Review #1: The Players’ Retreat (Raleigh)
- Joint: The Players’ Retreat
- Burger: The Bernie Burger (provolone, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, sesame-seed bun)
- Burger Category: Classic Rocks
Those in the know call it “the PR.” Those not in the know also call it “the PR,” but in a less cool way.
Nestled in the cozy nook where Hillsborough Street meets Oberlin Road, veritable inches from NC State, the Players’ Retreat is a place where, according to its website, “people from all walks of life rub elbows,” a place where, since 1951, one might see “Supreme Court justices and carpenters in adjoining seats.”
Little did the good folks at the PR know, however, one balmy autumn eve, that sitting in the large dining room opposite the pool room and capacious bar, beneath one of its mammoth TV screens (each the size of a small moon), they’d find neither justices nor carpenters, but rather the sordid likes of The Straight Beef.
Remember your first kiss? How your body flushed, your eyelids fluttered, and your knees wobbled? The PR’s Bernie Burger wasn’t quite that, but there was a definite weakness in my right knee.
The menu promised fresh Black Angus beef, ground on-site and cooked to temperature. Promise kept. A rare authentic medium rare, lavish in its flavor, its juices weeping gently into the soft, steamed sesame bun without sogging it. The patty was neither overly compressed nor spongy, like many of the “Angus” burgers slung through today’s drive-thrus.
My one serious criticism has to do with the order of the build. First, the provolone was melted into the top bun (as opposed to its traditional placement on the patty itself), and the mayo appeared beneath the patty, thus preventing it from commingling with the juices of the deep red tomato slices. Despite these transgressions, the PR’s Bernie Burger was knee-wobble-worthy indeed. My rating: 4/5
Unlike my Straight Beef cohorts, I’d eaten at the PR before. But that previous visit was misguided, as my so-called friend Don suggested I order the Chicken Bernie instead of the Bernie Burger. Only now do I realize how lacking my life had been in the interim. (Thankfully, my training as a holistic burgologist taught me never to regret burgers not eaten.)
The burger was medium, as ordered, without that soul-squashing taste of char. Like John, I found the cheese-on-bun technique a negative—as was the sub-patty mayo—but the fact that the onions were crisp and of uniform thickness offset the negative karma. I’m a bun-lightly-grilled guy, but I can respect a bun that’s steamed without being soggy.
Though the order of the build was not ideal, the even horizontal placement of the ingredients allowed each of the flavors to merge into a burgery oneness that satisfied me to my soul. My rating: 4.25/5
We all know the old English proverb: “Rejoice, o mighty burger! For thine cheese shield ye from daubery.” Before entering the PR, I had no idea what this meant. I still don’t, but I think it has something to do with the Bernie Burger.
I respect my colleagues’ objections to the cheese-on-bun build, but for me it served to elevate the burger to even greater burgionic proportions. In its own, mischievous way, the sandwich fused the unbridled joy of burgers with the subtle pleasure of grilled cheese—that uncomplicated cheese-on-bread goodness that hearkens to a bygone time. A simpler time.
For me, it was the amalgamation of all things good—cold beer, quality burger, and homemade potato chips, the taste of which have for centuries made grown men weep, that secured the Bernie’s—and the PR’s—place in the annals of great Triangle burgeries. My rating: 4/5