Dammit, the English muffin just works. In this instance, it’s a great complement to the burger. I hate being so smug and so wrong. I want to give it a 4.75 for knocking my beliefs about objective burger truth for a loop, but this was an un-Deconstructed 5.0.”

Listen to The Straight Beef Podcast for more on this discussion.

Overall rating 4.88 out of 5.

Overall rank 2 out of 87.

Review #86 – The Mecca Restaurant (Raleigh, NC)

Our Double Glo Burgers crash landed at the table with its eponymous Glo sauce completely melted away. The first few bites revealed a well-seasoned, slightly over-cooked but otherwise fair to middling burger.

Whither art thou, Lee Majors?

The Double Glo Burger. A burger barely meriting a 3.5. We can rebuild it. We have the ingredients. We have the capability to build a burger that can contend with Raleigh’s best. The Double Glo Burger at The Mecca Restaurant will be that burger. Better than it was before. Tastier, tangier, cheesier.

The Glorified Jumbo Hamburger, introduced at The Mecca in 1958, might have been innovative at the time. However, like tail fins and tube radios, it’s time had passed. Drastic measures were called for.

It was vital to use components native to The Mecca, otherwise we would risk incompatibility and inevitable topping rejection. Using our wits, what we had at our table, and a very accommodating waiter, we got to work. Slathering on more Glo sauce was a good start, but we had to do more. This was not a time to be timid. Adding a slice of American cheese gave some much-needed texture, but it wasn’t enough.

We needed to do more.

We took away the pointless lettuce that was wilting under the double patties. Addition by subtraction.

We needed to do more.

Then, an epiphany. It was sitting there in a little crock, the Baked Cracklin’ Meccaroni. We carefully scooped a healthy helping between the two patties. The burger soared! The Meccaroni, excellent in its own right, turned out to be the key to the rebuild. Better than pimento cheese which oozes out at every opportunity, the Meccaroni held everything together and gave the whole burger a texture and flavor that the original just didn’t have.

The original Double Glo Burger merited a 3.5. Our new creation dubbed the Meccandcheese Burger was a triumph of burgiatric science and deserved a 4.5.

Overall ranking: 14 out of 86

Review #85: Hops Burger Bar (Chapel Hill, NC)

REVIEW #85 – HOPS BURGER BAR, CHAPEL HILL

Be Careful What You Ask For

We here at the Straight Beef like to push boundaries. We love and revere a classic burger and are forever in search of the Platonic ideal of burgerdom. However, we are not afraid to take on the challenge of burgers that test the limits of what a hamburger can (or should) be. Sometimes that works out wonderfully and we make a grand discovery that we trumpet to the clamoring legion of burger fanatics within our sphere of influence. Many times, however, the boundary testing burger falls short or even fails spectacularly. What happens when a burger place does both? We found out at Hops Burger Bar in Chapel Hill, an afternoon of cognitive dissonance that led to these Rashomon-like reviews.

Scene 1: Michael

The original Hops Burger Bar in Greensboro gained national attention, being named the best burger in the country by TripAdvisor and one of the Top 50 Burgers in the US by Business Insider. Michael’s experience bore that out, and he was thrilled when Hops opened a branch in Chapel Hill.

Michael: I had eaten at Hops in Greensboro and had a truly transcendent experience. I ordered the Pickleback (friend onion ring, spicy barbecue, bourbon-marinated pickles) at that time and assured my burgiatric brethren that this burger was going to be a slam dunk five.  This burger was going to challenge Al’s and Buns as one of the best burgers in Chapel Hill.

X does not mark the spot.

The time came for our official review of the new Hops location in Chapel Hill, and I went with the Spicy Goat. The allure of goat cheese and sweet and spicy pepper jelly was too tempting. However, there were two glaring issues with the Goat that kept it from reaching the burger mountain top: the bacon and the lettuce. A giant piece of green leaf lettuce – easily 25% larger than the patty – acted like a sluice for the pepper jelly to escape from the back of the burger when I picked it up. The strips of bacon were lazily placed in an X on top of the patty. Here’s a tip: if you want to put bacon on a burger in an X, look at it. If you took a test, got it back, and saw an X, that means you got it wrong. Stop it!

Rebuilding the burger automatically garners points off. I took the bacon and lettuce and ripped them apart. Then, I spread the goat cheese on the patty where it should have been, covered it in the jelly, topped that with bacon then the lettuce. This was how the burger was meant to be presented. If I had gotten the burger this way (without the superfluous pepperoncini speared on top of the bun – what is that, really?), it would have garnered a 4.75. It was delicious.

After thinking about it, the Pickleback had neither bacon nor lettuce, which were the worst parts of the Spicy Goat. That’s why I liked my first visit to Hops. That’s why the bar was set so high in my mind. Unfortunately, a careless build turned an excellent burger into a good burger. I give it a 4.0

Scene 2: Don

Don’s experience was different. His undercooked burger brought his alter ego, the Reverend Corey, fiery burger evangelist, to the fore.

Don: Congregation, I beseech you to hear my words. There is nothing so sinful as a poorly cooked burger. Though my colleagues will profess their appetites appropriately satisfied, I was left wanting on the Hill. My burger was to be medium rare and though the first few bites, the burger was true. By the middle, it was apparent that this was just a ruse. The rest of the burger was cold, lifeless and inedible, rare or extra rare how ever you care to describe it. I felt betrayed. Bamboozled!

At Hops you get your choice of 6-oz, 8-oz, or 10-oz lettuce leaf.

In what I could surmise was a surreptitious attempt at flavor, they bathed the base of the burger in copious amounts of mustard and ketchup. Couple this with the overbearing blandness of the largest and thickest piece of lettuce I have ever witnessed on a burger, and there was no safe harbor from my disappointment. For years, I have heard how great Hops was, and perhaps there was a time and a place. However, I would be bearing false witness if I said otherwise as I left Chapel Hill. My journey home was troubled as I regretted finishing my slab of uncooked meat. I was not feeling at peace with myself or my burger. 2.0

Scene 3: Chad

Chad also ordered his burger medium rare, which should mean a warm pink center cooked to about 135°, and that’s what he received, mostly.

Chad: I had the North Carolinian, which comes with a fried egg, pimento cheese and a fried green tomato. The egg was excellent. I remember thinking that Hops should open for breakfast. That egg on a biscuit would be amazing. What I don’t remember are the fried green tomato and the pimento cheese. They were on the burger. I ate them. But I have no memory of them, they just didn’t register.

We all want to forget something, so we tell stories. It’s easier that way.

What did register was the burger patty. The outside of the patty had a decent sear, but the Hops kitchen seems to be a bit hit or miss when it comes to medium rare, unable to gauge the right degree of doneness with consistency. While Don’s burger was red and cool in the center, mine was mostly pink most of the way through and was pretty close to a proper medium rare. I have learned the hard way that unless you are in the hands of a very skilled kitchen, medium burgers are the way to go. In a burger place known for high quality beef I’ll take the chance and order medium rare to really let the flavor of the beef shine through. In this case I should have gone with medium. The burger was good but didn’t live up to expectations. It rates a 4.0 on the Straight Beef scale, but don’t go in expecting burger Nirvana.

So is Hops Burger Bar a 4.0 or a 2.0? Such is the subjective nature of burger truth.

Average rating: 3.33 out of 5

Overall ranking: 58 out of 85

The Straight Beef Podcast Archive is here

For a little while, TSB had a podcast. After leaving out original host, we have found a home for our full catalog of 27 episodes. If reading the site isn’t enough, head on over to Anchor and listen to everything we have recorded. We can’t guarantee that we’ll record more. However, for those new to the site, we think you’ll enjoy these gems of burgiatric wisdom and humor.

Review #82 – Scratch Kitchen and Taproom (Apex, NC)

The holidays are over. Did Santa deliver the goods? Are we going to re-gift that weird lion umbrella stand? Did we get what we asked for at Scratch Kitchen and Taproom in Apex? Well…

After receiving the Westminster Abbey burger, Don was left thinking, “You shouldn’t have.”

“You shouldn’t have cooked my burger, which I ordered medium, to the consistency and taste of a charcoal briquette. The only flavor the burger had was from was the char and the sour taste of the sad clump of bleu cheese lumped under the patty. The candied bacon seemed to be trying to escape this mess as it was clumped on one side.

“Really, you shouldn’t have.” 2 out of 5.

Unfortunately, Carolyn fared no better. She ordered the Jammin’ burger, hoping for a little spicy kick. Her burger was dry and overcooked as well. “The nightmarish char overwhelmed all potential redemption that the otherwise excellent accoutrements — red pepper jam, onion straws, feta cheese and spicy mayo — could have added.”

Every bite was worse than the last and yet still, I kept going, thinking that I’d get to that one good bite. The jam and the mayo were not spread evenly and there needed to be more onion straws. I think there was a dime-sized glob of the creamed feta somewhere in there. “But nobody could overwhelm spicy Korean mayo with char!” you say. “Hold my beer”, says Scratch.

“Utter tripe. I was hungry, and I didn’t finish it.” 2 out of 5.

Michael asked for the Truffle Mac and Cheese burger and received a lump of coal instead. The build was haphazard and ill-conceived. The scant amount of arugula was under the patty which wilted it to a mush. Should have been on top. The fried mac and cheese patty was tasty but would have stayed together better if left under the patty to allow it to melt a little. Keep it gooey. The candied bacon, again, was good, but it was shoved under the bun in a little pile. I had to spread it out. “I couldn’t even taste the roasted garlic truffle aioli. The delicate flavor was lost in all that char.”

“No character to the beef and forgettable flavor.” 2.25 out of 5.

Chad made it pretty clear, this probably wouldn’t be a December to remember, “The presentation was dismal.” The burgers and small cup of fries sat forlornly on a small metal tray, the bottom covered haphazardly with a sheet of parchment paper. It looked like a bad school lunch.

He ordered the Ramen Burger which comes with seared ramen noodles, a fried egg, pickled ginger, scallion slaw, and spicy Korean mayo. When seeing it on the menu, he feared it might be freak show State Fair food with buns made of fried ramen. What came was a fried puck of ramen the exact size and shape of the burger patty. It “added nothing but bulk and starch to the burger, no flavor whatsoever.”

The yolk on the fried egg had popped before the burger was delivered. “Rather than a flow of golden lava at the first bite, I got a bottom bun that had been spot-welded to the parchment paper underneath by drying yolk.” It got worse. “The sloppy, unstable build caused the patty and all toppings to squirt out the back of the bun when I attempted to pry the burger from the paper.” After that and a stack of napkins, Chad attacked his burger with knife and fork.

Scratch did prove that they could cook a burger correctly, though. Chad’s was cooked to medium and lacked the char that ruined everyone else’s. The pickled ginger was excellent. Frankly, though, it would be pretty hard to mess up pickled ginger. “I have only had one burger this bland before, a Sheetz gas station burger that I ordered out of morbid curiosity. The Scratch Ramen burger tasted like not much of anything, an undifferentiated protein with meat-like qualities.

I was sad and disappointed rather than angry, so it merits a 2. But it is the holidays…” 2.25 out of 5.

Really, you shouldn’t have.

Overall rating: 2.13 out of 5

Overall ranking: 80 out of 82

Review #81 – Cow Bar Burgers & Fries (Raleigh, NC)

Michael was eager to check out the latest skinny ties at Merry-Go-Round. Don was after a blacklight poster and possibly a naughty gift from Spencers. Chad just wanted to see if the new Devo album had hit the Record Bar yet. Alas they are no more. Only the mighty food court survives, and, just like us, it has grown up . . . and expanded.

The mall food court is reborn in Morgan Street Food Hall, an evolution of the food truck and gourmet pop-up restaurant movement where grownups (or those of us pretending to be) can sample a wide variety of interesting and innovative cuisines. Morgan Street’s owners call it a “lifestyle dining concept.” Whoever wrote that pretentious twaddle needs to be beaten with a soft pretzel. No, there is no Orange Julius or Cinnabon, and there’s not an Sbarro anywhere in sight, but you and your friends can still mix and match — get a slice of pizza, a swanky taco, an empanada, sweet baked goods and a local beer. And there is definitely a burger available, a pretty darn good one, as it turns out.

Chad’s Review: Cow Bar’s standard offering consists of two four-ounce patties, cooked medium, on a toasted bun. They also offer a quad with four patties if you’re so inclined. I went with the Southern Classic, a standard burger with chili, cheese, slaw & mustard. The first bite was spectacular, beefy with a great crusty char. I was seriously impressed. But an experienced burger maven knows not to be wowed by that first kiss of flavor. With a burger like this, the chili and slaw should either complement the burger or contrast with it. Tart, crunchy slaw should offer a counterpoint to the savory richness of the burger.

The chili should offer another flavor note, an accent distinct from the burger but adding to the overall impression. In this case the chili wasn’t quite up to the task. Rather than accenting the burger’s flavor, it masked it, diminishing the combination. The slaw was crisp but ended up making the burger more wet than flavorful. I gave up trying to eat the burger out of hand after a dozen or two napkins and just attacked it with a knife and fork. The chili needs a more intense flavor and possibly a little heat to really bring the burger to life. And if I were making this burger I would use a red slaw (like the slaw from Stamey’s barbecue in Greensboro & Lexington) for a little more pop. Don’t get me wrong, this was a damn fine burger. I give it a very respectable 4.0 on the Straight Beef’s five-point scale. 

Don’s Review: Sliding on my parachute pants, baggy Frankie says “Relax” t-shirt, and checkerboard vans, I was excited to meet the guys at the food court. You can imagine my surprise when I got there and the stores were gone and I was the only one in the latest fashions.

I put my suddenly re-emerging insecurities aside and strolled confidently to the counter to place my order, secretly hoping Phoebe Cates would be taking my order. Alas, another dream crushed. I ordered the Classic Cheese Burger without sauce. I couldn’t risk staining the pants or shirt because I just got them off layaway. My evening was saved by the delicious comfort that I picked up. Between two slightly toasted buns were two well flavored patties, exhibiting the proper amount of char. These were then topped with nicely melted American cheese. This power clique was completed by lettuce, tomato, and onion. I might not have Chess King anymore but I did have this burger. 4.25

Michael’s Review: When you need a break from trying on Capezios, channel Buster Poindexter and order the Atomic Nuclear Burger. 

Sriracha ketchup (hot, hot, hot,) jalapeños (hot, hot, hot,) CowBar hot sauce (hot, hot, hot,) pickled red onions (not so hot.)

Man. This was the hottest thing I have eaten in a long time. I’m not too proud to admit that I had to take off half of the jalapeños to make it more edible for me. 

Don’t take that as a dig on the flavor. It was a tasty burger. Two thin patties that weren’t overdone. It could have used a lot more cheese to cut some of the spice and give the whole experience a little more texture, though. I fell prey to another stunt burger and bit off a little more heat than I could handle. There was so much capsaicin on this burger, umami was beaten into submission and set ablaze.

Olé olé olé olé. 4 olés is about right. A solid burger. Just a little too Hot Hot Hot for this hombré.

Overall rating: 4.08 out of 5. Ranking: 31 out of 81

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