Review #73 – Village Burger (Chapel Hill, NC)

Village Burger is a little hard to find. As it turns out, that’s one of it’s best features. The place has a lot to live up to. Chapel Hill is home to Al’s Burger Shack, Buns, and Top This, all truly excellent burger places. But as Michael said, Village Burger doesn’t even live up to Wendy’s.

We had a difficult time finding Village Burger. It’s tucked away in University Mall, near Southern Seasons. Given the gorgeous website, great logo, and the claims of a world famous chef char grilling burgers and placing them lovingly on a buttery brioche bun, our expectations were high. The website actually includes the words “gourmet work of art.” Well, all right then. Please bring us a great burger. Make us sing your praises. We’re happy to do so if the burger is that good. The burger at Village Burger wasn’t.

Let’s be honest here. Writing a bad review can be a lot of fun. You can be snarky and mean and hilariously funny. Village Burger doesn’t warrant that. We don’t really want to write bad reviews. We want places to succeed. We want them to wow us with a spectacular burger. Places like Al’s Burger Shack do that. They blow our minds and we’re deliriously happy to write a great review. If we can sneak in a little humor, that’s great. The truly awful places get funny reviews that include the smackdown they deserve. Those are fun to write because we don’t have to hold back. This is somewhere in between. Village Burger is a strip mall food court burger, and not a good one.

Chad had the Village Burger, a 1/3 lb of purportedly Angus chuck with feta cheese. It was overcooked, under seasoned, and dry. Feta cheese is pungent and salty, but it barely added enough flavor to make the burger palatable. Chad went back for pickles to add to the toppings, hoping for something to add some flavor.

Hello? Flavor?

It was a hopeless task. The burger tasted like something you might microwave at a convenience store at 3:00 in the morning. The fries were good, though. On the Straight Beef scale, this was a 2 out of 5.

Michael had the Village Burger with cheddar cheese. This burger suffered from what I call Elevation sickness. Elevation burger spends a lot of energy touting the ingredients, but does not deliver where it is important. It misses out on the little things like taste, build, and being cooked properly.

There is a burger in there behind all the tots and lettuce.

The tots were excellent, though, and abundant, as though they were trying to make up for the lackluster burger by engulfing it in tater tots. Michael’s rating is 2.5 out of 5.

Don barely remembers his burger. When asked his thoughts he replied, “What were we talking about? The burger? I have no recollection.” Either he blocked it from his mind, or it was solidly forgetful.

Don’s rating is 2.5 out of 5.

Overall rating 2.33 out of 5 for 70 out of 73.

Review #72 – b.good (Raleigh, NC)

Dearest Jolinda,

I know it has been a long time since I have written. I made a fantastic deal with the Easterners to bring back some high quality saffron, and they decided to include tomatoes. I have heard tell of a new sauce the Far East called ke-tsiep. It will go quite splendidly as a dipping sauce for chips. I think it will sell quite well. I shall call it Sir Kensington’s Ketchup.

When we made it to America, we had a few days of rest. I decided to go exploring and order a common burger at a tavern B. Good. I know, I was shocked as well. I even ordered the Buffalo. What is that you might say? It is a spice combination from the New World that combines a tangy sauce with bleu cheese and shaved celery. I decided against the carrots. I mean, I was going out on a limb with the celery. Can you believe it? Celery. On a hamburger.

The concoction was shockingly good. The mix of orange sauce absorbing into bleu cheese and the fresh crunch of the celery. All atop a perfectly medium fresh-made patty.

My only quibble was the toppings were sloppily placed. If they were centered on the toasted bun, it would have achieved perfection. As a result, I give it a 4.75.

Regards,

Reginald Kensington

Dear Reginald,

I am writing you to inform you that Jolinda is no longer interested in your courting. As I have taken her to B. Good’s myself and indelibly marked her heart with their food and my intentions. In fact, so honored were they with our visit, they named the burger I ordered after myself called the Cousin Oliver.

I proclaimed my love for their burger by requesting a second patty be added to the most delectable combination of lettuce, tomato, onions and Chef Tony’s homemade pickles, plus I dared to add cheese and might I add, it made all the difference.  Jolinda was so overcome with feelings of joy and happiness that we had found and tasted a 5.0 together, we knew it to be a sign that our love was true.

Regards,

Oliver Milkshake

Ollie and Reggie,

You know how very fond I am of you both, but I regret to inform you that I have had the most amazing experience which has verily made me rethink my love.  The sensational new experience of this burger from B. Good has marked my soul indelibly.  I will be forever in your debt, Ollie, since you introduced me to this new and remarkable provision!  Please forgive me as I must correct your misunderstanding – my love and joy was for the burger, and I must be true to what my heart desires.

I, too, ordered a burger with a concoction from this Buffalo location.  With the addition of celery, carrots, bleu cheese and a hearty bun, I was hopeful yet suspicious. Indeed, my first bite was overly full with the buffalo sauce and my heart wavered.  However, each subsequent bite was better than the last and by the end, the taste buds of my mouth were flying.  The meat was well seasoned and salty.  The celery and the carrots were snappy, not overpowering. Each topping was well-proportioned although I do agree with you, Reggie, that the toppings were weakly structured.  On the whole, however, it was divine, my darlings. Simply divine 4.75.

Fondly,

Jolinda

Overall rating: 4.83 – 3 out of 72

What to expect in 2017 and the TSB app

Happy new year burger lovers.

You probably noticed that the content on TSB.com has been sporadic in 2016. I’ve been working on a new project with Burgiatrist Emeritus Scott (more on that to come.) Chad’s constantly working on other writing projects. He’s the only one of us that actually makes any money writing. Don is busy being a professor and with other design projects. Carolyn has a new baby.

Unfortunately, writing about delicious burgers in the triangle has taken a back seat to everything else.

Take heart, though, TSB will continue. We are still discovering new burger places, and we’re going back to old places to make sure they live up to TSB’s exacting standards. We’ll put up podcasts as subjects come to us. Just subscribe or follow us on Twitter to stay up to date.

The one casualty of 2016 is the TSB app. It was simply too expensive and too much work to maintain. I looked at what it offered compared to the mobile version of the site, and it wasn’t much more. Basically, I was paying for the ability to search a map of our reviews. I have found a few options to add that to the mobile site. Look for that in the next month or so.

That’s about all for now. We recently went to do a re-review of Chad’s favorite Salem Street Pub with a special guest. We also have a podcast to post soon. Thanks for your support over the years. We look forward to providing you with burger information and entertainment for years to come.

Michael

Review #71 – William’s Gourmet Kitchen (Durham, NC)

These are the voyages of The Straight Beef. Our seven-year mission: to seek out new burgers and new toppings, to boldly go where … ah, screw it. Sometimes a burgiatrist is just tired of the adventure-burger of the week and wants something comfortable and predictable. We here at The Straight Beef are intrepid eaters. We’ll try just about anything once, even if it gives us the meat sweats, but sometimes we just want to go where everybody knows our name. Scratch that, we’re mixing classic TV metaphors. Sometimes we just want something we know is good, that we don’t have to think too hard about, and that isn’t too far away.

For Chad, that’s the Salem Street Pub in Apex. For Michael, it’s William’s Gourmet Kitchen near the intersection of highway 55 and highway 54 in Durham.

With Don in Prague for an international burgiatry conference and Carolyn on the DL, Michael and Chad sallied forth to William’s for a straightforward, no-nonsense great burger.

Michael: I ordered the special burger of the day, the Bacon Lovers Burger — six strips of bacon, cheddar cheese, and bacon aioli. I know you’re thinking, “Six strips of bacon? That must have been a mess.” Au contraire. The strips were layered in both directions and held together with a generous amount of cheddar cheese. It was difficult to tell, but I bet they cooked the patty to medium rare, then put on a piece of cheddar cheese, carefully placed the bacon, added another piece of cheese and left it to cook under a lid for 30-45 seconds. It was too perfectly melted together to have been done any other way.

So. Much. Bacon.

So. Much. Bacon.

The brioche bun was slathered with a bacon aioli. I’m not usually one for bacon stunts, but William’s nailed it. Smoky crisp bacon, loads of oozing cheese, a perfectly cooked patty. They were also thoughtful enough to not throw on the perfunctory lettuce, tomato, and onion. This burger was smoky salty goodness wrapped in a soft brioche bun that was more than up to the task of holding this monster together.

Chad: Let’s get the obvious out of the way. William’s Gourmet Kitchen looks like a repurposed Wendy’s, but like Durham’s Only Burger, the plain looks belie the wonders therein. I ordered the Black & Blue Burger, a blackened-spiced patty with blue cheese crumbles, pickles and blue cheese dressing.

I have some quibbles. The blackening spice, which should bring some New Orleans style Cajun heat to the party was not as present as I would have liked. It was a little tame. Likewise, the blue cheese barely registered on my palate. A blackened burger with blue cheese should be a flavor beast, a potent combination of spicy, salty goodness. This burger was much more subtle than that.

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On the other hand, the mild toppings really let the flavor of the patty shine through, and shine it did. This was a perfectly cooked, beefy hamburger that I’d rate as among the best in the Triangle.

In his book Plain Talk About Fine Wine, the late, great Justin Meyer of Silver Oak described a monthly gathering of California winemakers. They didn’t talk about “nose” or “finish” or “terroir.” The greatest compliment one winemaker could give another was, “That’s a damn fine wine. I wish I’d made it.”

In my day job as a cookbook author, and in my alter ego as former burgiatry supervillain, I’ve eaten hundreds of burgers. I’ve probably cooked twice that many. To the good folks at William’s Gourmet Kitchen I’ll say, that’s a damn fine burger. I wish I’d made it.

(The rest of my WGK photos can be found here. — MM)

Michael’s review: I couldn’t really find any faults with this burger. I give it a 5.0

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Chad’s review: The Black & Blue Burger was a little tamer than I expected, but still an excellent burger. I give it a 4.5.

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Overall rating: 4.75 for 5 out of 71

The Straight Beef Podcast #27

Excuse me waiter, there aren’t any flies in my soup. Our eminent burgiatrists Donald and Michael discuss eating insects. A sea change to help our environment or an underhanded tactic by the Musroom Council. You decide.

Download our latest episode directly from Libsyn. Subscribe via iTunes or Google Play.

You can also find all of our content on the go with the TSB app.

Revisit – Mojoe’s Burger Joint (Raleigh, NC)

How many times have you said to yourself, “I could go for a burger.” Well, the media, backed by the people at the Mushroom Council, has come to demonize red meat. If burgers are so bad for us, we should make our times spent with them count. We shouldn’t just go to the nearest fast food place to satiate our desire for ground cow meat.

We should go to a place like Mojoe’s Burger Joint. A place that cares. A place that serves up consistent quality. A place that uses the Keep It Simple Stupid method of burgering. A place that deserves to be TSB Certified.

Michael’s rating: I knick them a bit for poor bacon placement. When in rarified air such as this, one has to nitpick. I give them a 4.75.

Don’s rating: Mojoe’s has the consistency ideal down pat. A good burger at a good value. 4.5

WRAL Out and About Voter’s Choice – Editorial

So, the good folks at WRAL Out and About have put together a “best of” list for people to vote on. It is a lot of things to vote on, so make sure you give yourself some time if you wish to have your virtual voice heard.

Here are the choices for burgers:

  • Bad Daddy’s
  • Burger 21
  • Clouds Brewing
  • Five Guys
  • Tribeca Tavern

Are you kidding me?

To be fair, we haven’t been to Clouds Brewing, yet. The other four have no business being on a list of best places for burgers in the Triangle. Thankfully, there is a write in vote.

I beg you to please write in Al’s Burger Shack or Mojoe’s Burger Joint. Do not let an average burger establishment be proclaimed as having the area’s best burger. We are better than that, people.

WRAL Out and About Voter’s Choice

Review #70 – The Wooden Nickel (Hillsborough, NC)

Preserve Hillsborough’s history and heritage

http://www.newsoforange.com/opinion/article_672ba652-32a9-5b29-96d3-00ba6a79328c.html

We approached The Wooden Nickel with trepidation. If former Mayor Horace H. Johnson is to be believed, downtown Hillsborough was to be a “major disaster” if dens of iniquity like The Wooden Nickel were allowed to serve patrons outside. There would be rampant “lewd licentiousness and debauchery,” a hive of scum and villainy not seen since the Mos Eisley Spaceport. Thankfully, we had a fearless regular of The Nickel, Trey Benfield, to guide us. We asked Trey to give us the skinny on his favorite place to hang out. This is what he had to say.

“The Wooden Nickel is my local neighborhood bar and I will freely admit my bias.  I go there are least once a week and more if I can help it – but there is a good reason for that.   A lot of bars try to pull off the neighborhood bar feel, but rarely accomplish it.  I love the fact that I know my bartenders and they know me.  They are even happy to see me.  Most of the people there are regulars – even the current mayor of Hillsborough is a frequent patron.

However, what really sets the Nickel apart is the food.  Most bar food struggles to be mediocre.  The Nickel takes pride in serving outstanding, creative food with mostly locally sourced ingredients.  The quality rivals many nice restaurants.  When I first starting going to the Nickel, my wife ordered salmon.  I made fun of her for thinking she was going to get decent seafood dish at a bar.  I was wrong – it was perfectly pan seared in a way most nice restaurants cannot accomplish.

Though known mostly for their wings and tater tots, the Nickel can serve a great burger.  The standard menu consists of classics – a burger with lettuce, pickles, and tomato, a Western burger with bacon and bbq sauce.  They even have an emu and bison burger.  I am particularly fond of the fried egg burger. Also the Nickel offers a special burger that changes weekly. The weekly burgers are fun and creative.”

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Obviously, the denizens of Hillsborough couldn’t care less for former Mayor Johnson’s warnings. The tiny place was packed to the rafters. Beers and food were flung with reckless abandon. Quite literally in Carolyn’s case as she ended up wearing her cheeseburger. Given that she was 8-months pregnant at the time of our review, she said that ketchup and beer worked well to cool her down a little bit.

We’ll focus our review on the special burger for the evening: an 8-ounce burger with white cheddar, bacon, and curry peanut butter. An old favorite of TSB, Salem Street Pub, has a great peanut butter topped burger called “My Wife Said It Wouldn’t Sell.” We figured, local pub, peanut butter on a burger, how can we go wrong?

Chad was reminded of a comment he received at a bluegrass jam several years back, “Hey Man, I really like what you’re trying to play.” That fits the vibe we all got from our burgers. It was a really cool idea, and it had its moments, but it didn’t quite deliver. The patty was solid. The bacon was a little limp. The curry peanut butter could have used more time in the blender. A few bites would be peanut butter only then — BAM — a big lump of curry. It was distracting and left the experience somewhat inconsistent.

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Don put it perfectly, “Much like the edge of an actual wooden nickel, the curry peanut putter sauce was a bit rough and uneven, but the overall uniqueness of the coin finds a place in your memory.”

Chad would have given it a 3.5 but he ended up at 3.75 because of the degree of difficulty and the terrific atmosphere.

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Don’s rating: 3.5

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Michael thought the place was charming as hell, but he wished the burger was better. His rating: 3.5.

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Carolyn gives it a solid 3.5.

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Trey didn’t give a rating, but this is what he had to say, “Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t quite live up to the promise but they keep things interesting and are fun to try. If you want a great burger in a bar setting, I cannot think of any place that outdoes the Nickel.  Tell them Trey sent you.”

Overall rating: 3.56 for 38 out of 70

Review #69: Burger 21 (Cary, NC)

Meh

In 2015, the Oxford English Dictionary, the definitive record of the English language, added the word Meh, an interjection expressing indifference or lack of enthusiasm. It is interesting to note that all three Straight Beef reviewers used the word in their notes on Burger 21.

In many ways, Burger 21 is perfectly suited to the town of Cary. It is bland, innocuous, and fiercely determined not to stand out in any way. It is the Little Burger that Could–ish. Mostly. You root for it. You want to see it succeed, but it never quite makes it all the way up the hill.

Let’s put it this way, like the little league team that doesn’t play particularly well but still shows up and puts out a modicum of effort, Burger 21 gets a Participation Trophy.

Within the somewhat Spartan strip mall decor, the walls are decorated with various slogans that emphasize the B in Burger 21, like “B different,” “B shaken,” and “B saucy.” What you don’t see is “B interesting,” or “B flavorful.”

B better!

B better!

As Carolyn noted, “Tellingly, I cannot at this point recall with specificity which burger I had (my magic eight ball thinks perhaps it was the Cinco) but what I do recall is that it wasn’t bad.  I remember I liked the bun but have no present recollection of the actual burger beyond generalizations. I remember the milkshake being super tasty and the fries being good with some moderately interesting dipping sauces, but I just don’t remember the burger! For a Tuesday night “crap, what am I going to do for dinner!?” emergency, swinging by Burger 21 (if it is on your way home) would be totally reasonable.  Driving out of your way for it?  Meh.  Like the DMV, if gets the job done but not prettily or quickly.

Carolyn’s rating: 2.5 out of 5

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Michael was more generous with his appraisal, “Upscale burger joints really need to stand out in order to attract customers. Failing that, they need to be in a great location and not be terrible. Burger 21 in Cary stands somewhere in between those. It is in a bustling shopping center in grease splatter distance of a huge apartment complex. My Bacon Cheesy was capably prepared. Don’t take that as damning with faint praise. It was solid and tried to be a great burger. It will keep the locals coming back, but I don’t know if I’d go out of my way to go again. My Burger 21 experience in Tampa was much better. I give Burger 21 in Cary a solid meh.

Michael’s rating: 3.5 out of 5

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As Chad noted, “With spectacular local options like Chuck’s, Only Burger or Al’s Burger Shack in the area, boutique chain burger places have to work pretty hard stand out. Five Guys, Smashburger, Burger Bach, Burgerfi, and Zinburger have all found success in the Triangle for good reason, they make a damn fine burger. However, Burger 21 reminds me a lot of Elevation Burger, a place with great potential but disappointing execution. My Bacon Cheesy burger was competently prepared, but nothing worth getting excited about or coming back for. It wasn’t bad, per se, just unremarkable. I’d rather go to Char-Grill. Another Meh from me.”

Chad’s rating: 3 out of 5

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Overall Rating: 3 out of 5, making Burger 21 54 out of 69.

Review #68 – Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers

Freddy’s is a throwback, a modern take on the 50’s-60’s diner. A drive in, but only with a drive thru window. It is so Middle America, you half expect to see Richie Cunningham saying “sit on it, Potsie” in the corner booth. So, our intrepid reviewers donned their white tees and poodle skirts and slicked backed their hair to experience Arnold’s, I mean, Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburger, first hand in technicolor in front of a live studio audience.

INTERIOR FREDDY’S (NIGHT)

The four Burger experts enter Freddy’s. Bright lights, a few family patrons scattered in the dining area. The mood is bright and festive. Chad, Mike and Reverend Don all sport white tees, rolled up jeans. Chad used enough Pomade to sink a battleship to perfect his pompadour. Carolyn sports a poodle skirt, a Pink Ladies-style satin jacket, and saddle shoes. (applause)

REV. DON

I have never been here – what’s the recommendation?

MICHAEL

For you, I suggest a lobotomy…. (Crowd laughs)

REV. DON

Sit on it, Mikey! I mean what are you going to order?

CHAD

Might I suggest, anything on the menu, this is straight Americana, Boys and Girls.

CAROLYN

Burgers and Sundae’s? Boy isn’t this place just dreamy.

MICHAEL

I think I will go with the Bacon and Cheese Double Steakburger.

AYYYYYYYYY!

REV. DON

Gee that sounds swell. I think I will go with the Double Steak Burger California Style because if it is California it must be cool, unlike you squares. (laughter) But hold the sauce- you know I don’t dig the sauces.

CHAD

If only you could hold your sauce (mimes someone drinking)… (laughter) I think I will hit up the Original Double.

CAROLYN

Since I’m a tried and true type of gal, I’m sticking with the original.

(After ordering the four sit down in a booth and proceed to get their food.)

CHAD

The double burger gets a double thumbs up and an “Ayyyyy!” There was a skirt of crunchy beef around the edge of the smashed patty, which was cooked to a perfect medium in the center. The ultra-thin, ultra-crispy bacon complemented the burger like a poodle skirt and bobby socks. I give this a solid 4.0 and with the addictive skinny fries, the whole experience was almost as good as a drive to Inspiration Point.

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MICHAEL

That’s the only thing that would be going up to Inspiration Point with you! (laughter) I. Found. My. Thrill. On. The bacon cheese double. It gets a 4.0 from me.

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CAROLYN

Boy-oh-boy does this burger hit the spot!  The double flattened patties with the perfect amount of mustard and long-sliced pickles are everything a Pink Lady could ask for and more.  Add some cheese and that burger is the bees knees!  I’d rather come here and grab a Freddy’s radioactive burger and fries with my Daddy-O rather than hit up that silly hand jive dance-off any day of the week.  4.0

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REV. DON

Yep Yep Yep, that was a good burger. As you said straight Americana. I give it a 4.0, and I give this Chocolate Brownie Delight Sundae my digits, it can call me anytime. I’ve still got it!

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Overall rating: 4.0 for 32 out of 68

Full resolution burger photos for Freddy’s can be found over at 500px.

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