Review #93 – North Ridge Pub (Raleigh, NC)


If you are interested in paying top dollar for a food service burger, have I got the place for you. North Ridge Pub will cook your burger anyway you want it as long as it is well done. That is probably not fair, they will probably make it a briquet if you want it well done. But my “medium rare” request was changed to Trump Special. This combined with the lack of any meaningful flavor in the patty took me back to the days of cafeteria burgers. They do give you two slices of cheese, which is a bonus, lettuce, tomato slice and onions on a brick hard kaiser roll. I had to drive a little extra and spend a little more to reinforce my regret. I give this “burger” a 2. Not happy with the result but at least I didn’t get sick.


Let me just get this out of the way first. I feel for restaurants now. With the quarantine, places are barely hanging on and doing the best that they can. North Ridge Pub has taken all precautions that you should in this new COVID world. The servers and hostess all wore masks. They only had outdoor seating available for dine-in. We were greeted promptly by someone to take our order. When it was ready, our server brought it to us promptly.

That’s all I can really say about North Ridge Pub that is nice. The burger was complete garbage.

I ordered the Asian Burger which is grilled then dipped in Teriyaki Soy Sauce and served with spinach, mushrooms, tomato, and cilantro garlic mayo. The kaiser roll (really?) was so hard on the bottom that it was inedible. I worried about my crowns. It was the only repository of the soy sauce, so it was an odd combination of mushy on the burger surface and rock hard on the outer surface. Atop the factory-pattied (to be fair, it could have been pattied at the restaurant, but was done with a press) well done burger was a fistful of wilted spinach. Upon further exploration, the mushrooms were there but barely registered on the flavor radar. The tomato dutifully played its part in this mess by floating in a sea of cilantro garlic mayo. I soldiered on for about half of the burger and didn’t bother finishing. It just wasn’t worth it.

Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
No, this isn’t a joke. That was the sound of the bun

In dealing with the economic shutdown, restaurants have been reducing the number of items on their menus to reduce costs. Perhaps North Ridge should just stop serving burgers until they get back to full strength again. I am not saying you should avoid this place. Restaurants — local ones especially — should be supported. For Pete’s sake, though, don’t get a burger here. I give it a 1.5 out of 5.

Overall rating 1.75 out of 5

Overall ranking 92 out of 93

Focus on Takeout – Rudy’s Pub and Grill (Apex, NC)

My place to go for wings is Rudy’s. Every Tuesday night, they have $0.55 wing night. You can order an number of sauces. I have been going there for years and have never had a bad experience. Chad and I even did a lunch burger review there back in the before times. Great burgers. Great fries. Great wings. Great service, too.

I’ve never had takeout from there, though.

Rudy’s came through in a big way. I ordered twelve Honey Hot wings (my favorite) and tots. My wife ordered a Cobb salad, and the kids got BLT wraps with fries. Their online ordering system is terrific. They use a service called Chow Now. The cool thing about this company is that they charge a monthly fee instead of taking a cut of each individual order. The ordering process was simple. You can even order ahead. I ordered mine at about 1:00 PM to be picked up at 6:30. My food was being put in a bag as I walked in.

OK, let’s get to the important stuff. My family raved about their items. My wings were crisp and tangy as if they just came out of the kitchen. The tots were fluffy and just salty enough. A lot of great flavor without a hint of ketchup needed.

Restaurants are opening up now. However, we’ll still be getting takeout for awhile especially if it’s as good as Rudy’s. I highly recommend checking them out. — MM

Rudy’s Takeout Redux!

Rudy’s is also one of Chad’s favorites. He and his wife got takeout this past week. As mentioned, the ordering system is simple and allows you to customize your items.

Chad’s wife ordered a bacon cheeseburger, no onion, no pickle, and Rudy’s signature fat curly fries. Chad ordered their French dip on ciabatta with tater tots.

The ordering system assigns slots, so there are only so many orders in a given block. Chad arrived early, and the staff was happy to expedite his order so there was only a short wait. The food was excellent, as always. The French dip was rich and beefy, the burger a perfect medium. They were so good that both were half eaten before Chad remembered to take a couple of photos, so some judicious knife work was necessary to get a shot without bites showing.

Double thumbs up for Rudy’s and the skill with which they’ve adapted to the new reality of the restaurant business. — CW

Review #92 – Village Deli & Grill (Raleigh, NC)

Village Deli & Grill and a New Focus on Takeout!

Back in February, before the Coronavirus pandemic shuttered restaurants and canceled dining out for the time being, Michael and Chad made it out to Village Deli and Grill on Lake Boone Trail. The locally owned chain also has locations in Cameron Village, Wake Forrest and Morrisville. For a restaurant known primarily for its breakfast and lunch offerings, the burgers were surprisingly good.

Chad had the Carolina Burger with chili, slaw and mustard, ordered medium. Michael had the Bacon Cheddar Burger, also ordered medium. Chad’s burger was on the more more medium well side of the doneness spectrum while Michael’s was a nearly perfect medium. Grill marks and a great crusty char around the edges were a nice surprise.

What the…?

There we go.

Though, Michael’s was cooked perfectly, the build was a mess. All the toppings were on the bottom, and the bacon, though very crisp, was put in a lazy X on top. Major renovation was required. As a refresher, from the bottom, it goes burger, cheese, bacon, onions, lettuce, tomato, condiments. Both burgers were a solid 3.75. Michael’s would have been a 4.25 if the build wasn’t a disaster.

Overall rating: 3.75 out of 5

Overall rank: 47 out of 92

But given that no one is going to be dining out for the foreseeable future, we have decided to take the It Takes a Village theme to heart and highlight some of our favorite places that are still offering takeout. We’re going to start with our old favorite Corbett’s. We have a little bit of a backlog, so be prepared for more posts than usual to come out over the next few days.

Bad Daddy’s Re-Review

The beginning of a new year often means new experiences, but The Straight Beef, being the contrarians that we are, decided it was best that we do a re-review of one of our most memorable burger visits, Bad Daddy’s. Memories of the first visit still haunt Reverend Don to this day, and he shies away from anything with the terms “Bad” and/or “Ass” associated with it. But knowing that one must face their demons to truly move on, he agreed to join his partners in burgiatry, Michael and Carolyn, for a re-review. What follows is an abridged transcript:

Rev: I almost didn’t come tonight. The pain is still fresh.

Michael: That was seven years ago…

Rev: Still too soon. I can remember we sat right there. (He points to a half booth next to the reviewers. Then proceeds to review the menu.)

Carolyn: Michael, does he always shake when he looks at the menu?

M: Special occasion…things didn’t end well the last time.

Rev: I am going simple and old school – make your own with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions, cooked medium, can’t screw that up.

Reverend Donald faces his demons.

M: Pittsburgh for me.

C: Carolina it is.

Burgers come about ten minutes later:

Rev: Ok here goes… (Bites, checks to make sure it is fully cooked this time, chews, contemplates.) “Now that is nothing special. I mean, it barely has any taste. The patty is a tad dry, unseasoned, and a bit over-cooked. Closer to medium well, I think. Any one else getting a pronounced lack of flavor?

M: Flavor? No. However, they did manage to do almost everything wrong when it comes to the build. That’s something, right? A giant leaf of lettuce about 30% larger in area than the burger, a thick tomato slice, and about a quarter of a red onion all under the patty. By the time I was halfway through, it was all over the place.

Bad Daddy’s helping you get your daily supply of lettuce.

C: Holy heck, what is this thing on the plate? Some sort of mediocre yet voluminous mess, with an atrocious build and WAY too much of everything….except taste. Every single bite got worse than the bite before, and the first one was no delight. Even underneath all of the accouterments, the meat was bland and under-seasoned. 2.25.

M What I said about them in our previous review of them still stands. “If they were striving for mediocrity…, they nailed it.” 2.75

Rev: Ok it didn’t make me sick, and I did finish it this time. But I still don’t see why people love this place. 2.75

Re-review rating: 2.58 out of 5

Original rating: 2.63 out of 5

Combined rating: 2.61 out of 5

Overall updated rank: 77 out of 91

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

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) – CLOSED


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

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