We’re positive people. We say yes to life. We subscribe wholeheartedly to the philosophy that unicorns and rainbows are awesome. And while the total downers of the world get their kicks from being judgy—including some party poopers who insist on assigning ratings to things that are perfectly fine—we remain firmly of the opinion that teddy bears and butterflies are freakin’ fantastic.
So when it came time to review the burgers at T.MAC in Cary, we didn’t dwell on the fact that the food was cold. We didn’t focus on the unremarkable size or flavor of the patty. Heck—we hardly noticed that the bacon was chewy, or that the bun was past its prime. That’s just not who we are.
Instead, when asked what we thought of the burger, we were kittens and sunshine all the way.
Hey, you guys went to T.MAC! How was the burger?
The layout of the restaurant was super-creative. The dining area and bar are separated by a raised platform of booths, which really gives the place a nice, open feel. And the long line of beer taps behind the bar is beyond impressive. We’re gonna say there had to be 100 taps back there. The accent lighting on the taps was phenomenal—really captures the eye. Really nice touch, lighting-wise.
Very cool! So how was the burger?
Honestly, you cannot go wrong with the beer selection at T.MAC. Huge kudos to our server for recommending the Brüeprint Brewing brunette brown ale. Definitely one of our new favorite local brews. And thanks to T.MAC’s powerful A/C system, we didn’t worry at all about the beers getting warm. In fact, we didn’t even have to take off our coats!
Um…okay…so…what about the burger?
The fries. Wow. T.MAC cooked them to perfection, then took it one step further by making sure they were cooked way ahead of time. We didn’t have to wait at all for the fries to cool off; they were already room temperature by the time we got them. Man, T.MAC really nailed the little things.
How. Was. The. Burger?
When we say that there were TVs everywhere, we mean everywhere. There was no direction you could look without seeing your favorite teams battling it out. It was pretty much a TV-watcher’s heaven. At the risk of overstating this, there are just an insanely great number of TVs.
Michael’s Review: 2.25 out of 5.0
Scott’s Review: 2.0 out of 5.0
Chad’s Review: 2.25 out of 5.0
Don’s Review: 2.5 out of 5.0
Overall ranking: 57 out of 59
Final note: Don’t quote us on this, but we’re gonna say the TVs were like 4K Ultra HD. Not too shabby!
Meet a man who earned his PhD in Fragrance and Flavor Chemistry. And yes—that’s a thing.
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In The Straight Beef Podcast #17, the following assertion was set forth: Hamburgers are by definition made of beef and served on a round bun. The controversy that followed was marked by a vitriol not seen in this land since badly miffed colonists dumped 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor.
I told you adding a veggie burger at White Castle would cause problems.
In an effort to quell the threat of burgiatric revolution, three of our senior burgiatrists traveled to Town Hall Burgers and Beer in Durham for a formal debate on the matter. Argument was heated. Freedom Fries were thrown.
What follows is an excerpt from that debate.
Michael “Royal Governor” Marino was first.
Moderator: Dr. Marino, state your burger.
Marino: I had the Carolina Burger—an Angus beef patty, ground in-house, topped with fat back, pimento cheese, and cole slaw, served on a brioche bun. My fellow Americans, this was truly an all-American burger. A burger of freedom. Sure, the cook used this freedom to cook my patty medium well, though I ordered it medium—thus knocking my rating down to a 4.25—but I stand firmly behind his right to wield his spatula as he sees fit. Freedom, I say!
Chad “John Quincy” Ward was next.
Moderator: Mr. Ward, your position on what constitutes an “all-American” burger has historically been less traditional. Would you expand on that position within the context of your Town Hall burger review?
Ward: I will indeed, sir. Ahem. MY. FELLOW. AMERICANS. If our fine land is to be considered the “great melting pot, ” which it is, and a nation that embraces its myriad cultures and traditions, which it does, then I submit that Town Hall’s Lamb Burger is as American as any round-bun mainstay. Yes, it replaces ketchup with tzatkiki sauce and a round bun with a pita-style bread, but clearly, my friends, this is still a hamburger. And while the usual sharp flavor of tzatkiki was in this case a little tame, my patty was perfectly cooked and flavorful. Even the staunchest burgiatric conservative would agree this that burger deserved a 4.0 out of 5.
Statesman Donald “Reverend” Corey was third.
Moderator: Reverend Corey, would you expound on—
Corey: Expound? I’ll give you expound, all right. Tzatkiki sauce? Pita bread? Brioche bun? What in the name of Uncle Sam doth mine eyes see? Clearly I am the only burgiatrist present today who recognizes a true American hamburger when he sees one, and the Town Hall Burger is it. The very description of the burger—topped with lettuce, tomato, red onions, grilled onions, bacon, eggs, and American cheese—had me waving my stars and stripes. But the proof was in the pudding. The over-easy egg broke perfectly with the first bite, showering the patty in golden sunshine. The beef was excellent in flavor and texture. And with a perfectly-toasted bun containing its glory, the Town Hall Burger’s greatness was clear from sea to shining sea. A 4.5 out of 5.
Town Hall Burgers and Beer’s overall ranking: 14 out of 58.
Should non-beef burgers be allowed to exist? Find out in The Straight Beef Podcast #17.
We’ve recently become aware that one our local burger stalwarts, Al’s Burger Shack, has a contest for a new Thanksgiving burger. The Straight Beef took this as an opportunity to convene a conference in Geneva to discuss whether a burger can be called a burger unless the patty is made of beef. After 10 days of intense debate, we have agreed to disagree. Chad and Don feel that any ground meat that is shaped into a patty and served in a bun should be considered a burger. The old guard of Scott and Michael subscribe to the original definition of the burger which is that is has to be beef.
Scott’s suggestion that any non-beef burger be called a burger-like ground [insert animal here] sandwich was deemed too long to fit on most menus. We all agreed that any non-beef burger must include the meat that it is made of as a prefix.
It is with this in mind that we recommend you try your hand at burgiatric alchemy and come up with your own topping combination to win Al’s Burger Shack’s Thanksgiving Burger Contest. The official press release is below. Good luck.
Al’s Burger Shack, Chapel Hill’s classic burger stand, is challenging customers to put on their chef toques and create a holiday-themed burger. The winning entry will be featured as a special at the Shack on November 20, 2014.
The contest kicks off today, October 21, 2014, and will accept entries until November 10, 2014. Contestants must put their creative juices to work with the selected ingredients. They must start with a turkey burger and then include a combination of cranberries, sweet potatoes, or stuffing (or dressing as we call it). Bonus points will be given for using all three special ingredients. Entrants may also add other items from their virtual pantry.
Al and an esteemed panel of local judges, including Andrea Weigl (@aweigl) of the News & Observer; Andrea Griffith Cash (@agcash) of Chapel Hill Magazine; Ron Stutts (@wchlchapelboro) of WCHL radio; and Jamil Kadoura, owner of Chapel Hill’s Mediterranean Deli, will evaluate the entries. The judges will select three finalists on November 10. On November 19 at 4 pm, the Shack will host a cook-off and the judges will sample the finalists’ burgers hot off the grill. The winner will be announced at the end of the tasting.
Finalists will receive an Al’s Burger Shack t-shirt and $10 gift card. The winner will receive a t-shirt, a $25 gift card, and have their recipe featured as the Shack special on November 20.
“We were blown away by the creativity of the entries for our first burger contest that we couldn’t wait to have another,” said Al Bowers, owner of Al’s Burger Shack. “We’re thrilled to include local food editors, media, and a fellow chef as judges. I excited to see how the Shacksters tackle the holiday burger.”
The rules are simple:
Step 1: Like Al’s Burger Shack on Facebook.
Step 2: Create a recipe and submit (insert link) it
Step 3: Keep it fresh and make it tasty.
Join in the pre-holiday fun and show off your inner chef. Enter today.
About Al’s Burger Shack
Al’s Burger Shack is Chapel Hill’s classic burger stand. We use the finest ingredients, including pasture-raised NC beef and farmers’ market produce, to create our burgers, hot dogs and shakes. Real burgers. Real local. Real good. For menus, news, directions and more, visit alsburgershack.com.
The Zen of Zinburger
Three Burgiatrists Ponder the Conundrum of a Boutique Burger Chain
As a wine, Zinfandel runs the gamut from cheap, tarty white zinfandel designed to be swilled by mindless twenty-somethings who just want something sweet, to brawny, tannic red zinfandels that can stand up to the burliest steak. The atmosphere and menu of Zinburger encompass a similar spectrum. The upscale boutique burger chain is situated in trendy Streets of Southpoint in Durham. It is bright, garish and loud, catering to a young, well-heeled white zinfandel crowd busy with their smartphones. The burgers, however, are red zinfandel serious. How can this place be both? That is the Zen of Zinburger.
This place is loud. Even a roadie for an 80s hair-metal band would say, “Man, that place is loud.” Loud music, big TVs. I thought they tried too hard to make the place trendy, so my hopes for a good burger experience were not high.
THIS IS A GREAT BURGER!
I eschewed the Manchego cheese and fancy shmancy Neuske’s Maple Bacon and ordered the Double which consisted of two 3.5 ounce patties, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and ketchup. It is hard to cook a thin patty without turning it into shoe leather. The cook nailed it beautifully, but the burger experience took a big hit with the bun. The thickness of the bread was far greater than the burger and toppings inside. A simple potato bun grilled with a little butter would have vaulted this burger to top ten status in my book. I still give it a 4 out of 5 as that is the only complaint that I had.
What is the sound of one bun flapping? No, wait, that’s not right. It doesn’t matter anyway, you’d never hear it over the noise level in Zinburger, one of the latest boutique burger chains to call the Triangle home. It’s loud, it’s friendly, and they make a decent burger.
They also make a very messy burger. Listen, burger joint owners, toast your buns. If you pride yourself on particularly juicy burgers and then slather that burger with any kind of sauce, you have a disaster in the making if the bun doesn’t have some structural integrity. The signature Samburger boasts Neuske’s Applewood smoked bacon, American cheese and Thousand Island dressing. It tastes pretty darn good. But pair that with a squishy bun and big, sloppy leaf of iceberg lettuce and you have a burger patty that squirts out the back of the bun on the first (and every subsequent) bite. I ended up eating it with a knife and fork. At least until it got cold, which happened alarmingly quickly. I suspect my burger sat on the pass while waiting for the others to come up for service.
On the other hand, the Zingria sangria was quite tasty and the zucchini fries were excellent, making up for a slightly disappointing burger experience. The underlying burger was well prepared and should have scored higher. The build, the bun and the serving temperature knock it down to a 3.0 out of 5.
I have to admit, I was looking forward to Zinburger much like I would going to any chain- with much trepidation. But I put my game face on, climbed up to my bench seat, to peruse a fairly succinct menu. The Breakfast Burger stood out as a burger aimed directly at my sensibilities – burger, bun, bacon, egg, mayo, American cheese, and avocado. The first bite showed me that the burger meant business, with very good flavor and the first of a series of happy accidents. The burger was a little closer to medium rare, than the medium I had ordered it- which I actually prefer. This first bite also showed me that this was going to be a messy dining experience. The next happy accident was that the egg was hard fried, meaning no runny yolk adding to the concoction of burger juice, mayo, and avocado now residing in my beard. The bacon was a very nice accompaniment to the burger, egg, and cheese, really rounding out the flavors and not over powering them as it is apt to do.
As I worked through this spiritual journey of a burger, I became enlighted to a few things that would make this burger better. First, toast the bun. I don’t need to go through all the issues with a non-toasted bun, just toast it. Second, the 1/3 of a whole avocado was a bit excessive and it acted as a fulcrum to dislodge all the other ingredients into my beard with each bite. But this did allow me to enjoy my burger again driving home, another happy little accident. 4.0 out of 5
Overall 3.66 out of 5, putting Zinburger 27 out of 57.
Southern lifestyle magazine Garden & Gun recently published a paean to a quintessential dive bar: Our Kind of Place: Nu-Way Lounge & Restaurant
Photo spread from Garden & Gun article on Nu-Way Lounge & Restaurant. Click to read.
I said to Becky, the owner who worked the grill on this particular day, “I want a Redneck burger, and I need a plain burger with nothing on it for my dog.”
She said, “Your dog’s outside?” I nodded. She said, “You got a leash? You can bring him in.”
I said, “Yeah, I do. How nice,” and got Dooley out of the Jeep.
I don’t want to get all existential and dog-whispering about this, but when I brought Dooley in I pretty much felt him saying, “Wow! Thanks. Can we play that bowling game?” (George Singleton, Garden & Gun, Aug/Sep 2014)
This place sounded too good to miss. Luckily Spartanburg designer and artist Jane Beckler Bird is an old friend and a fan of classic cheeseburgers. She quickly was sworn in as Adjunct Burgiatrist and guest reviewer. Here’s what she had to say.
“Despite being a resident of Spartanburg, South Carolina, for a decade I had visited only two of the three known “burger dives” in this town – The Beacon and Ike’s Korner Grille. At last, I made it to Nu-Way Restaurant and Lounge, a renowned player in this heavenly trifecta. The White Trash Burger did not disappoint…
Nu-Way is truly a burger dive with no frills – just a row of barstools, a handful of tables and a fully stocked bar (complete with the usuals as well as local craft beer). Friendly staff, who seem to know everyone in the place, are eager to please. Clever menu items make selection tough (they all sound great) with Redneck Cheeseburger, Trailer Park Burger and such, but I settled upon a favorite there: The White Trash Cheeseburger.
Nu-Way White Trash Burger: hand pattied beef, homemade slaw, mustard, pickles, onions, chili, jalapenos, and American cheese
The White Trash features a sizeable angus patty grilled to taste and includes American cheese, pickles, onions, jalapeno chiles, slaw, mustard and whatever else you wish added for that matter. It’s served on a classic sesame seed bun that perfectly soaks in all the ingredients’ deliciousness. Yeah… a good ol’ messy burger you only eat around those you really love! Paired with some crispy shoestring fries, this burger really hit the spot. It was so filling I elected to take half home for later, and trust me, this is one burger that does leftover very well. It was even amazing the next day!
I am not a well versed foodie or writer of reviews, but I do know a great burger when I find one. Nu-Way’s White Trash Cheeseburger is a must if you’re in downtown Spartanburg. It has close rivalry, but that’s for another writeup another time. Enjoy!” Jane Beckler Bird
Photo borrowed from the Nu-Way Facebook page. Looks like they really are pet friendly.
THIS JUST IN!
The Straight Beef Ties DiMaggio’s Streak of 56 Straight
by Old-Timey McSportswriter, Sr.
(AP) Time to scram, Joltin’ Joe! There’s a new big cheese in town, and it’s The Straight Beef.
With their once-over of Gypsy’s Shiny Diner in Cary, The Burger Boys of Beeftown extend their hot-streak to 56 straight months in the burger-reviewin’ biz. It’s a mark that brings TSB neck with The Yankee Clipper himself. That’s killer-diller in my book!
Listen to a snippet from the original radio broadcast!
It all started with Chad “Sugar Daddy” Ward.
“The first pitch was a big fat meatball,” said the squad’s speedy leadoff man. “A classic diner burger with bacon and cheese. Any hash slinger shoulda hit it out of the park. Instead, it was out by a mile. The bacon tasted like it got the business end of a heat lamp, and the under-seasoned meat just plain chickened out.” Ward’s review? 2.75 out of 5.
Then Donald “Knuckle Sandwich” Corey stepped up to a chili burger.
“The pitch was hotsy-totsy,” said TSB’s two-hole man. “A real doozy. But the patty was out of the strike zone on account of its being too dry, see? The chili had some bite, so that gave the burger some pull, but horsefeathers if it was gonna get to first base.” Corey’s review? 3 out of 5.
Scott “Nice Gams” Blumenthal was up next.
“The Shiny Diner’s the cat’s meow,” said the Beef’s burly slugger. “So I ordered mine classic-style and got ready to cook with gas. But it sat in my stomach like rocks in my stompers, see? I got the heebie-jeebies so bad I could barely noodle my way to the bag.” Blumenthal’s review? 2.75 out of 5.
Now, it was up to Michael “Wise Guy” Marino to put the capper on the streak.
“I was ready for a juicy slab of ground, flat-grill chuck,” said TSB’s cleanup man, “but my two-fer with bacon, American cheese, lettuce, mayo, and mustard was a dead hoofer. Lucky for me I got a nubber between short and third or I woulda snapped my cap.” Marino’s review? 3 out of 5.
Gypsy’s overall ranking: 45 out of 57.
Did these guys just equate eating 56 burgers with me hitting in 56 straight games?
Test-tube burgers: miracle meats or monstrosities with cheese? The Straight Beef decides.
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Hero Burgiatrist Eats 10 Sliders in One Hour at Asheville’s Battle of the Burger
Our own burgiatrist Michael Marino recently served as a judge at the WNC Battle of the Burger in Asheville, NC. The Battle wasn’t just a great way to benefit western NC’s Eblen Charities—it was also an official qualifying event of the World Burger Championship in Las Vegas. So it was kind of a big deal. Thanks to our buds the NC Beer Guys for helping to get us involved in this fantastic event.
Here’s Michael’s report:
Local bands played as 10 western NC burger purveyors—all hoping for a chance at the big prize—grilled and griddled thousands of burger samples. Pepsi of Asheville, Sierra Nevada, and Pisgah Brewing kept things cold while the competition got hot. Finally, it was time to taste.
King James Public House. Hands down my favorite. Really nice combination of smoked gouda, fried onions, and an especially delicious patty of ground chuck, short rib, brisket, and lardo (an Italian charcuterie that’s cured for a month, then hung for another two). Honestly, one of the most flavorful patties I’ve ever had. If TSB’s current number 1, Chuck’s, used this patty, it would probably be the best burger in the universe.
All kneel before the King (James) of Burgers.
Rankin Vault. This was the winner of the competition—topped with bacon, white cheddar, arugula, red onion in a house-made vinaigrette, and spicy Duke’s mayo. The peppery arugula and onions were an interesting choice and made for an overall savory experience. I thought it was exceptional, but its patty couldn’t match King James’.
Viva Las Vegas!
Ambrozia served a simple pimento cheeseburger with a twist: bacon jam instead of bacon. It mixed well with the tangy pimento cheese. I’m not a pimento cheese connoisseur like my colleague Chad, but I think he’d approve. It was firm and not soupy, and I wasn’t a mess by the time I finished.
Food of the gods.
Mojo Kitchen and Lounge. Mojo went sweet instead of savory, topping its burger with mozzarella cheese, caramelized onions, sweet plantains, and chimichurri. I might have gone with Brie over mozzarella, but that’s nitpicking an otherwise fine burger. In this rarified air, quibbles make all the difference.
All the sorority girls are clamoring for the plantains, Lois.
Farm Burger gets a boost because it impressed my daughter, who’s tough to please burger-wise. She went back for seconds on this goat cheese, microgreens, heirloom tomato, and basil pesto-topped creation.
These five were solid, but not quite ready for the big leagues:
Creekside Taphouse tried hard to be different, using a dollop of bacon jam on the cheese and floating a sunny-side-up quail egg on that. A neat effect, and the presentation was great—looking like a tiny toy burger—but its taste was nothing special. Solid, but not outstanding.
Farm to Fender represented the Battle’s lone food truck. Fender served my personal favorite type of bun—the poppyseed sesame similar to what’s used at Ray’s Hell Burger—but the chipotle pimento-smothered concoction was the saltiest thing I’ve ever eaten.
If you’re going deer hunting, bring along one of these babies.
Buffalo Nickel, like Creekside, tried to gimmick themselves apart, using creamy white cheddar with a whipped cream dispenser. It was neat—and the cheese was akin to high end Cheez Whiz—but the burger was so-so.
The Social was the Battle’s previous champ. But either its fellow Asheville burger purveyors significantly raised their game, or The Social was having an off day. The fried pickle chipotle burger was nothing special.
Ben’s Tune Up. Its chopped skirt steak and bacon sandwich, topped with tomato jam and miso slaw on a baguette, fits better in a “loose meat” category. Nice flavor, but a little chewy—and just not really a burger.
How did this sandwich sneak into a burger competition?
Though the organization of the WNC Battle of the Burger was a bit chaotic—and the first tables had an advantage over the last few, which people reach when they were stuffed—overall the event was lots of fun, and the opportunity to eat 10 heavy sliders in an hour was truly an honor.
But really, people: Enough with chipotle seasoning already. We went through this with the equally meaningless “applewood smoked bacon.” It’s played out. What about cumin? Cumin’s nice.