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)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

Review #78 – Rudy’s Pub and Grill (Apex, NC)

Gentlemen Who Lunch

Michael’s Review:

As I’ve gotten older, I have come to appreciate lunch. In my reckless youth, lunch was always something I wolfed down while usually working on something like answering emails or paying bills. I treat it for what it should be which is a break in the middle of my day. A time to listen to a podcast or some music or catch up on the news of the day.

Why not have a decent burger for lunch instead of going to a fast food place that is designed to get you in and out as soon as possible? It’s true. Fast food places purposely make their chairs and booths uncomfortable, so you’ll eat and get out. Come back, though, when you need as many calories as you can consume in 5 minutes.

Enter Rudy’s. Rudy’s is a good restaurant and bar that has TVs for watching sports. I’ve been to Rudy’s countless times on Tuesday nights for their wing specials, but I had never had their burger.

Unlike the real Wolfpack, this burger showed promise and actually delivered.

Going against my Demon Deacon roots, I decided on the Wolfpack. The patty was between five and six ounces which I think is the sweet spot for a burger. Four ounces just isn’t enough to sink your teeth into. Eight ounces is too much and hard to maintain enjoyment the whole way through. It was cooked medium as ordered. It had a nice char, but the meat was not seasoned enough. The classic hot dog-style chili was excellent. The pepper jack cheese was there, but it was not enough to overcome the sour cream and guacamole. It needed jalapeños, hot sauce, something to give it a kick. The brioche bun put forth a yeoman’s effort in holding it all together. I was expecting to go home and change before I went back to work, but my shirt remained crisp and clean.

Rudy’s puts together a solid burger. Add more seasoning, and it could be a TSB classic for the ages. I give it a 4.0.

Chad’s Review:

I have to admit that I was skeptical of Rudy’s. Since the much lamented passing of Cheeburger Cheeburger, this location in the Haddon Hall Commons shopping center in Apex has been host to a series of short-lived and easily forgotten strip mall sports bars.

From the outside, Rudy’s looks like more of the same. Then you get a look at the menu. Nearly everything is made in-house and with fresh, local ingredients. I ordered my burger with cautious optimism and was amply rewarded.

Of course we both had burgers, that’s what we do. However, the sports bar standards are all there on the menu, they are just executed with a level of skill and care that you don’t normally find in a joint with a dozen televisions. The burger is no exception.

Would you rather have this or a quarter pounder?

I ordered The Carolina Blue (garlic butter, bacon, and blue cheese crumbles.) The patty was about a third of a pound, which is the perfect size, especially if you don’t want to waddle back to your office and nod off in a soporific meat haze. It arrived cooked right in the goldilocks zone of medium with a hint of medium-rare. After a bite or two, my original caution was replaced with enthusiasm. This was a damn fine burger. The patty could have used a little more seasoning, but the bacon was nice and crisp and the other accompaniments were fresh and flavorful. The fries appeared to have been cut in-house, which always scores bonus points with me. The brioche bun was appropriately soft, but held up nicely to the rigors of burger containment.

All in all, this was a great lunch burger, and as Michael said, why not spend an extra buck or two to enjoy a good burger in a relaxed atmosphere. Let the other poor slobs stew in the drive through line while you sit back and enjoy your lunch. Rudy’s is an easy 4.0 on the Straight Beef Scale.

TSB rank: 4.0 out of 5.0

Overall rank: In a 6-way tie for 30 out of 78.

Review #77 – Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews (Apex, NC)

You May Ask Yourself, “How Did I Get Here?”

The Straight Beef is used to the rarified atmosphere of top-notch burger joints. We don’t care if that burger comes on Wedgwood china or on a chipped diner plate that hasn’t been truly clean since the Nixon administration. In fact, we loved to be surprised. We are thrilled when the best burger around comes from a dimly lit, greasy bar where your feet stick to the floor and you’re a little afraid to use the restroom (Chad: I’m looking at you Ty’s in Wichita, KS).

But we get it. Sometimes you need a clean, well lighted place with a predictable, no-risk burger — a place you can go after soccer or choir practice and mom and dad can have a beer while the kids have a burger that tastes the same in Poughkeepsie as it does in Apex.

But sometimes those places lead to a crisis of conscience, a testing of the faith. Like many others before us, we turn to the great philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and the Talking Heads, because . . .

You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large mini-van

And you may find yourself in a booth at Red Robin

And you may find yourself with a beautiful menu in your hand

And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

And you may say to yourself, my god, what have I done?

Michael’s Review: The Madlove Burger

This ain’t no party. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no foolin’ around — 1/2lb patty topped with a Cheddar and Parmesan crisp, Provolone and Swiss cheese, jalapeño relish, candied bacon, avocado, citrus-marinated tomatoes and onion on a toasted ciabatta bun.

Two’s company. Three’s a crowd. Eight is more than enough.

That’s 8 toppings. Nine if you include the shredded romaine lettuce. Too much. The bacon was there mainly because it is probably expected for a burger to have bacon on it. I couldn’t even tell that the lettuce, tomatoes, and onion were there. Cheese? Maybe. They didn’t use a particularly piquant variety. It didn’t really add anything. The standout of this crowd was the jalapeño relish. Great balance of sweet and spicy.

That being said, the ciabatta bun held everything together remarkably well. The patty was way over-cooked. Tastes like it was forgotten on the grill. Not just well-done but burnt. I ain’t got time for that now. 3.25

Don’s Review: Royal Red Robin

I can’t seem to face up to the facts. I’m tense and nervous, can’t relax. Can’t eat, full of malaise. Burger ruined by mayonnaise.

So. Much. Mayo.

Notes from the burger psych ward:

  • first bite was great… second bite was mayo… third bite was mayo, etc.
  • In fact there was a 1:1 ratio, mayo to lettuce
  • No individual flavors- even after scraping off Mayo
  • Burger was over done
  • Egg was slightly over done
  • Only the fact that it was so disappointing made it memorable.
  • started really strong, ended in me becoming a psycho-killer. Bad burger, ques que ces – better run, run, run, run away. 2.75

Carolyn’s Review: Sir Acha Tavern Double

Watch out, you might get what you’re after. Cool baby, strange but not a stranger, my burger was burning down the house — 2 flattened patties topped with sriracha onion straws, American cheese, pickles, lettuce, tomato and spicy mayo.

A bright spot in a sea of mediocrity.

Everyone else got the adult burgers in the room and mine came out like I had ordered off the kids menu.  Little did we all know that I would have the last happy laugh.  The burger was on point and got better with each bite. The toppings were proportionally right and none of them overwhelmed any other.  And the onion straws.  Good lord, those onion straws were a delight.  Crunchy and salty and totally setting off the mild – but still recognizable – spiciness of the mayo.  The patties were cooked through but they weren’t necessarily the star of the show – it was more of an ensemble. I would eat this burger again any day of the week. Maybe even EVERY day of the week.  4.25

Chad’s Review: Bacon Cheeseburger

I don’t know why you treat me so bad. Think about the things we could have had. You take my money, add calories. Sodium levels take me to my knees. It makes me wanna say…take me to the river. Drop me in the water. Take me to the river. At least refill my water.

Plenty of Na. Needs more Cl.

If you are on a low-sodium diet, Red Robin is not your place. They helpfully add up all of the calories, fat levels, sodium content, et al, on their website. That let me know that my Bacon Cheeseburger and a handful of fries hit the 2000mg daily limit exactly. While I admire the precision, that meant that I couldn’t really eat much the rest of the day. And what did I get for my sacrifice? An overdone, under-seasoned – yes, under-seasoned at 2000mg of sodium, a true miracle of chemistry – burger with limp, tasteless bacon. I’m willing to make adjustments to be able to splurge every once in a while, but the splurge must be worth it. The Red Robin bacon cheeseburger isn’t. 2.5

And that’s Red Robin for you. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.

Average: 3.19 Ranking: 54 out of 77

Review #76 – Ted’s Montana Grill (Durham, NC)

Oh give me a burger from Ted’s Montana Grill

Where your choice is bison or beef ground

Where burgers are served and sized most absurd

But it’s one of the best burgers around.

 

Home, home at the Grill

Where your choice is bison or beef ground

The toppings sound weird but shouldn’t be feared

Hear us out, for now we’ll expound.


Ted’s Montana Grill is one of a growing number of semi-national restaurant chains that is focused on using local ingredients when they can. Ted’s uses those fresh ingredients to great effect. They have 14 burgers on the menu. If you can’t find a combination of flavors you like, I don’t know what to tell you, pardner.

Don’s a greenhorn because he couldn’t finish his burger.

Don: I saddled up on the Cheese and Bacon Bison Burger. It was over 8 oz. of hand-pattied big sky bison goodness. The only confounding issue I did reckon, was the patty itself could have used a pinch or two of seasoning. The bacon and onions were a swell two-step partner with the lettuce, tomato, and pickles helping to corral the favors of this mammoth-sized burger.  Overall an enjoyable trip to the ranch. A solid 4.0.

Michael: I took a leisurely ride down the Canyon Creek. It was an 8 oz. beef patty with melted cheddar. The thick bacon was very well done. It wasn’t crispy, but it wasn’t chewy either. I had a good chunk of bacony goodness in each bite without having it escape in one big bite.  The jalapenos were freshly chopped. Bright green and definitely not from a can. They were on top of the egg, though, so the little bits were all over the place. It would have been better if they were melted into the cheddar. The fried egg was over easy.  The blackberry jam was what made this burger different. Unfortunately, not enough was used, and the burger was served with the top bun angled off the patty onto the plate which meant most of the jam was on the plate instead of the burger. Slather that stuff on there and keep the bun on top, and it would have been much better.

Notice the jalapeños and blackberry jam are not actually on the burger.

Ted’s serves a very solid burger. The big knocks were about the build and it was cooked medium well (almost well done) instead of the requested medium. The fact that it still had great flavor is testament to the ingredients. It was just left on the grill too long. I strongly recommend Ted’s. Make sure you go with a good appetite. I give it a 4.25.

Overall rating: 4.13 for a rank of 25 out of 76.

Review #75 – Acme Food & Beverage Company (Carrboro, NC)

We should know better. We really should. When an otherwise excellent restaurant offers an afterthought burger on the menu, skip it. We’ve learned that the hard way too many times.

But, like Wile E. Coyote, we were drawn to Acme. We couldn’t help ourselves. It seemed so promising.

Perusing the Acme menu

And like the coyote, we were doomed to disappointment.

Chuck Jones, the creator of the roadrunner and coyote, famously laid down the rules:

Chuck Jones’s rules for the roadrunner & coyote from his 1999 autobiography Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist.

We broke rule #3 first. We are indeed fanatics. We cannot stop. If there’s a burger around, we’ll try it, even when we know better.

Then we fell prey to rule #2, the failure of the Acme products. What looked so good, so promising, especially in light of the other wonderful items on the menu, just left us dangling over a cliff holding a small sign reading “Help!” before we plunged to our cartoon doom.

Carolyn Coyote’s reaction:

The Acme burger.  Mine was a study in chronological disappointment, which is to say that the more time passed and the more I ate, the more disappointed I became.  Meep meep, says the Road Runner.  Burp…ugh….says I.  The burger came out of the kitchen with some obvious glitches but no dealbreakers.  The criss-cross bacon was not the ideal but it can work under certain circumstances.  In hindsight, perhaps my over-hungry brain simply saw what it wanted to see.  My first bite wasn’t bad!  The meat itself tasted….mmmoookay.

After the next bite and the bite after that, it became clear that the burger build was atrocious and the bacon gummed up the works. By the end, I was viewing the greasy mess of what was a burger on my plate with disgust and not a little bit of self-loathing.  2 out of 5.

Michael Coyote’s reaction:

I have a feeling that the Acme burger is what would end up happening if the Coyote actually caught the Road Runner. Wile E. Coyote has spent his life in constant pursuit of that scrawny bird. Why? Is all that effort worth what minuscule meat is on those bones? I mean, they weigh about a pound on the high end. Even if it is not about the meal but a Captain Ahab-like pursuit of this creature, what next? Wile E. is left to wander the desert cleaning up the wreckage of his myriad of Acme contraptions remembering what once was.

Such was our experience at Acme. There was a lot of build up because the food there is outstanding. However, once I got my hands on the burger. It was a real disappointment. The stringy bacon was haphazardly placed on the over-cooked patty. The beef had decent flavor but nothing outstanding. The cheese fused the patty and the bacon together which made rebuilding a disaster.

Acme is a terrific restaurant with a less than average burger. They should do themselves a favor and just take it off the menu. 2.5 out of 5.

Chad Coyote’s Reaction:

What could possibly go wrong?

Nope. Just, nope. We did indeed run afoul of rule #2. The Acme product failed us badly. The burger was overcooked and underseasoned. The bacon was limp. The cheese was bland. All of the wonderful promise disintegrated before my eyes and I was left wondering how it could have gone so, so wrong. 2.5 out of 5.

Overall rating: 2.33

Overall rank: 72 out of 75

Chuck’s Re-Review – Fall from Grace

Chad got there early. Despite the fact that the restaurant was 90% empty, he was denied a table. The hostess would not seat him until the full party had arrived. He had to go sit in the corner. Literally sit in the corner on a lonely metal chair. They might as well have given him a dunce cap.

Strike one. Nobody puts Chad in the corner.*

“Chuck’s has changed its burger formula. As I recall, they used to feature 1/3lb burgers, the perfect size (or at least gave you an option). The burgers at Chucks are now 1/4lb, which is fine if you like medium to medium well. I ordered mine medium rare. That’s a tricky temperature for a thinner patty, but I expected the grill cooks at Chuck’s to be able to pull it off, as they are among the best in the Triangle. They didn’t. I got an overcooked, underseasoned burger.

Strike two.

We generally don’t let atmosphere or sides influence our burger ratings. I’m going to make an exception here. I was not happy about sitting alone in the corner while the few patrons who were there wondered what I had done wrong, but I can deal with that. When Micheal showed up, the hostess did indeed show us to one of the many empty tables before Don arrived. That was nice. But the the other element that should not be influencing my feelings about Chuck’s (but is) are the fries. I haven’t been there in a while, but the last couple of times I’ve been to Chuck’s the fries have been plentiful and perfectly crafted. This time the side order of fries was skimpy and had clearly only been fried once rather than twice, which is standard restaurant practice to achieve a crispy outside and fluffy, potato-y interior. These were like the fries my mom used to make in her Fry Daddy — too brown on the outside and mushy on the inside.

Strike three.

Chuck’s used to be one of the best — if not the best — burger places in the Triangle. We have sung its praises for years. We put it at the top of our Best Burgers in NC list. In that time, however, the bar has been raised significantly. Al’s Burger Shack, Mojoes, b.good, Buns, Only Burger and others have come along to create a vibrant burger scene. Chuck’s has not kept up. They have rested on their laurels, and it shows. I can’t give this burger any better than a 3.5.”

* Extra points if you get the “Dirty Dancing” reference.

Michael arrived to find Chad sitting at his place in the corner. He walked past no less than 8 empty tables to be told that we wouldn’t be seated until everyone in their was party was there.

“The thing that really disappoints me about the Chuck’s burger is how good it used to be. I think I would give it a pass with something like a 4.00, if this is the first time I had eaten this burger. It used to be the pinnacle of burger establishments. When people would ask me about my favorite burger, I would tell them it was at Chucks.

Alas, The Spirt Animal is no longer the best burger in the Triangle. It is not even the best burger in downtown Raleigh. The care that was taken at Chucks originally set it apart. This burger was thrown together hastily. Gone are the perfectly-sized 5 oz and 8 oz patties. Replaced by a too small 4 oz and a too-thick double to replace the 8 oz.

The Spirit Animal is described as having tortilla dust. The first time I had it, it was pulverized and mashed into the cream cheese. It gave a hint of tortilla flavor without any evidence it was there. On our re-review night, there was a solitary tortilla chip broken into 6-7 pieces on top of the cheese. The other toppings were below the patty making it a pathetic mess. Below. The. Patty.

I may sound harsh in this review for something that, honestly, is decent. This used to be a 5.0 burger. The burger against which all other burgers were based. Now it is an uninspiring place that is more about flare than flavor.

Chucks? Pfft. Whatevs. Head down to b.good a block or two away. 3.5″

Don was nostalgic for better days. “There comes a time when your greatness causes complacency – like a middle-aged burger reviewer who once could spin words into gold, comedy gold, but now can barely string two words together with a hyphen. Unfortunately, Chuck’s is struggling with this now. There was a time when I would fast in the morning and  gladly schedule my time where I could be there at 11:45 am to beat the lunch rush just to get that fresh juicy love in my stomach. It was special, it was our best. But alas that time has past. And the worst thing I can say about is, ‘it has become ordinary’. A fairly good ordinary, but ordinary and unmemorable.

I go my usual, ‘Bear in Heaven’ and it was nothing special. Unlike my com padres I don’t worry about atmosphere or fries, so my burger is my task and my task was uninspired. The ingredients played well together, but it had lost something- that “it” factor.  It has been mentioned before, but the lack of the bigger patties being replaced with thinner smaller patties really removes the juicy factor to the burger that made Chuck’s so special.

Chuck’s you are still pretty good- a 4.0 but you, like me, were so much more.”

After our re-review, Chuck’s falls from 1 to 15 out of 73.


Carolyn has since been to Chuck’s since our visit described above.

“I went to Chucks on Monday for lunch and was surprised at the burger, in a good way.  I got the Dirty South, as I always do, but it was much better than it has been in the past 3 or 4 visits.  I’m not sure if they have a new cook or what, but the burger was excellent.  The past few prior times the burger has been sub-par – the meat has been meh and the toppings have been spotty and limp. Monday, tho – everything was working together, fresh-tasting and snappy.”

Is this a sign that Chuck’s has started to turn it around or a one off visit? Time will tell.

Review #73 – Village Burger (Chapel Hill, NC)

Village Burger is a little hard to find. As it turns out, that’s one of it’s best features. The place has a lot to live up to. Chapel Hill is home to Al’s Burger Shack, Buns, and Top This, all truly excellent burger places. But as Michael said, Village Burger doesn’t even live up to Wendy’s.

We had a difficult time finding Village Burger. It’s tucked away in University Mall, near Southern Seasons. Given the gorgeous website, great logo, and the claims of a world famous chef char grilling burgers and placing them lovingly on a buttery brioche bun, our expectations were high. The website actually includes the words “gourmet work of art.” Well, all right then. Please bring us a great burger. Make us sing your praises. We’re happy to do so if the burger is that good. The burger at Village Burger wasn’t.

Let’s be honest here. Writing a bad review can be a lot of fun. You can be snarky and mean and hilariously funny. Village Burger doesn’t warrant that. We don’t really want to write bad reviews. We want places to succeed. We want them to wow us with a spectacular burger. Places like Al’s Burger Shack do that. They blow our minds and we’re deliriously happy to write a great review. If we can sneak in a little humor, that’s great. The truly awful places get funny reviews that include the smackdown they deserve. Those are fun to write because we don’t have to hold back. This is somewhere in between. Village Burger is a strip mall food court burger, and not a good one.

Chad had the Village Burger, a 1/3 lb of purportedly Angus chuck with feta cheese. It was overcooked, under seasoned, and dry. Feta cheese is pungent and salty, but it barely added enough flavor to make the burger palatable. Chad went back for pickles to add to the toppings, hoping for something to add some flavor.

Hello? Flavor?

It was a hopeless task. The burger tasted like something you might microwave at a convenience store at 3:00 in the morning. The fries were good, though. On the Straight Beef scale, this was a 2 out of 5.

Michael had the Village Burger with cheddar cheese. This burger suffered from what I call Elevation sickness. Elevation burger spends a lot of energy touting the ingredients, but does not deliver where it is important. It misses out on the little things like taste, build, and being cooked properly.

There is a burger in there behind all the tots and lettuce.

The tots were excellent, though, and abundant, as though they were trying to make up for the lackluster burger by engulfing it in tater tots. Michael’s rating is 2.5 out of 5.

Don barely remembers his burger. When asked his thoughts he replied, “What were we talking about? The burger? I have no recollection.” Either he blocked it from his mind, or it was solidly forgetful.

Don’s rating is 2.5 out of 5.

Overall rating 2.33 out of 5 for 70 out of 73.

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