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)


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

Review #83 & #84 – Wayback Burgers (Raleigh, NC) & Hwy 55 Burgers, Shakes & Fries (Apex, NC)

Be-Bop-A-Lula, Be My Burger

Faux-retro burger places are a sub-genre unto themselves, distinct even from the shiny diner format. Places like Freddy’s, Checkers/Rallys, and the two under consideration here, Wayback Burgers and Hwy 55, bank on a Happy Days nostalgia vibe, with Bobby Darin on the sound system and vintage photographs and paraphernalia to give the impression that you’ve just come off the dance floor at the sock hop. Some do it really well. Hwy 55 does. Wayback Burgers doesn’t.

#83 – Wayback Burgers

Wayback Burgers, tucked away in a generic strip mall on Capital Boulevard, is bland. As Chad said, “It has all the warmth and charm of a Subway. There is no surface that can’t be hosed down.” The photos of vintage soda shops on the walls are the only nod toward the retro theme. As Don said, “The only thing Wayback about this place is that it’s tucked way back in the strip mall.”

Unfortunately, the burgers matched the decor. Don said, “My Classic burger was the epitome of average — two beef patties, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup and mustard. The burger like the store was a bland amalgamation of classic derivative imagery. While the burger looked good, it was just a hollow façade hiding an unimaginative blend of lacking favors. I give it a 2.5, could be better, should be better.”

Michael was equally unimpressed, “I ordered the Cheeeesy. No, my E key did not get stuck. With that many Es, I was expecting a grilled cheese sandwich with a burger patty on it. Alas, what I got was just a sad double cheeseburger with one extra piece of cheese served on limply toasted sourdough bread. I would have sacrificed one or two of those Es for some flavor to the patties. My Philly roots were screaming for some Cheez Whiz. Don’t waste that many Es on bland processed cheese. C’mon! This is supposed to be a throwback burger place. A time before we didn’t know that a big fat cheesy burger was bad for us. The only thing Wayback Burger gave me was regret and a longing for more cheese. I give it a 2.5.”

The only thing Cheeeesy is the inverted bun gimmick

Chad and Carolyn were even less enthusiastic. Chad said, “I ordered the special, limited-time Horseradish Butter Burger, which offered nary a hint of butter or horseradish. A real butter burger has a big slab of just melting butter between the patty and the bun. The Wayback website and the in-store promo poster show what is presumably horseradish butter oozing between the double patties of their burger. Mine had no ooze. Investigation revealed a scant teaspoon of some kind of sauce between the patties. It might have been horseradish butter, it was hard to tell as it had no discernible flavor. The burger was about the same. I saw the cook put the patties on the flattop, but they tasted like they had been steamed. For all intents and purposes, this was a Wendy’s hamburger, passable but completely forgettable. 2.5 (aspires to Meh).”

The Horseradish Butter Burger that wasn’t

Carolyn, who also rated her Carolina burger at 2.5, noted that the Straight Beef crew spent the entire meal talking about where we would go next rather than the burgers in front of us.

In my mind I’m going to . . . find a better Carolina burger

Wayback Burger Average: 2.5 out of 5

Overall rank: 76 out of 84

#84 – Hwy 55 Burgers, Shakes & Fries: Retro Redemption

Hwy 55 Burgers, Shakes & Fries is also tucked away in a strip mall, but that’s where the resemblance ends. Hwy 55 is warm and inviting. It feels like a real burger joint. As Michael said, “Hwy 55 is what Wayback Burgers tries to be. The decor is authentic, the staff truly cares about your experience, and they know how to make a good old-fashioned burger. I ordered the All-American Cheeseburger with bacon. The patty was seasoned with plenty of salt. The bacon was crisp and laid perfectly in the cheese. Good quality American cheese, mind you. My quibbles were minor. They used leaf lettuce instead of shredded, and the tomato was not on top next to the mayo. Simple ingredients done exceptionally well. I give it a 4.25.”

Carolyn arrived early and had a platter of the chili cheese tots, which we happily helped her finish off. She gave her Pimento Cheeseburger an enthusiastic 4.25.

Chad had the Andy’s Double with bacon, cheese, pickles and mustard. “This was a really good classic burger,” he said. “It was properly seasoned, had a properly beefy flattop flavor, and didn’t fall apart when I tried to eat it. Easily a 4.25.” Even the sides were good, with the peaches and cream ice cream and Michael’s fresh squeezed Orangeade being particular standouts.

In short, Hwy 55 does the faux-retro theme proud with an average score of 4.25.

Overall ranking: 22 out of 84

Review #82 – Scratch Kitchen and Taproom (Apex, NC)

The holidays are over. Did Santa deliver the goods? Are we going to re-gift that weird lion umbrella stand? Did we get what we asked for at Scratch Kitchen and Taproom in Apex? Well…

After receiving the Westminster Abbey burger, Don was left thinking, “You shouldn’t have.”

“You shouldn’t have cooked my burger, which I ordered medium, to the consistency and taste of a charcoal briquette. The only flavor the burger had was from was the char and the sour taste of the sad clump of bleu cheese lumped under the patty. The candied bacon seemed to be trying to escape this mess as it was clumped on one side.

“Really, you shouldn’t have.” 2 out of 5.

Unfortunately, Carolyn fared no better. She ordered the Jammin’ burger, hoping for a little spicy kick. Her burger was dry and overcooked as well. “The nightmarish char overwhelmed all potential redemption that the otherwise excellent accoutrements — red pepper jam, onion straws, feta cheese and spicy mayo — could have added.”

Every bite was worse than the last and yet still, I kept going, thinking that I’d get to that one good bite. The jam and the mayo were not spread evenly and there needed to be more onion straws. I think there was a dime-sized glob of the creamed feta somewhere in there. “But nobody could overwhelm spicy Korean mayo with char!” you say. “Hold my beer”, says Scratch.

“Utter tripe. I was hungry, and I didn’t finish it.” 2 out of 5.

Michael asked for the Truffle Mac and Cheese burger and received a lump of coal instead. The build was haphazard and ill-conceived. The scant amount of arugula was under the patty which wilted it to a mush. Should have been on top. The fried mac and cheese patty was tasty but would have stayed together better if left under the patty to allow it to melt a little. Keep it gooey. The candied bacon, again, was good, but it was shoved under the bun in a little pile. I had to spread it out. “I couldn’t even taste the roasted garlic truffle aioli. The delicate flavor was lost in all that char.”

“No character to the beef and forgettable flavor.” 2.25 out of 5.

Chad made it pretty clear, this probably wouldn’t be a December to remember, “The presentation was dismal.” The burgers and small cup of fries sat forlornly on a small metal tray, the bottom covered haphazardly with a sheet of parchment paper. It looked like a bad school lunch.

He ordered the Ramen Burger which comes with seared ramen noodles, a fried egg, pickled ginger, scallion slaw, and spicy Korean mayo. When seeing it on the menu, he feared it might be freak show State Fair food with buns made of fried ramen. What came was a fried puck of ramen the exact size and shape of the burger patty. It “added nothing but bulk and starch to the burger, no flavor whatsoever.”

The yolk on the fried egg had popped before the burger was delivered. “Rather than a flow of golden lava at the first bite, I got a bottom bun that had been spot-welded to the parchment paper underneath by drying yolk.” It got worse. “The sloppy, unstable build caused the patty and all toppings to squirt out the back of the bun when I attempted to pry the burger from the paper.” After that and a stack of napkins, Chad attacked his burger with knife and fork.

Scratch did prove that they could cook a burger correctly, though. Chad’s was cooked to medium and lacked the char that ruined everyone else’s. The pickled ginger was excellent. Frankly, though, it would be pretty hard to mess up pickled ginger. “I have only had one burger this bland before, a Sheetz gas station burger that I ordered out of morbid curiosity. The Scratch Ramen burger tasted like not much of anything, an undifferentiated protein with meat-like qualities.

I was sad and disappointed rather than angry, so it merits a 2. But it is the holidays…” 2.25 out of 5.

Really, you shouldn’t have.

Overall rating: 2.13 out of 5

Overall ranking: 80 out of 82

Review #81 – Cow Bar Burgers & Fries (Raleigh, NC)

Michael was eager to check out the latest skinny ties at Merry-Go-Round. Don was after a blacklight poster and possibly a naughty gift from Spencers. Chad just wanted to see if the new Devo album had hit the Record Bar yet. Alas they are no more. Only the mighty food court survives, and, just like us, it has grown up . . . and expanded.

The mall food court is reborn in Morgan Street Food Hall, an evolution of the food truck and gourmet pop-up restaurant movement where grownups (or those of us pretending to be) can sample a wide variety of interesting and innovative cuisines. Morgan Street’s owners call it a “lifestyle dining concept.” Whoever wrote that pretentious twaddle needs to be beaten with a soft pretzel. No, there is no Orange Julius or Cinnabon, and there’s not an Sbarro anywhere in sight, but you and your friends can still mix and match — get a slice of pizza, a swanky taco, an empanada, sweet baked goods and a local beer. And there is definitely a burger available, a pretty darn good one, as it turns out.

Chad’s Review: Cow Bar’s standard offering consists of two four-ounce patties, cooked medium, on a toasted bun. They also offer a quad with four patties if you’re so inclined. I went with the Southern Classic, a standard burger with chili, cheese, slaw & mustard. The first bite was spectacular, beefy with a great crusty char. I was seriously impressed. But an experienced burger maven knows not to be wowed by that first kiss of flavor. With a burger like this, the chili and slaw should either complement the burger or contrast with it. Tart, crunchy slaw should offer a counterpoint to the savory richness of the burger.

The chili should offer another flavor note, an accent distinct from the burger but adding to the overall impression. In this case the chili wasn’t quite up to the task. Rather than accenting the burger’s flavor, it masked it, diminishing the combination. The slaw was crisp but ended up making the burger more wet than flavorful. I gave up trying to eat the burger out of hand after a dozen or two napkins and just attacked it with a knife and fork. The chili needs a more intense flavor and possibly a little heat to really bring the burger to life. And if I were making this burger I would use a red slaw (like the slaw from Stamey’s barbecue in Greensboro & Lexington) for a little more pop. Don’t get me wrong, this was a damn fine burger. I give it a very respectable 4.0 on the Straight Beef’s five-point scale. 

Don’s Review: Sliding on my parachute pants, baggy Frankie says “Relax” t-shirt, and checkerboard vans, I was excited to meet the guys at the food court. You can imagine my surprise when I got there and the stores were gone and I was the only one in the latest fashions.

I put my suddenly re-emerging insecurities aside and strolled confidently to the counter to place my order, secretly hoping Phoebe Cates would be taking my order. Alas, another dream crushed. I ordered the Classic Cheese Burger without sauce. I couldn’t risk staining the pants or shirt because I just got them off layaway. My evening was saved by the delicious comfort that I picked up. Between two slightly toasted buns were two well flavored patties, exhibiting the proper amount of char. These were then topped with nicely melted American cheese. This power clique was completed by lettuce, tomato, and onion. I might not have Chess King anymore but I did have this burger. 4.25

Michael’s Review: When you need a break from trying on Capezios, channel Buster Poindexter and order the Atomic Nuclear Burger. 

Sriracha ketchup (hot, hot, hot,) jalapeños (hot, hot, hot,) CowBar hot sauce (hot, hot, hot,) pickled red onions (not so hot.)

Man. This was the hottest thing I have eaten in a long time. I’m not too proud to admit that I had to take off half of the jalapeños to make it more edible for me. 

Don’t take that as a dig on the flavor. It was a tasty burger. Two thin patties that weren’t overdone. It could have used a lot more cheese to cut some of the spice and give the whole experience a little more texture, though. I fell prey to another stunt burger and bit off a little more heat than I could handle. There was so much capsaicin on this burger, umami was beaten into submission and set ablaze.

Olé olé olé olé. 4 olés is about right. A solid burger. Just a little too Hot Hot Hot for this hombré.

Overall rating: 4.08 out of 5. Ranking: 31 out of 81

Review #80 – Wimpy’s Grill (Durham, NC) CLOSED

No School Like the Old School

Chad’s review:

Wimpy’s Grill in Durham was a throwback from the day it opened in 1987. Even at the height of the Ford Escort, parachute pants and skinny tie, New Wave era, Wimpy’s was decidedly old-fashioned. Wimpy’s is so retro that in 2018 it is retro again.


Like King’s Sandwich shop, Wimpy’s is a classic walk-up burger stand. There is no seating. You either get your food to go or eat it in your car. That’s just fine with me. There are some burgers (and my favorite sandwiches) that are better off eaten standing up so the juices don’t run down your arms, or eaten under the comforting, non-judgmental glow of your dome light, where no one can see you consume an entire double bacon cheeseburger and large fries in a disturbingly short time. Not that I did that.

The building itself is a narrow A-frame, most of which is taken up by the submarine-like kitchen. That leaves only a narrow aisle in front. You practically have to turn sideways to get through the door, like entering the haunted house at a questionable carnival. Luckily, the service is very fast. I barely had time to work up a good streak of envy for those waiting by the exit for their food before I, too, received the joyful call.


I ordered a bacon double cheeseburger (mustard & pickle), large fries and tea. I fully intended to take half the burger home, knowing that there was no way I could eat all of that, especially standing around sweltering at the trunk of Michael’s hatchback in the middle of July. Imagine my surprise when I found myself pawing at the last crunchy ends of the fries and seriously considering licking the burger wrapper to get the last taste of the burger. It was that good. I should have gotten two. Wimpy’s classic flat-top griddled burger earns an estimable 4.5 grease stains* in my Straight Beef notebook.

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* In honor of the late, great Holly Moore.

Michael’s review:

I had the Garbage Burger. One of us had to. Chad was sane with his choice. Don couldn’t embarrass himself in front of his daughter. I, Michael Marino, being of sound mind and, until recently, sound body, ordered the Garbage Burger. What’s on the Garbage Burger you ask? A deep breath now: two four-ounce patties, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, slaw, chili, tomato, mustard, mayo, and ketchup. This is a mammoth burger. It’s about the size of a regulation women’s ASA softball. I’ll admit. I was a little intimidated at first. I had to eat it like an apple. The shame in that is that I couldn’t enjoy all the tastes together. It was almost like eating a different burger in every bite.


The chili was tangy and meaty without being greasy. The slaw was crisp. The tomato was juicy and red. I could go on. There was really nothing inherently wrong with the burger except it was just too much. Eventually, all the flavors ran together. That’s the risk you take when eating a stunt burger.

I’m glad I did it. Next time, I’ll get a classic burger with the works. I imagine it will be outstanding. If they can make a ridiculously large burger delicious, they must be able to do wonders with a normal burger. The Garbage Burger rates a 4.25 in my book.

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Don’s review:

Wimpy’s grill is comfort food for me. In a former life, I worked in Durham and had Wimpy’s on Fridays as a bit of a celebration of the end of the work week. What made this trip special was it had been over ten years since my last visit and I was bringing my daughter to get her opinion. Hopefully, this would serve as a life lesson for her about good burgers. I got my old standby chili cheeseburger with tomato, mustard, and onions, a classic combination of flavors that took me back to my younger more fit days. The burger was like a good song that you haven’t heard in years that comes on the radio and puts you back in time. This burger time machine made feel younger, better looking and not so angry- a beautiful experience, albeit too short of one.  The chili, mustard and onions, play well with the burger, and the cheese smooths everything into a nice rounded flavor pallet.  I scored it a 4.25


My daughter ordered her favorite (probably that of most preteens)- a cheeseburger plain. To me, this is the most dangerous burger recipe, so much can go wrong if any of the three ingredients is not up to par. What makes Wimpy’s able to pull that off is the fact that their burgers are deliciously juicy. The cheese was melted perfectly for a picky eater and she finished it in no time flat, a modern-day miracle. When she had finished, she said that was great (another miracle) and gave it a 4.5.

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Average rating 4.33 out of 5. Overall rank 16 out of 80.

Review #79 – Sutton’s Drug Store (Chapel Hill, NC)

Nostalgia Burger

You don’t go to Sutton’s Drug Store to get a prescription filled, unless your prescription is for a classic cheeseburger, lunch counter sandwich or milkshake. In that case, you’ve come to the right place.

There are a lot of burger places these days that trade on nostalgia for a time that never was, with bright colors, Elvis memorabilia and jukeboxes playing Chuck Berry and Bobby Darin. Sutton’s is the real thing. The drug store has been a Chapel Hill mainstay since 1923 and goes back to the days when pharmacies had soda jerks in white lab coats and served a reasonably priced breakfast or lunch to the downtown crowd. But Sutton’s is not a museum or a Disneyfied version of the past, just a small-town lunch counter (the pharmacy business was sold to CVS a couple of years back) that has managed to stay afloat in chain driven America. That, in and of itself, is pretty wonderful.

So, how’s the burger? According to Chad, it’s fairly close to what he remembers coming off the Eckerd Drug flattop in Chattanooga, where he grew up. “That was a special treat when I was a kid. My mom would stow us at the lunch counter while she shopped. Sutton’s burger patties are heftier and fresher, but the crinkle cut fries are the same.” With several decades and several thousand burger’s worth of experience, he’s hesitant to separate the burger from the location. “We sat and watched a steady stream of families, sometimes a couple of generations, having lunch that Saturday, the kids getting a taste of a hamburger that didn’t come from a drive-through. On a strict grading scale, Sutton’s burger would score a 3.25 or 3.5, but the combination of food, atmosphere and company skews the equation higher than that.”

I’ll take a bacon cheeseburger. Light on mayo. Heavy on nostalgia.

Michael grew up way out in the county near a medium-sized city. It was just after the time when these types of pharmacies were relegated to the city. Our pharmacies were more akin to the big box stores of today. He didn’t really experience greasy spoon dives until high school and beyond. “I don’t really have a place in my history that’s like Sutton’s. I can only compare it to places like Johnson’s. Given how good a Johnson’s burger is, the Sutton’s burger just doesn’t live up to what I expected when I walked in. The best thing I can say about my bacon cheeseburger was that it was solid. Good but not great, 3.25. I am glad for the experience, but I would probably order a bacon biscuit with a sweet tea next time.”

Does Sutton’s offer the best burger in the world? No. Not even the best burger in Chapel Hill, which these days boasts Al’s Burger Shack, Buns, and Top This within walking distance. What it does offer, however, is an experience that is worth seeking out and sharing, at least once.

Overall review: 3.38 out of 5

TSB rank: 52 out of 79

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