Review #6: Carolina Brewery (Chapel Hill)

  • Joint: Carolina Brewery
  • Burger: SW Scorcher (Michael), Brewery Burger (Scott), Build Your Own (John)
  • Burger Category: Look At Me! (Michael), Classic Rocks (John and Scott)

John’s Review

One nice thing about writing a TSB Burger review is that we don’t require ourselves to do it the evening of the meal. If that were the case, I would be giving the burger at Carolina Brewery a solid 4, for there were not-so-subtle influences at play that night as to put me in a favorable mood and a mode of flattery and conciliation. As it is, however, I sit down to write my review with enough time between me and that burger and that night to have found my journalistic objectivity—the kind I owe my faithful constituents in this noble vocation. It would be egregious of me to let distracting influences blur my focus on the burger itself and skew my evaluation…influences like the powerful and sweet nostalgia of being back on Franklin Street for the first time since a distant epoch of collegial mirth and mayhem with my Tarheel freunds and fräuleins; like the intoxicating spring air that was fragrant and warm upon my skin and in my lungs as we strolled across the street to Carolina Brewery at dusk; like the liveliness of the street with its cruising cars and the sidewalks that seemed to vibrate and move all of the students and young couples amusingly along them at different speeds and in different directions, like the tiny plastic players on an old electric football field I had when I was young; like the two smooth Carolina Brewery custom brews that drained counter-clockwise down my throat before our burgers even arrived; like the easy feeling I always have as I join my fellow Burgiatrists in a cozy booth to share some good beer, beef and bombast for an hour or two.

If I were not so professional as to require a state of complete objectivity before issuing my evaluation and recommendation to you, I would give undue weight to the fact that the overcooked patty was still quite moist and flavorful, or that the dry-looking Kaiser roll was actually fresh and soft when I took that first bite. I might focus a bit too much on the order of the build (which was perfectly in order).  And I might surround those accurate facts about the burger itself with friendly fluff that simply isn’t useful to you in your own search for burger bliss (e.g., reminiscences about the general location of the restaurant, or pretty prose about the weather that night). However, with my professionalism and objectivity about me, I report to you that the burger you’ll find at Carolina Brewery—the burger itself—is a 3.5. Not bad at all, really, but not great. It goes well with your beer (which is delicious) and gets the job done as you sit in a very pleasant atmosphere among pleasant people on a pleasant night. Regarding any negative aspects of the burger…my mother always said that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all (so I won’t tell you that you can’t really get your burger cooked to temperature, or that the lettuce was less than fresh, or that my tomato slices were pinkish and flavorless with crystalline meat, as are those that are genetically manipulated to stay fresh for over a year). Carolina Brewery “Build Your Own” burger: 3.5. Carolina Brewery itself: 4.

Scott’s Review

I’ve always thought there should be a word for the concoction created by the simple combination of ketchup and mustard. Ketchard? Mustup? Yellow-red burgonaise?

There should also be a word, I think, for a burger that’s just plain good—not unpleasant in any way, not so outstanding that you’re ready to run down West Franklin Street singing a burger-themed paean.

That’s what the Brewery Burger was to me—a solid, tasty, respectable hamburger. Forty years from now, when I’m sitting around the Straight Beef office complex, reflecting on our jaunt to the Carolina Brewery in Chapel Hill, I’ll remember the outstanding signature brews fresh from the giant in-house copper cauldrons, the burlap bags of hops stacked nearby, and the insanely spicy Thai chili wings. Will I be able to describe the emotions that the Brewery Burger inspired in me? Mayhaps. Perchibly. Possiburger.

My rating: 3.25.

Michael’s Review

It was a perfect Carolina spring evening, and stars were aligned for a fine evening of handcrafted beer and burgers. Where else to go but the Carolina Brewery in Chapel Hill?

I kicked off the meal with a Sky Blue Golden Ale (silver medal at the World Beer Championships), along with “hot & spicy” and “Thai chili” wings. The hot & spicy were meaty and of the standard Buffalo ilk. The Thai chili were low on flavor but ridiculously hot. I wouldn’t recommend those except on a bet.

Lately, I’m emerging as the one who orders the burger no one else will try. (See my review of the Salem Street Pub’s My Wife Said It Wouldn’t Sell). True to form, I ordered the SW Scorcher, a spring special, “dusted with a Mexican rub, topped with jalapeños tossed in habanero sauce, melted jack cheese,” and, of course, “lime cured cabbage.”

In all my years as holistic burgologist, I had never experienced a burger-related burn quite like this one. The habanero sauce and freshly cut jalapeños completely covered the burger, promising a wallop in every bite. I can cross an intense burning sensation on the roof of my mouth off my bucket list.

The build was perfect: burger, cheese, habanero sauce, jalapeños, tomato, lettuce. The bun was perhaps a little too toasted, but it easily maintained the burger. Not a single rogue jalapeño escaped as I was eating.

The biggest drawback was the beef itself: way overdone, despite my request for the rare side of medium. Scott’s was medium well, as requested, but mine was left on the grill just long enough to cook the flavor away. That aside, the outstanding toppings might have brought the burger to a solid 4, perhaps even flirting with a 4.5. As it was, though, I give it a 3.5.

Carolina Brewery on Urbanspoon

Renegade Review: Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien (New York, NY)

My expectations were high as I entered the spectacular Le Parker Meridien hotel, one of Manhattan’s largest and most exclusive hotels, two blocks from Central Park, one from Carnegie Hall. But I wasn’t there for the five-star accommodations; I was there for the burgers.

Tucked away behind a curtain by an emergency exit was a regular-guy oasis in a desert of exclusivity: the famed Burger Joint, deemed by Men’s Fitness as the purveyor of the best burger in the country. The décor was modern dive, with 1970s rock and punk posters on the walls. The tables and booths were old, with worn wood. Neat effect, if a bit forced.

I walked in just as the BJ opened, a legion of patties sizzling on the grill, mobilizing themselves for the onslaught of burger pilgrims. I went traditional—cheeseburger (medium) with lettuce, tomato, and mayo. As the line grew out the door, so did my anticipation for what would surely be a slice of burger heaven.

Finally, it was before me. The build was good: burger, cheese (cheddar, I think), tomato, and lettuce. The mayo was spread thickly on the top bun. I took a bite, and…it was all right. The middle was correctly medium, yes, but the char on the outside led me to believe they cranked up the heat to pump ‘em out fast. That was enough to knock the overall effect to just decent.  I don’t think I would go back unless I were staying at the hotel itself and needed a quick bite on my way out.

All told, it didn’t live up to the hype: 3 out of 5.

Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien on Urbanspoon

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

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