Ask the Burgiatrist

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fixins It

DEAR DR. BLUMENTHAL: Please help resolve a longstanding debate between me and my editor (who is a tool). He (aforementioned tool) believes that the word fixins should take an apostrophe, as in mustard and relish are fine burger fixin’s. Please prove me right and my editor (and a five-star putz) wrong. –TRYING TO PROVE MY EDITOR (WHO IS A LUGNUT) WRONG IN WRIGHTSVILLE

DEAR TRYING: Though arguably a contraction of the word fixings, as in the accessories and accoutrement that embellish a hamburger, the universally accepted spelling of the singular is fixin, thus making the simple plural fixins the preferred spelling. Your editor is wrong (and a weenie).

‘Til Death Do Us Part? Not So Fast

DEAR DR. BLUMENTHAL: I am at my wits’ end. I desperately need your advice. My marriage vows have been seriously compromised, and you’re the only person I trust to help me decide what to do.

Here’s what happened. Last week, I left work early to surprise my husband for his birthday. As I approached our bedroom, I heard little whispers and moans of pleasure from behind the door. I expected the worst, and that’s exactly what I found. When I opened the door, there he was, sitting in bed, devouring a veggie burger. He made some pathetic excuse about it meaning nothing to him, but I couldn’t bear to be in the same room as him. I just screamed and ran away.

Dr. Blumenthal, when my husband and I got married, we were on the same page on all the big issues. We laughed about people who ate veggie burgers, and we promised each other that we’d never be like that. Now I am so confused. Is it possible that we can bounce back from this? How can I ever trust him again? Whenever I look at him, all I see is that “burger.” Is there any chance that we can salvage our relationship? –WAITING WITH BATED BREATH FOR YOUR RESPONSE IN BETHESDA

DEAR BATED: No.

Renegade Review: Shake Shack (New York, NY)

It was a wind-swept rainy day in New York City. I was hungry, and I had time to kill. My brother-in-law and I decided to check out the world-famous Shake Shack—the original one, near Manhattan’s famed Flatiron Building.

I went with the classic Shack Burger—a quarter-pound patty (cooked medium by default) with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and “shack sauce.” The rain reduced the infamous long wait time to just a few minutes. On a beautiful spring day, I’d have no complaints that Shake Shack’s only tables were outside. Today, however, we soon found ourselves under a Credit Suisse alcove across the street.

The order of the build was standard: burger, cheese, tomato, lettuce, and sauce. The juices of the burger bled into the grilled potato bun, softening it. The tomato and lettuce were crisp and fresh—definitely cut that day. The sauce was interesting. I was expecting Big Mac-esque special sauce, but I was pleasantly surprised: It was sweet and tangy—maybe a bit too watery—reminiscent of diluted barbecue sauce mixed with teriyaki. The patty itself—more like a slab of ground beef, actually—was very good.

Despite eating the burger under cover in a downpour, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’d like to give it another spin on a sunny day, to take in the atmosphere with a big crowd. I hear that in the summertime, the wait can be 45 minutes for a burger. I can see why.

My rating: 4 out of 5.


Shake Shack (Madison Square Park) on Urbanspoon

Review #5: Salem Street Pub (Apex)

  • Joint: Salem Street Pub
  • Burger: My Wife…(Michael), All American (John), and Island (Scott)
  • Burger Category: Classic Rocks (John), Look At Me! (Michael and Scott)

Michael’s Review

To this point in my career as a burger reviewer, I had never ordered a burger that appeared in the menu with quotation marks around it. The quotes dared me to eat it. The ingredients triple-dog dared me.

The burger had the most interesting mélange of components: a half-pound of beef (normal), cheddar cheese (standard), bacon (typical), peanut butter (huh?), and honey (what the?!). My Straight Beef brethren were skeptical, but I was a moth to the flame. Peanut butter on a burger? I could barely wrap my brain around the concept.

But after a few cleansing breaths, I handed the menu to the waitress and ordered the My Wife Told Me It Wouldn’t Sell burger.

While we were waiting, we enjoyed the atmosphere. A guy strummed and sang cover tunes. TVs dotted the walls around the dining room and behind the bar. I can’t put my finger on it, but the place had a great vibe. I could already see myself going back.

The burgers arrived in black baskets with black-and-white checkerboard paper, which matched the décor. I can’t comment on the build of my burger because it didn’t really have one. This is not a negative. The toppings simply did not lend themselves to any traditional stacking order. The beef was handmade and was perfectly cooked. The bacon was chopped into the melted cheddar, which was different but pleasant. The peanut butter was liberally spread on the patty, as was the honey.

I had my doubts at first, but I must say that I loved it. The peanut butter was warm and added an unusual texture and flavor to the experience. The bacon was crunchy and salty, which was cut with just enough honey-sweetness. I could taste each ingredient in every bite, the mark of fine burger architecture.

I feel I missed a lot of the nuance of this burger because I was so surprised by how good it was. It was like following a complex movie plot; you want to go back and see what you missed. I want another one.

After careful reflection, I give this burger a 4.5.

John’s Review

Looking back at TSB reviews to date, Mojoe’s holds the top honors. In retrospect, it’s clear that the ratings this panel of cow-centric epicureans gave to Mojoe’s were based almost solely on the quality of the burger itself, bearing little reflection on the experience of eating there. There is almost no comment in those reviews on the ambiance, service, et cetera at Mojoe’s, all of which were just okay. It’s also clear that the ratings we gave Tyler’s Taproom took many trans-burger factors into account, with only our positive review of its beer selection saving from an all-out invective (though we were pretty snarky).

So let me state up front that The Salem Street Pub is getting an extra half-point from me due to the experience of eating a burger there, which featured parking directly in front of the pub on the nostalgic storefront street in downtown Apex; entering a cozy dark pub-and grill atmosphere reminiscent of “The Gunder,” featured in the latest “Pen and the Prod”; a young folk-dude playing acoustic guitar and crooning in the corner well enough to make you tap your toes and sing along; great service from friendly and attentive servers; and some wicked-hot hot wings.

That said, our focus here is to bring our experience, acumen, and exquisitely refined palates to recommending the very best burgers to our loyal constituents. So without further adieu, I tell you that Salem Street serves a great burger. A solid 4 (out of 5), based on a surprisingly high-quality patty, a surprisingly soft and moist Kaiser roll (I thought sure that thing was going to take a couple of Pepsis to wash down), and very fresh vegetables. Cooked perfectly to a medium temperature, this was simply a very good burger, one that “came together,” as we burgiatrists say, with the flavors merging to create that endorphin-releasing burger magic we all seek. It won’t exactly make you weak in the knees, but it will make you feel warm and happy, sitting in a warm and happy place with good friends. For reasons previously stated, I hereby recommend The Salem Street Pub—and their solid 4 burger—with a 4.5.

Scott’s Review

The Salem Street Pub’s menu calls it a “long-time dream [to be] the kind of place where you are always greeted by smiling and familiar faces; where good friends meet to share good times; where you feel at home whether it’s your first visit or your 100th.”

Well, one successful visit to SSP down, ninety-nine to go.

Of our Triangle-area burger jaunts thus far, SSP was for me the most enjoyable overall. Cozy, warm atmosphere, homey service, and a general warmth that permeated the place, from the Beatles-strummin’ guitarist at the front to the bounteous bar along the back. From the moment I walked in, I had every intention of staying awhile. After an hour and a half that featured a fine burger, ten crazy-hot wings, two beers, and easily 100 fries, my intention had been realized.

In my Oxford days I took a doctoral-level survey called “Ketchup and Mayonnaise: What Can’t They Do Together?” So naturally, I was drawn to the SSP’s Island Burger, featuring a tasty 1000 Island dressing. The customary lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles came along for the ride. All in all, quite delicious. Flavorful patty, crisp and cold veggies, a hamburger tastefully prepared and presented.

On the one hand, the burger seemed so utterly woven into the general grooviness of the SSP experience that it’s tough to assign it an appropriate rating. On the other hand, the burger was seriously good.

My rating: 4 of 5.

Special note: Hats off to my colleague Michael for ordering the My Wife Said It Wouldn’t Sell burger, peanut butter and all, which I asserted could be little more than revolting. Man, was I wrong. Michael found it in his heart to share a bite, and I will never again question his burgiatric sanity.

Salem Street Pub on Urbanspoon

Renegade Review: In-N-Out Burger (San Francisco, CA)

I have traveled to the west, to the land that we in the holistic burgology community call “California,” where the sun sets over the ocean and you can’t walk ten feet without tripping over a clairvoyant. It is the only region in the U.S. where one may find internal peace, oneness with the Earth, and the fast food chain In-N-Out Burger.

The menu is simple: hamburger, cheeseburger, double cheeseburger, fries, soda. I ordered fries and a cheeseburger, the build of which was quite odd. From the bottom up: sauce (Thousand Island-relish combo), tomato, lettuce, burger, and cheese.  The bun was grill-toasted. Nice flavor and consistency. The veggies were fresh, cool, and crisp. The patty was standard thin fast food fare—nothing special. The cheese was yellow American and melted uniformly across the patty.

For fast food, it was very good. Not in the same league as the Players’ Retreat, let’s say, but compared to a McDonald’s or Wendy’s burger, it was top-notch. If you find your way to the west coast, check out In-N-Out.

Rating: 4.0

 

In-N-Out Burger on Urbanspoon

Review #4: Tyler’s Restaurant and Taproom (Apex)

  • Joint: Tyler’s Restaurant and Taproom
  • Burger: Carolina (Michael), Bacon and Bleu (Scott), and Original Taproom (John)
  • Burger Category: Classic Rocks (John) and Look at Me! (Scott and Michael)

Scott’s Review

 

Dear Tyler’s Taproom,

This is hard to write. I like you a lot, and I don’t want to hurt you. It’s just that at this point in our relationship I think we should break it off be completely honest with each other. So here it goes.

Tyler’s, I think you’re super. You have a great personality, and I really enjoy spending time with you. You’re amazing in so many ways. Your beer selection is incredible—phenomenal, really—and your wings are just fine delicious. Tyler’s, you have so much going for you. Right now in my life, though, Tyler’s, what I really need is a good burger, and I just don’t think you can give that to me.

When I bit into your Bleu Cheese Bacon Burger, I was really hoping to feel that…that magic, you know? But I just didn’t. It wasn’t that it was bad, it just wasn’t very good what I’m looking for right now. The beef wasn’t especially flavorful, the bun not especially tasty or distinctive, and the bleu cheese was just kind of there. All in all, it was just kind of meh. I’m sorry. That was hurtful. I should stop before I say too much.

I do hope we can remain friends.

Your pal,

Scott

My review: 2.5 out of 5.

John’s Review

Did you ever have a friend who had one endearing trait, and with whom you’ve had some really good laughs, but came with a lot of baggage? Perhaps disorganized, habitually late, or unable to focus on more than one thing at once?

Well, let’s say you agreed to go to that friend’s house for beer and burgers. Knowing that you love a good beer, your friend promised to knock himself out to provide you with a wide range of the finest brews, each served in a thick glass bearing its own label. What a pal!

So you show up salivating, fantasizing about a mouthful of juicy cheeseburger surfing down your gullet on a tasty wave of malty artisan magic. You show up, your good pal greets you and your entourage with the fulfilled promise of the fine, cold beer of your choice, as rare and exotic as it may be. He even goes a step further, taking down your specific burger request. Again, I say: What a pal!

Then, he vanishes into his bedroom for a half-hour of X-Box with a fellow gamer on the West coast.

Finally, he comes back to the dining room table and says, “What? Dude, I’m so sorry. I told my roommate to get those burgers for you and he totally forgot! I’ll take care of it. Got your back, bros!” Then, he bolts to the kitchen, leaving you to your empty glasses and their frothy residue.

Another 20 minutes, and you have your burgers with an apology and a look that says, “Do you still like me?” Forgivingly, you nod and thank, and as he returns to the bedroom, you dig in. Starving, you put it down, thinking the patty resembles the reheated Angus patties from Costco you’ve zapped at home in desperation. Another beer might help, you think, as you use those throat muscles to massage down the dry Kaiser roll. You and your buddies around the table consume, all the while looking at each other, oozing with disdain. One of you speaks up, in charity, and states, “Tyler did come through on the beer, though.”

Your pal returns with a check.

John’s review: Beer 4.5. Burger 2.5.

Michael’s Review

Our trip to Tyler’s was an unexpected one. We had planned on going to Salem Street Pub, but learned the hard way that it’s closed on Mondays. Not to be denied, we journeyed through the slushy streets to a burger beacon in the night: Tyler’s Restaurant and Taproom in Apex.

The beer list at Tyler’s is long. I ordered a Lhasa from Tibet, which was quite tasty. Unfortunately, it was the highlight of the meal.

I had the Carolina burger, which was, as promised, “loaded with meaty chili, coleslaw, red onion, and melted cheddar cheese.” The roll was grilled exactly as I like it, but one big problem: They do not cook burgers to order. It’s medium-well, well, or nothing. I ordered it medium-well. It was well done. There was so much chili it was as if the burger was just a vehicle for it. I know the cheese was there because I could see it, but I couldn’t taste it or appreciate its texture. I couldn’t tell you if there were onions down there. The burger didn’t have so much as a build as a pile of toppings on a slab of beef.

The biggest problem with the burger, however, was that the beef itself wasn’t that great. The chili and coleslaw were good, but as a whole it was nothing memorable. The service was excellent, as our waiter knew pretty much every beer on the menu. I have been to Tyler’s before and had good food. I do not recommend the burger, though. Not great, not bad, just something to eat.

My rating: 3 out of 5.

Tyler's Tap Room on Urbanspoon

Ask the Burgiatrist

Dear Dr. Blumenthal:

I have a wonderful husband and four growing boys, all of them burger crazy. Every July 4, we go to my brother’s house in Hauppauge, Long Island, for a family reunion and barbeque. It’s been a family tradition for more than 20 years. Throughout, my brother has been in charge of the grilling and burger prep. It’s something he takes great pride in and looks forward to all year.

My brother is a good man—a good father, husband, and uncle—and he does grill a good beef patty. But here’s the problem: He has a reckless disregard for proper build order. He’s been known to do things like place ketchup directly on the burger, then the veggies, then mustard directly on the bun. One year he even placed a slice of cheese between the lettuce and tomato (!). Granted he had been drinking, but still, it was extremely awkward.

I do not want to hurt my brother, but I also don’t want my kids exposed to this type of behavior. What should I do?

–Perplexed in Paramus

Dear Perplexed:

It’s a slippery slope, Perplexed. First it’s improper build order, then it’s burgers on English muffins, then, before you know it, you’re in the gutter eating veggie patties.

Your first responsibility is to your children. It won’t be fun, but for the sake of your boys’ emotional well-being you’ve got to make it clear to your brother that this level of conduct will not be tolerated, and if he expects to remain welcome at family gatherings, he’d better take a long, hard look at the human being he’s become.

Try giving your brother a taste of his own crazy-order medicine: Invite him over for dinner. Serve him bone-dry pasta on top of rectangular meatballs. Maybe sprinkle some parmesan cheese—but on his head. Ask, “How do you like it?” That should teach him.

Cheese between the lettuce and tomato? That’s not OK.

Scott Blumenthal, PhB

Review #2: Spirits Pub and Grub (Cary)

  • Joint: Spirits Pub & Grub, Cary
  • Burger: various
  • Burger Category: Classic Rocks (John) and Look at Me! (Scott and Michael)

Scott’s Review

I’ve always wondered why clothes didn’t come in extra medium. As I see it, there should be some designation to indicate a size that is not only in the middle range but is remarkably equal in distance between large and a small. Alas, however, no such designation exists.

But now, thanks to the Smoky Burger at Spirits Pub & Grub in Cary, that mythical place between extremes not only exists, it comes with your choice of cheese.

The burger wasn’t unpleasant, mind you, but the beef wasn’t especially flavorful, the bun not especially fresh, and the overall taste experience did not distinguish the burger as exceptional in the annals of burgrarian history.

My reaction surprised me, for three reasons:

  1. Spirits is owned by the same fellow who owns Daniel’s Restaurant in Apex, far and away my favorite Italian restaurant in the area. (And as a guy who grew up in New York, I know me some Italian.)
  2. The wings (c’mon—we needed something to whet our appetites) were excellent. (And as a guy who went to college in upstate New York, I know me some wings.)
  3. The service, décor, and atmosphere were all great. Oftentimes—though not always—that comes hand in hand with good burgers.

All in all, it was a burger that might best be described as eh. Or perhaps, s’alright. Or, if you will, a hearty fine.  My rating: 3/5.

 

Michael’s Review

I arrived before my cohorts and was greeted warmly. I decided to have a beer at the bar while I waited. Beer selection was good, and I was served immediately. Drs. Blumenthal and McManus arrived, and we were offered our choice of tables: tall or regular height. My training as a holistic burgrologist taught me to keep my heart as close to the ground as possible to fully experience a burger’s pleasures. We chose a regular-height table.

We went for buffalo wings as an appetizer: Buffalo-style, medium spice. Quite tasty and meaty. Unfortunately, the meal went downhill from there.

I opted for the Surfer Burger, intrigued by its “Spirits spicy seasoning” and pineapple salsa, the perfect mélange of spicy and sweet. (All burgers came with potato wedges, which had the unfortunate name “wedgies.”)

Juices flowed freely from the burger as I picked it up. But my initial enthusiasm was dashed with my first bite, when I realized that the juices were brown and not pink—a sign of surface grease, not of the burger’s natural, succulent drippings. The burger was cooked medium, as I had asked, but was overly dry. The miniscule dollop of pineapple salsa didn’t help. The blandness of the burger, I found, actually detracted from the sweetness. While in the moment, sharing a meal with my Straight Beef brethren, I thought the burger a three out of five. After serious meditation, however, I imagined myself trekking to a monastery in the Himalayas for quiet reflection, in an effort to erase the Surfer experience from my memory.

The service was excellent, the wings top-notch, but the burger was blah.  My rating: 2/5.

John’s Review

Dry kaiser roll, average-quality beef patty, and a taste experience that was a bit of a disappointment after the promising appearance of the “Basic Burger” with cheddar and bacon. Tomatoes were red and juicy, lettuce was fresh, burger was cooked to the requested temperature and built in the proper order… but it just didn’t come together. It didn’t do that magical thing that causes one’s brain to swim in a steady trickle of endorphins. It was an okay burger. After a two-hour tennis match or a day out on the boat it might have gone better with my frosty glass of lager, but there was no tennis or boating that day; just an evening out at Spirits and the anticipation of some burger magic.

The atmosphere was pleasant—a modern sports-pub-and-grill-type place, filled with a cacophony of sports broadcasts and gregarious folk chattering away over junk food and beer (and I mean this in a good way). The place makes you feel good, want to drink a brewski and hang out with friends, talkin’ some bull. The service wasn’t the best, but our waiter was amiable, the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind offering a chair to so he could sit down and talk some bull himself. Spirits is the good-time joint I expected it to be, with a good beer list, but a distinguished Burgiatrist like myself will not become a regular. Nor will my alter ego (see bio) be writin’ any poetry about that decidedly bourgeois burger.  My rating: 3/5.

Spirits Pub & Grub on Urbanspoon

Review #1: The Players’ Retreat (Raleigh)

  • Joint: The Players’ Retreat
  • Burger: The Bernie Burger (provolone, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, sesame-seed bun)
  • Burger Category: Classic Rocks

IMG_0865

Those in the know call it “the PR.” Those not in the know also call it “the PR,” but in a less cool way.

Nestled in the cozy nook where Hillsborough Street meets Oberlin Road, veritable inches from NC State, the Players’ Retreat is a place where, according to its website, “people from all walks of life rub elbows,” a place where, since 1951, one might see “Supreme Court justices and carpenters in adjoining seats.”

Little did the good folks at the PR know, however, one balmy autumn eve, that sitting in the large dining room opposite the pool room and capacious bar, beneath one of its mammoth TV screens (each the size of a small moon), they’d find neither justices nor carpenters, but rather the sordid likes of The Straight Beef.

John’s Review

Remember your first kiss? How your body flushed, your eyelids fluttered, and your knees wobbled? The PR’s Bernie Burger wasn’t quite that, but there was a definite weakness in my right knee.

The menu promised fresh Black Angus beef, ground on-site and cooked to temperature. Promise kept. A rare authentic medium rare, lavish in its flavor, its juices weeping gently into the soft, steamed sesame bun without sogging it. The patty was neither overly compressed nor spongy, like many of the “Angus” burgers slung through today’s drive-thrus.

My one serious criticism has to do with the order of the build. First, the provolone was melted into the top bun (as opposed to its traditional placement on the patty itself), and the mayo appeared beneath the patty, thus preventing it from commingling with the juices of the deep red tomato slices. Despite these transgressions, the PR’s Bernie Burger was knee-wobble-worthy indeed. My rating: 4/5

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Michael’s Review

Unlike my Straight Beef cohorts, I’d eaten at the PR before. But that previous visit was misguided, as my so-called friend Don suggested I order the Chicken Bernie instead of the Bernie Burger. Only now do I realize how lacking my life had been in the interim. (Thankfully, my training as a holistic burgologist taught me never to regret burgers not eaten.)

The burger was medium, as ordered, without that soul-squashing taste of char. Like John, I found the cheese-on-bun technique a negative—as was the sub-patty mayo—but the fact that the onions were crisp and of uniform thickness offset the negative karma. I’m a bun-lightly-grilled guy, but I can respect a bun that’s steamed without being soggy.

Though the order of the build was not ideal, the even horizontal placement of the ingredients allowed each of the flavors to merge into a burgery oneness that satisfied me to my soul. My rating: 4.25/5

Scott’s Review

We all know the old English proverb: “Rejoice, o mighty burger! For thine cheese shield ye from daubery.” Before entering the PR, I had no idea what this meant. I still don’t, but I think it has something to do with the Bernie Burger.

I respect my colleagues’ objections to the cheese-on-bun build, but for me it served to elevate the burger to even greater burgionic proportions. In its own, mischievous way, the sandwich fused the unbridled joy of burgers with the subtle pleasure of grilled cheese—that uncomplicated cheese-on-bread goodness that hearkens to a bygone time. A simpler time.

For me, it was the amalgamation of all things good—cold beer, quality burger, and homemade potato chips, the taste of which have for centuries made grown men weep, that secured the Bernie’s—and the PR’s—place in the annals of great Triangle burgeries. My rating: 4/5

Players Retreat on Urbanspoon

Players Retreat on Foodio54

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