Reviews #10 and #11: Bonefish Grill (Cary) and Cheesecake Factory (Raleigh)
A Kind of Kobe Komparison
Preface: Let me speak for the TSB faculty and state for the record—for anyone who may look upon the comparative review that follows with a measure of cockeyed scrutiny—that we are simply not for sale. Our pledged allegiance is to the documentation of burger truth, as we see it, for the benefit of our constituents and fellow burger lovers across the globe. Though we did indeed accept a request from Bonefish Grill to sample their new Kobe burger creation and compare it to a Kobe burger at any restaurant of our choosing, and though we did accept a small subsidy to do so and may accept similar subsidies in the future (hint, hint), the flattery of an invitation, royal treatment upon arrival, and even the commonly corruptible power of the almighty dollar will never have the slightest impact on our collective objectivity and the unimpeachable veracity of our reviews. Again, I say, our allegiance is, and will always be, to you, and to burger truth. Amen. (Also, in light of the fact that we found ourselves at Bonefish Grill and The Cheesecake Factory to review these burgers, we have reignited our internal debate over whether to open the door to reviewing chains. My argument is that, burger truth is where you find it, and that it only makes sense that we should walk into the light, so to speak. Even if that light leads us into a Five Guys. Stay tuned for a future announcement, following our internal soul-searching and spirited discussion of this matter.)
Bonefish Grill Kobe* Burger
I like Bonefish Grill—not for the smoky flavor of their grilled fish (which I do not favor), but because I’m a sucker for the Bonefish Bang Bang Shrimp, as are most who’ve been there. However, I was more than skeptical of finding burger truth and bliss at a seafood chain, even if they did use high-quality beef. For one thing, I didn’t expect them to have the proper respect for the medium. I expected them to come through on the high-quality beef, but to then ruin it on the grill and put little to no love and care into the other ingredients and the build. I must tell you that I was pleasantly surprised overall.
There was care and love put into this burger. There were some novice mistakes in the standard ingredients (“special sauce,” for example) and the order of the build (veggies under the patty), but correct some of those when you order and you will enjoy what I consider to be a formidable gourmet burger in the Snooty Beauty classification. A rather lofty, puffy-looking fresh-baked bun looked as if it would be too much bread for the build but turned out to be satisfyingly soft and steamy. It compressed effortlessly, had a wonderful, yeasty flavor and was in perfect proportion to the other ingredients. The patty, which I was unable to order to temperature, came out a bit under-cooked, resulting in the perfect medium-rare of my strong preference, and its “Kobe” quality and rich flavor fulfilled the mouth-watering promise of the brand. My tomato was red and delicious, and the lettuce fresh and green. Cheddar cheese is a good choice for this burger, and its sharp flavor and oils blended and balanced nicely with the lush tastes of the other high-quality ingredients.
Aside from the my disagreement with the standard ingredients for this burger, the annoying affectation of having the order of the build inverted, and that a proprietary seasoning mix on the patty that was unnecessary for such high-quality beef, making the last couple of bites just a little too rich, this was one heck of a Snooty Beauty, an uplifting hymnal of burger truth, and I sing its praises. A VERY strong 4.5.
Cheesecake Factory Kobe* Burger
I’ll brief here (imagine that!). I was equally skeptical of finding burger truth at The Cheesecake Factory. I must report that I did find a small amount, but it will suffice to say that it was only in the quality of the beef. The bun, veggies, cheese, loud and unappetizingly gaudy atmosphere, and our rickety table were all a bit of a disappointment, and I decline to expound, as I am a highly skilled and respected burgiatrist, and my time is valuable. Burger: 3.5, but you can get one cheaper elsewhere. (Cheesecake: 4.5!)
*Technically speaking, neither burger is Kobe but rather American Wagyu. To its credit, Bonefish refers to “American Kobe” in its menu. (True Kobe is can only be bred in Japan. This guy explains further: http://baygourmet.tripod.com/wagyu.html).
Forget About the Build
The Bonefish Grill
I was surprised when the people at Bonefish Grill contacted us review their burger. I didn’t even know they had one. Their instructions were do review theirs and a burger someplace else, then compare the two. We thought that the ambiance and quality of the Cheesecake Factory were similar to those of Bonefish, so we set our sights on a Bonefish vs. Cheesecake challenge.
Bonefish Grill has one burger on their menu, a basic “American Style” Kobe Beef burger that comes with cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and “special sauce” (roughly mayo, ketchup, and relish). I chose to add avocado to mine.
The bun was grilled exactly the way I like it—just enough to keep the juices in check, but not too much that it crumbled. The order of the build was almost completely contrary to classic burgologic tradition. From the top down, it went: sauce, lettuce, tomato, onion, burger, cheese, avocado. My first bite, however, made me forget about the build.
The flavor and consistency of the patty was out of this world. Wagyu (American-style Kobe beef) is heavily marbled, and the distinctive and delicious flavor was apparent with each bite. The one strike against it was the “Bonefish seasoning,” a proprietary blend of spices, which was pleasant but a little too salty. A surprisingly great burger experience from a seafood place. My rating: 4.25.
The Cheesecake Factory
The Cheesecake Factory has a Kobe burger on their expansive menu, which allowed us to do a more apples-to-apples comparison. We asked if we could substitute the Kobe patty on any of their specialty burgers, which they did without hesitation. I ordered mine with bacon and blue cheese.
From the moment it was placed before me, I knew I would be disappointed. The bun had barely spent any time on the grill. The lettuce, tomato, and onion were underneath the patty. Plus, the lettuce and tomato were on the white side—definitely not fresh, and virtually tasteless. The bacon was in an X pattern on top of the patty, with a blob of blue cheese at the intersection. If I wanted consistent flavor throughout the burger, I’d basically had to tear it down and rebuild it. The patty itself had very good flavor and was the saving grace of the experience. My rating: 3.5.
No, Seriously…A Fish Place
Station: President Miley Cyrus Commemorative Moonbase
Location: Family pod of Scott “Grandpa Fixins” Blumenthal, burgrarian (ret.)
“Okay, kids, gather ‘round. It’s time for tonight’s burger tale, Bonefish and the Cheesecake.”
“But Grandpa Fixins, we heard this one already.”
“Maybe so, Steve34-2f,” said Grandpa Fixins, “but we mustn’t forget our history, lest we eat a bad burger and be doomed to repeat it.”
“Oh Grandpa Fixins,” said little Phyllis38-4a. “Do tell us the story again, won’t you?”
“All right, children,” said Grandpa Fixins, mussing little Phyllis38-4a’s hair. “Long ago, in the year 2010, The Bonefish Grill came to The Straight Beef with fifty dollars an a challenge: Try their new ‘American Style’ Kobe Beef burger, then have a burger someplace else, then write a review comparing the two.”
“Bonefish? You mean the eating station that serves Bang Bang Shrimpfood Delta?”
“That’s right, Frank11-3g.”
“Come to Bonefish,” sang Frank11-3g, the other grandchildren joining him in the jingle, “for the best non-extinct seameat in the universe. Bonefish!”
“But Grandpa Fixins,” asked Phil 19-5g, “doesn’t Bonefish serve only seameat? How good can a Bonefish burger really be?”
“That, wise Phil 19-5g, is why this story is so remarkable. You see, I too had little doubt upon entering Bonefish that the burger would be anything but middling. After all, what would a fish restaurant, as they were called in those days, know about the fine art of burgery? But heed these words, children, and let them be for you a seal upon your heart: From the moment I bit into the Bonefish burger, with its soft brioche bun, Thousand Island-esque house sauce, crisp lettuce, juicy tomato, and succulent, quality cheddar cheese, I knew that I had bitten upon something special. After two bites, The Straight Beef agreed that this burger was of exceptional quality. After three bites, we agreed it was easily in the top five burgers we’ve reviewed. After four, it cracked the top three. It truly was, children, one of the greatest burgers I’ve ever had.”
“But Grandpa Fixins,” asked Frank 11-3g, “you said that the story was Bonefish and the Cheesecake. Did you have cheesecake for dessert?”
“Not quite, Frank 11 3g,” said Grandpa Fixins, “the ‘cheesecake’ part of the story refers to the Cheesecake Factory, where we went for our comparison.”
“But what’s the Cheesecake Factory? And why would they have hamburgers?”
“The Cheesecake Factory was an eating station that was popular in the early twenty-first century. It served not only cheesecake but every other possible permutation of edible thing. Sadly,” said Grandpa Fixins, looking down, “the chain went under when the ad-laden menu became too heavy for humans to lift.”
“So how was their burger?” asked Phil 19-5g.
“Yes, Grandpa Fixins,” echoed little Phyllis38-4a. “Do tell us.”
“Well,” said Grandpa Fixins, rubbing his chin, “they served a decent burger. A respectable burger. I liked it. Phenomenal cheesecake, though.”
“But?” asked the children, leaning forward.
“But,” said Grandpa Fixins with no small measure of profundity, “it just didn’t hold a candle to the Bonefish burger.”
“What’s a candle, Grandpa Fixins?” asked little Phyllis 38-4a.
“That,” said Grandpa Fixins, “is a story for another time. Now, who’s up for Jupiter burgers, made from real Kobe beef DNA?”
Scott’s Bonefish Grill Review: 4.5
Scott’s Cheesecake Factory Review: 3.5