Review #21: Bull City Burger and Brewery (Durham, NC)
Scott’s Review: Pittsburgh Style (Look At Me!)
On the surface, Bull City Burger and Brewery held so much promise: a great beer list, self-serve wine dispensers, Boylan fountain sodas (including Creme), that down-home, college-y atmosphere, and menu items with pleasingly weird names like “duck frites” and “bull nuts.”
How can a burger joint that offers bull nuts not be fantastic?
To my dismay, Bull City’s promise was not kept. The service was too spotty, the communal-style picnic tables too communal, the outdoor seating too overwhelmed by the WHIRR! of the A/C unit, and the food-ordering system—which featured having to stand in line yet again to add even the smallest item—just too annoying. But it’s what really mattered, burgiatrically speaking, that left me feeling betrayed: The patty wasn’t cooked correctly—and was just good, not great. Not much else to say about it because not much else stuck with me.
On the one hand, I might have been so annoyed by the aforementioned negative qualities to fully enjoy the burger, which really isn’t fair. On the other hand, I might have been so annoyed by the aforementioned factors to fully enjoy the burger, which…well…is perfectly fair.
Scott’s review: 2.75 out of 5.
Michael’s Review: Pittsburgh Style (Look At Me!)
Bull City Burger and Brewery’s way of doing business is an admirable one. It uses North Carolina pasture-raised beef, supporting local farmers. The leftover grain feeds the pigs it gets its bacon from, and it recycles the fry oil into bio-diesel. Moreover, BCBB bakes its own buns and makes its own condiments. As a fervent supporter of the local food movement, I applaud BCBB’s efforts. It serves as a model of what a restaurant should be.
The burger was terrible. I had the BCBB burger of the day, which was served “Pittsburgh style,” with “dirty fries,” pickles, gruyere, and sweet slaw. The bun was chewy, actually requiring some forceful chewing to get through it at times. The patty was juicy and had good texture, but tasted as if it were marinated in Worcestershire sauce and coated in garlic salt. I ended up abandoning the bun and patty with about 20% left and just finished the toppings.
It pains me to give BCBB a bad review because I really like what it’s trying to do. Now, if it put the same effort into its burgers as it does into its business practices, BCBB might have something. My rating is a 2.5.
John’s Review: Build Your Own Burger (Classic Rocks)
Like Dr. Blumenthal, I disliked the layout and logistics of Bull City Burger and Brewery (BCBB). Like Dr. Marino, I applaud the focus on local support and the green approach, but I’m downright resentful of the burger.
Here’s the thing…Anytime something is done differently, it’ll strike a chord with some segment of the population and find followers. To those of you who love the ways in which BCBB and its burgers are different, please forgive me, for I am about to lay down some canonical burgiatric facts that are certain to offend your dilettante sensibilities.
If you have the word “burger” in the name of your establishment, you set high expectations for the burger-lovin’ masses. You suggest that you know something about burger magic and that you can be counted on to deliver. Now, you won’t get instant credit, and burger lovers will assume that you may not deliver true burger bliss, but they expect that you’ll at least be in the ballpark. They expect that your burgers will taste something like burgers.
I ordered a standard Classic Rocks burger: cheese, pickles, lettuce, tomato, mayo. My expectations were soaring, based on the big B-word in the name and some of the buzz prior to the opening of the place. After waiting in line to order, then waiting in a separate line for a gin and tonic that I couldn’t order at the main register 10 yards away from the bar, I jingled my change-laden pockets up a flight of stairs and joined my TSB brothers at an outdoor picnic table beneath the heavy drone of an HVAC unit, or similar industrial fan system. About 10 minutes later, an unpleasant “waiter” (grumpy food delivery person who can’t take orders for a second drink, even if it’s a soda) plunked an insult on a plate beneath my nose. It was served open-faced, with lettuce slip-slidin’ against the top half of a dark bun, tomato adhered to the lettuce. On the bottom half of the bun was the patty, with cheese melted so thinly over it as to be difficult to discern, and (blink blink) a blob of mayo on the center of the patty. What the hell? “Pickles”—more like cucumber shavings in vinegar—were on the side.
I shook my head and reassembled. Scraped as much mayo onto the top bun as I could, placed a couple of “pickles” on the cheese, then lettuce, then tomato to meet and mingle with the mayo, as the canon dictates. I took a bite, with a last-minute flicker of optimism at the sight of the very fresh local ground beef. Alas, even that remaining hope was dashed—by heavy garlic, perhaps among other seasonings, worked into the patty. The bun was dense and chewy, with a wheaty flavor that combined with the funky “pickles” and over-seasoned patty to make this thing taste absolutely nothing like a cheeseburger.
It gives me no pleasure to write this review, and I was rooting for BCBB with high expectations and an appreciation for their business ethos. But BCBB made a promise by identifying itself as a burger place, then offended the burgiatric gods above with a blasphemy that shouldn’t be called a cheeseburger at all. May those gods have mercy on BCBB. If you’re a true and knowledgeable burger lover, go only out of morbid curiosity. If you could care less whether your cheeseburger tastes like a cheeseburger at all, go right ahead…you may very well like it.
Update 03/15/2012: Scott and I revisited BCBB to do a review for WRAL Out & About and had a much better experience. Click here to check out our review.
I felt the same way. When I went with some friends, the buns were quite hard – they had problems with the proofing that day. Service was also slow, and fries and burger were both very underwhelming. I wanted to give them a chance to grow into things but it looks like it hasn’t happened yet. Good post!
I have to agree about the service model. Not being able to order another beer or add a side dish when the waiter comes by is frustrating. We went early to avoid ordering lines. Our plan worked perfectly until we wanted to add a soda and an onion loaf, which despite being horribly named, is a wonderful mass of crispy thin onion rings. Then one of us had to get up and stand in line for about 20 minutes. I can’t understand a system — at a brewpub no less — that actively discourages customers from having another beer. That makes no sense whatsoever.
As one of the burger gurus mentioned, what they are *trying* to do is admirable. I really appreciate the insistence on local, grass fed beef, the house-made condiments, the focus on local, sustainable ingredients. But the burgers are mediocre at best. Our party of five didn’t suffer the same overseasoning as the Straight Beef guys, but ours were definitely dry and overcooked. Their menu says that they are required to cook to at least 155º despite the common belief that a place that grinds its own meat can cook to lower temps. Fine. But even places that won’t cook lower than medium still manage to maintain juiciness and flavor. Among the five of us there was one burger that wasn’t woefully overcooked. We shared bites. It was actually pretty darn good. The other four were okay at best. The house-made hot dog was very good, however. The brioch-style bun wasn’t quite up to the task of containing a Carolina chili slaw version, and we had to resort to knives and forks, but the flavor was excellent.
Wow, the most shocking thing is the picture with the blob of mayo. I love mayo but would never expect a burger to show up looking like that. Hate to hear the place may not be that good and hope they are listening and making changes if needed.
I haven’t gotten around to posting my review of Bull City Burger yet, but you guys pretty much cover it. I really, really wanted to like the place. We actually went opening weekend and it was very good, but the two times after have been epic fails with dry overcooked burgers. Unfortunately, the best part is the Boylans soda fountain.
I’m saying much of the same here. I admire what they’re trying to do with focus on quality, local, and sustainable ingredients. We’ve been in a few times. The burgers have been inconsistent – twice dry and overcooked, and once much better and very tasty. Maybe they’ll figure it out? Maybe they won’t?
I don’t get the service model, either. Why the long line? Why not employ a wait staff? (Hint: Table service usually sells more food/drinks!) The last time we went in, we took a friend’s advice and sat at the bar. For us, it was a much better experience. You can order food there and avoid that looong line. Our bartender was awesome- engaging and efficient, and she answered our endless stream of questions about the beers.
One feather in their cap: the beers are good and steadily improving. Maybe if they apply similar improvements to their food and service model, they’ll have one rockin’ operation.
I did have an excellent beer there. Plus, I think it would have been more comfortable overall if we sat inside. Unless they get a real wait staff instead of runners, I can’t see going back.
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What I wonder is all the current business they are now experiencing coming from ‘buzz”??? what happens when the “buzz” flames out and they are left with a business model that isn’t working, will they change or perish?
My gripe with the place was the cost of the burger, not in line with the final product as so well described by others here
Wow. I cannot believe the reviews. I’ve dined at BCBB at least 6 times since they’ve opened now and never once have I been disappointed. They have consistently served high-quality, superior in taste food, and the buns are housemade, soft and delicious. Not many other businesses are doing what BCBB is doing, and definitely not at a lower price point. The green business model and the fact that BCBB gives back to the community is an added bonus.