- Joint: Spirits Pub & Grub, Cary
- Burger: various
- Burger Category: Classic Rocks (John) and Look at Me! (Scott and Michael)
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:
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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.
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.
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.
- Joint: The Players’ Retreat
- Burger: The Bernie Burger (provolone, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, sesame-seed bun)
- Burger Category: Classic Rocks
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.
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
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
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