Review #44 – Brewster’s Pub (Cary, NC)

What two tastes make the greatest taste combo? No, it’s not peanut butter and chocolate—though that’s close. It’s burgers and beer, of course. That’s why The Straight Beef teamed up with our hoppy counterparts the NC Beer Guys for an outing, to see what burgio-beeric magic we might conjure up.

We wound up at Brewster’s Pub in Cary—a new sports bar at the corner of Lake Pine Drive and 64—and while the fare was just fair, the joint buzzed with burger and beer wisdom aplenty. Keep your ears out for a future Straight Beef podcast for more on that. For now, we’ll give our review of the Brewster’s burgers, then hand the mic to the beer experts…

The Straight Beef

Michael, of course, went with the nuttiest burger on the menu: the “Brewster Bomb,” with bacon, grilled onions, mushrooms, and “drizzled with Monterey jack queso.” Though the burger wasn’t spectacular, Michael could tell that the kitchen knew a little something about burger magic. The patty had a nice char on the outside, without the too-often-predictable overcooked middle, and while the unorthodox use of what’s essentially a cheese sauce might have worked against it, the combination of toppings came together nicely. Michael’s review? Solid overall. A 3.5 out of 5.0.

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Scott went with the straightforward and aptly named “Hamburger,” with traditional veggies and condiments (if you subscribe to the school of thought that considers mayo traditional). Liberally throwing around words like backyard and serviceable and respectable, Scott landed close to Michael’s view: Brewster’s serves up a decent open-grill burger that isn’t quite stand-out, but offers hints of burger magic to come. Scott review? A 3.25 out of 5.0.

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The beer selection, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired. For a discussion of that, we’ll turn things over to the beer experts.

NC Beer Guys

Beer expectations run pretty high when we enter a place that has named itself both “brewsters” and “pub.” The beer-pairing selections we had for our burgers at Brewster’s Pub left those expectations dashed. It’s especially disappointing for guys that work promoting North Carolina craft beer to see so few NC-produced options on the menu! With all the local breweries located within a few miles of the pub that would love to have their tasty craft beer on tap?

Anyway, they did have four good NC-produced beers in the Carolina Blonde, Caroline Strawberry Blonde, the Cottonwood Endo IPA from Foothills, and the Sweet Josie out of Lonerider. Good, if limited, options, but how do they do paired with burgers.

Dave chose the “Brewster Bomb,” but with all those toppings, what beer do you pair it with that won’t be overwhelmed by the burger? Dave’s first choice was Sweet Josie. You got the beef, bacon, onions, and mushrooms to contend with, and a brown ale is a wonderful complement. You have roasted malt flavors of caramel and chocolate, which match up great with all those toppings. A burger like this would kick a wheat or fruit beer to the side. Even with Glenn selecting a burger with cheddar cheese, Sweet Josie handled it with ease. These are big burgers, so it took two beers to finish them off. Do you want the same, or is there something else on the menu that can handle the challenge?

Cottonwood Endo IPA to the rescue! India pale ales are really good at putting a bite on flavor—and also cleaning up on the end. This particular IPA has a lot of citrus flavor and a nice hop bitterness. It easily handled and paired well with all the flavors it was up against.

What NC craft beer do you like to pair with your summer burgers?

Review #43 – JD’s Tavern (Apex, NC)

Ok guys, I found a receipt in my pocket that shows I paid for a burger with fried egg, bacon, and American cheese at one “JD’s Tavern” in Apex. Did you guys pull a prank on me? I can’t remember the burger at all. I remember awesome buffalo shrimp, good conversation, a long wait for food, and a couple of laughs at Scott’s and Chad’s expense. That’s about it. Definitely no burger.

That makes sense—you do always get bacon and egg on your burger. Maybe you need something different in your life, like the pineapple and salsa meat sandwich I had. Wait—was it just a sandwich? Maybe it was a burger.

That certainly looks like a burger. Why can't I remember eating it?

That certainly looks like a burger. Why can’t I remember eating it?

OK—this is slightly eerie. I also have a vague memory of eating at JD’s. When the four of us get together for an outing, we usually review burgers, right? But for the life of me, I can’t remember having one there. We wouldn’t have gone on a burger outing and not had a burger, though, right? Right? Please tell me I’m not losing it.

I also recall good conversation, decent beer, excellent Buffalo shrimp, and little else. I was as stunned as the rest of you to find a hamburger on my credit card slip, so I did a little research.

Burgiatra Britannica contains references, albeit incomplete, of a phenomenon called “burgnesia.” Apparently there were experiments done in the 1940s under a secret government program designed to determine if a foodstuff, most notably hamburgers, can be made completely forgettable. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) determined that under the right circumstances, a hamburger can be rendered so pedestrian that it is erased from the subject’s memory. I think that is what is going on here.

Nicely done, Major Beef. Another mystery solved. Now it’s coming back to me a bit—something about sliders with three-day-old buns and flavorless patties. I’m not sure I remember it well enough to give a rating, but I’ll go with 2.0.

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Hey, Scott. Remember me? I still have one of your fillings.

Hey, Scott. Remember me? I still have one of your fillings.

Oh wait! Now I remember this burger. It was completely pedestrian. The goodness of the bun was countered by the fact the patty was way overcooked. I ordered the burger medium rare, and that was a solid well done. The meat was bland and dry, the fried egg was too hard, and the bacon was just…there. Rating 3.0.

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I can't walk. How can I be a pedestrian?

I can’t walk. How can I be a pedestrian?

J.D.’s Tavern has either resurrected WWII stealth burger technology or they have inadvertently stumbled upon a burger that is so uninspired that the brain completely erases its consumption from recall. It is neither good enough to merit recognition nor bad enough to warrant space in memory. Whether they realize it or not, they have perfected the invisible hamburger. If I could recall it better, I would probably give it a 2.5. The overcooked burger itself deserved a 2.25, but the excellent brioche bun pulled it up.

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Wait, I definitely remember Scott’s sliders. They deserved their own jaw muscle workout video, “Buns of Stale.” My pineapple salsa . . . sandwich . . . burger . . . whatever, was most notable for having pineapple and salsa on it. I give it a 2.75.

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JD's Tavern on Urbanspoon

Work Those Buns!

The Straight Beef’s recent Podcast #4 raised the critical issue of whether or not a patty melt is a legitimate hamburger. The answer to that question hangs on one’s belief in the importance of the bun. If the bun is a critical component, then the patty melt, which is traditionally served between slices of rye bread, is not a burger. If, as the Food Lover’s Companion says, a hamburger is “. . . a cooked patty of ground beef between two bread halves, usually in the form of a hamburger bun,” a patty melt is very definitely a variation on a hamburger just as a pimento burger is a variation on a cheeseburger. We’ll deal with this topic in greater detail (and with greater vitriol) in an upcoming review.

Why all the bun angst? Because the bun is important. The founding members of The Straight Beef are adamant that a kaiser roll is never a fitting delivery vehicle for a hamburger. Latecomer and burger iconoclast Chad believes that a kaiser roll is sometimes appropriate for pub-style burgers, those whopping half pound giants whose juiciness and  overloaded toppings can sometimes overwhelm a lesser bun.

All agree, however, that the perfect hamburger bun for classic, diner-style, griddled hamburgers is the potato roll, specifically the Martin’s potato roll. Our friends at the Burger Lab at A Hamburger Today conducted a series of taste test that confirmed our findings. You can see the results here: The Burger Lab: What’s The Best Bun For My Burger?

Photograph by Robyn Lee, A Hamburger Today

The minions at The Straight Beef’s secret undergound lair and test lab are currently putting the finishing touches on the ultimate homemade hamburger bun recipe. In the meantime, this recipe from King Arthur Flour is a good start: Hamburger Potato Buns

Photo courtesy of King Arthur Flour




 1) Combine all of the dough ingredients and mix and knead them — by hand, mixer, or bread machine — to make a soft dough.

2) Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, or until it’s almost doubled in bulk.

3) Turn the dough onto a lightly greased surface, gently deflate it, and divide it into 6 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball.

4) Place the balls into the greased cups of a hamburger bun pan, flattening gently. Or place them on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving about 2″ to 3″ between them; flatten gently.

5) Cover and let rise until the buns have doubled in size, 60 to 90 minutes. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.

6) Bake the buns for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they’re light golden brown.

7) Remove them from the oven, and brush them with melted butter, if desired.

8) Transfer the buns to a rack to cool. Store buns, well-wrapped, at room temperature for several days; freeze for longer storage.

Yield: 6 buns.

Review #38 – Only Burger (Durham, NC)

(This review is also posted at WRAL Out and About.)


Everyone Right About Only Burger, Apparently

In a turn of events that shocked no one, world-renowned burgiatrists The Straight Beef finally visited Durham’s Only Burger—which had been only recommended to them about 512 times, for the love of all things holy—and “freakin’ loved it.”

“It’s about time those guys went there,” said Sheila Montalbán, Duke University environmental studies student and self-proclaimed “Straight Beef freak.” “Only Burger is only like the best burger in the world, basically. Everyone says so. I don’t even know what took them so long.” Added Montalbán, “Hello? Duh?”

The Straight Beef, which has been reviewing Triangle-area hamburgers since 2009, admits that the group had been talking about reviewing the Duke University favorite for a “ridiculous length of time,” and that there is no excuse for making Only Burger its 38th official review instead of, let’s say, its 4th, even though everyone and their uncle has been insisting that they just shut up and go already.

All four members of The Straight Beef conceded that yes, fine, apparently everyone had been right.

Can't talk. Eating.

Can’t talk. Eating.

“Once I had locked my eating-claw on the burger, I could not put it down until it was gone,” said TSB’s spiritual guide “Reverend” Don Corey, who ensured that his double with bacon, cheese, and egg was not long for this world. “The worst part of the night was when I finished the burger and didn’t have room for another.”

TSB’s burger renegade Chad “The Griddler” Ward concurred. “I was knocked out by the beefy richness, the salty crust, the juiciness of the burger,” said Ward, who ordered a double cheddar burger with bacon only, opting to “get a feel for the basic burger before gussying it up with toppings.” Ward averred that anyone who does not love Only Burger “clearly has been taken over by pod people who not only lack taste buds but hate freedom and America.”

Ward added that although The Straight Beef does not rate side dishes and tries not to be influenced by them in their burger evaluations, the sides at Only Burger were simply insane. “If we rated side dishes along with the hamburger,” Ward said, “Only Burger would be a six out of five on my scale.”

“We went three years without knowing the joy that is Only Burger’s exquisitely flavored patty,” said Scott Blumenthal, renowned British burgiatrist and TSB co-founder, who downed two singles with classic condiments, no questions asked. “We’re never going to get those years back. We’re just not. Those years are gone.”

When asked for his initial comment, leading holistic burgiatrist and TSB co-founder Michael Marino, who downed the same burger combo as Corey, plus mayo, managed only to scribble on a sheet of paper that he could “not talk, what for all the drooling.”

Michael’s rating: 4.75/5

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Don’s rating: 4.75/5

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Chad’s rating: 5/5

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Scott’s rating: 5/5

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Only Burger on Urbanspoon

Review #37 – Yard House (Raleigh, NC)

“All during the 45-minute wait for a table I was certain that a staff member would spot my LL Bean Relaxed Fit jeans and rat me out as the suburbanite among the pretty people. I had the urge to pop my collar and call someone ‘bro’ just to fit in.” –Chad

Chad’s Review: Pay No Attention to the Burger Behind the Curtain

The Yard House is loud. The music is loud. The conversation is loud. The artwork is loud. The burgers are big and flashy, with intense and exotic toppings. Just to be contrary, I ordered a Classic, as plain and simple as I could get it, to see what was under the hood.


Please ignore the burger behind the curtain.

What I got for my $14 was a decent hamburger, competently cooked, but no more than that. The real stars of the menu are the big bold burgers—pepper-crusted, caramelized, glazed with pineapple and “Aloha Sauce,” or tarted up with lobster and asparagus, the muscular toppings obscuring the undistinguished but well-prepared patty. Like the Wizard of Oz, once you pull back the curtain (or bun) you realize that all of the sturm und drang is just a distraction, albeit a tasty one. Three out of 5.

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Scott’s Review: Don’t Be Saucy With Me, Béarnaise

Somewhere in North Raleigh I must have entered some sort of space-travel wormhole leading to the opulent chic-fest that is Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Certainly nowhere our fair, modest Triangle, I had assumed, would people squeeze themselves into their tightest, blackest duds for the right to wait an hour for a Fresh & Skinny Martini. But I was wrong. So Wrong.

In an attempt to appear at least minimally chichi, I ordered a burger with an accent in its name: The Béarnaise. (Not The Béarnaise Burger, mind you, just The Béarnaise.) The burger was good—its fried onions a tasty foil for its tender, flavorful patty—though truth be told, I was too busy voguing to fully focus. What I do know is that wherever I might have been—be it Raleigh or 86th and Lex—I was squarely in Three-town. My rating: 3.75.

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Don’s Review: Too Much Turf, Not Enough Surf

The Yard House is about atmosphere and image—loud, colorful, and vivacious. This they make obvious as they take you on a lap around the huge, elliptical bar before seating you at a table you passed when you started your journey.


Would the béarnaise please report to the burger please?

The burger choices were plentiful, but my eyes were drawn to the Surf & Turf—a powerful lineup featuring Maine lobster sautéed in garlic butter, grilled asparagus, Swiss cheese, and tomato béarnaise. Unfortunately, I was to suffer a severe case of “antici-pointment.” The burger was not cooked to order, and the béarnaise was, without warning, replaced with spinach—a definite letdown. And though I could see the lobster, its taste was smothered by the patty and too much asparagus. I give this burger a 3—too much missing from the show.

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Michael’s Review: A Tsunami of Flavor

The flavor of the Pepper Crusted Gorgonzola burger—with marsala sautéed crimini mushrooms, caramelized onions, and baby spinach—matched Yard House’s décor: intense. The spinach was like a man yelling at a tsunami, useless against the onslaught of marsala, pepper, and Gorgonzola. Because the cook didn’t try to blacken the patty (which often happens in an attempted to create a crust on a patty), the combination worked very well overall. Any hint of char was imperceptible.


Bodhi would be all over this.

If you are looking for a place to enjoy a quiet dinner, avoid Yard House. If you want an interesting burger and don’t mind yelling to be heard, this is the place to be. I give the burger a 4 out of 5.

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Yard House - Raleigh on Urbanspoon

Review #32: BurgerFi (Cary, NC)

(This review was originally posted on WRAL Out and About.)

This month, we were joined by guest reviewer and blogger-in-arms Becca Gomez Farrell. That’s right—“The Gourmez” herself. Once we accepted that there was a girl at the table (a first for us), a fine time was had by all.

Becca’s Review

I must declare that I’m typically more about the toppings than the patty. I often opt for a single or smaller-sized one when available. For me, it’s but one aspect of the burger build. In this case, however, a single is simply not enough for appreciating the glory that is the Burgerfi cheeseburger. Do yourself a favor and order a double instead. It’s a hand-shaped patty with the irregular edges to prove it, and you need two for that perfect meat-to-topping blend. Sticking with the free topping options, I ordered mayo, lettuce, tomato, grilled onions, and jalapenos. The bun was squishy in all the right ways yet avoided becoming a casualty of meat or tomato juices.

The American cheese melted into and over the patty’s crevices—perfection.

If forced to find faults, I would focus on the fiery bite of jalapeno—roasted would be a better option—and the fairly large proportion of white iceberg to green. Other than a need for more crunch to balance the textures, this was a fabulous burger. Additionally, the parmesan herb fries were fully coated and far exceeded my tater expectations.

Becca’s review: 4.25 out of 5.


Michael’s Review

Is it possible for a restaurant to recreate the backyard burger experience? After eating at BurgerFi, I say absolutely.

I ordered the Ultimate Cheeseburger, which features brisket instead of chuck. (Chuck, more common in burgers because it’s a fattier cut, comes from the chest of the steer; brisket comes from the shoulder.) Swiss and blue cheeses nicely complemented the flavorful cut. The order of the build was clever, with the pickles sealed to the underside of the top bun with Burgerfi’s special sauce. No toppings toppled off as I ate—big points right there. The downside of brisket is its tendency to be a little dry, which this burger seemed around the last bite or two. A minor quibble about an overall fine burger.

With thin, hand-made patties like BurgerFi’s, it’s easy to go from the realm of medium well into the realm of shoe leather. BurgerFi, however, did it right. With the quality soft bun, it achieved the classic backyard grill flavor that many burgiatrists consider the Holy Grail of burger joints.

Michael’s review: 4.0


Scott’s Review

I searched Merriam-Webster, but apparently there’s no word that means “the breathless anticipation one experiences prior to tasting a highly touted burger.” A few minutes with a Latin-to-English translator yielded spectocaro, loosely translated as “expectancy for a beef sandwich.” Sure—let’s go with it: spectocaro it is.

The spectocaro for BurgerFi was high. The buzz in burgiatry circles is that the Florida-native chain is something special, that there’s substance behind its all-natural, grass-fed, no-additives credo—that it also slings a tasty burger. The buzz was right. With that rare and esteemed combination of fresh, hand-made, and delicious—crafted, clearly, by lovers of all things burger—BurgerFi burgers enter the canon of quality Triangle burgiatric options.

Spectocaro high, rating high.

Scott’s review: 4.25


BurgerFi on Urbanspoon

Review #29: Hurricane Grill and Wings (Cary, NC) – CLOSED

This review was originally published on WRAL Out and About.

The Straight Beef: Hurricane Wings and Grill, Cary

Does Raleigh’s Biggest ‘Burb Have a New Best Burger?

Scott’s Review

In burgiatry school, we’re trained to be wary of burgers purveyed at joints specializing in something else (e.g., avoid the patty melt at Sushi Thai). Sure, you’ll occasionally stumble upon a great non-burger-joint burger like the one at Bonefish Grill (TSB rating = 4.42), which would move even the stodgiest classical burgiatrist to stand up and say “yum.” But that’s rare.

Well, it happened again—this time in grand fashion.

Hurricane Grill and Wings, a chain restaurant out of Florida that specializes in wings out the wazoo, has opened one other location in the Southeastern United States—and our fair Cary, North Carolina, wins big.

I’ll mention but not dwell on how good the wings were. My goodness they were good. My goodness.

For it was the Hurricane’s burger—a humble, traditional, flat-grill beauty with a quality, flavorful patty and a bun that knows when to stay out of the way—that’s the cause for a strong southeasterly gale around TSB headquarters. Hearkening us back to the pure, undiluted burger power of Mojoe’s and Johnson’s, two TSB favorites, Hurricane Wings and Grill offers one non-burger-joint burger that made these burgiatrists stand up and say, with no hint of shame, “yum.”

Scott’s Review: 4.5 out of 5.0


John’s Review

I seeeeee yooooou.

Though I could have guessed it by the formulaic beach-life tchotchke décor (which actually suits this surf bum quite well), the fact that Hurricane Wings and Grill was a chain was revealed to me only after the burger was consumed. The knowledge that it was a chain would not have dimmed my expectations (my maxim has always been “burger bliss is where you find it”); the fact that it was a non-burger-centric chain might have.

But that would have been unfair. Burgers are not the marquee item on Hurricane’s menu, but they should be—or perhaps at least share twin billing with the blockbuster wings.

Hurricane offers a very flavorful chuck patty cooked (in my case) a light medium, on a soft bun, with gooey melted American cheese. While my tomato was a little thin and crystalline, Hurricane got one major thing right with the veggies…drum roll, please…shredded iceberg lettuce! The only area where Hurricane went awry here was the order of the build, with the veggies on the bottom, the tomato longing to be in its rightful place next to the mayo. I pushed that frustration aside and opened my heart to this burger, and it filled me with warm, burger bliss.

John’s review: It’s a solid 4.5, folks.


Michael’s Review

Thirty. Two. Wing. Sauces. Thirty-two. Any of them can be added to a burger—or anything else between bread. If our oft-imagined fictional sister site actually existed, we’d discuss it there. Until then, you’ll just have to try them yourself. On to the burger. I ordered the bacon cheeseburger with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles—and the Thai ginger and garlic sauce.

The juicy patty was mildly seasoned and fully covered with cheese. The order of the build, however, was perplexing. The shredded lettuce, average tomato, and pickles were beneath the patty. Mind-boggling. Also, the bacon was tasteless and limp. It tasted like it was cooked in the microwave, or sitting in a warmer for awhile. The ginger glaze, though, elevated the overall burger experience. The soft, top-notch bun held everything together.

Overall, it was a great burger, but the unorthodox build and sub-par bacon keep me from rating it higher than a 4.

Michael’s review: 4.0 out of 5.0


Final note: Hurricane’s overall score (4.33) makes its burger a close second to our top-rated Cary burger, Barry’s Café (4.50)—but just barely.

Hurricane Grill & Wings on Urbanspoon

Review #27: Hayes Barton Café and Dessertery (Raleigh, NC)

(HBCD has one style of burger: “The Bogey Burger,” a cooked-to-order, name-your-toppings offering in the Classic Rocks category.)

A rare moment devoid of burgiatric gravitas.

Michael’s Review

I am not much of a cheesecake guy, but Hayes Barton is making me rethink that. Great pumpkin cheesecake pie. This is good. Pumpkin pie taste combined with that smooth, rich cheesecake consistency. Wow.

Oh yes—the burger? Right. Okay. I’ll get to that.

Mmm…lemon cake. Are you kidding me? This cake is bigger than my head. Light cake with lemon filling and fresh blueberries. An amazing mélange of textures and flavors.

Yes, yes—the burger. Almost forgot. Decent flavor, nothing outstanding. I got the feeling they threw it on the menu just to round it out.

This peanut butter mousse pie is amazing. Easily a hand tall and fluffy as a cloud. I can confidently say that this is one of the best desserts I have ever eaten.

Right—the burger review. Well, there are plenty of good reasons to go to Hayes Barton. Most of them are in the dessert case. I give the desserts a 5 out of 5. The burger gets a 3.25.


If that burger leaves the kitchen and you don't eat it, you'll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.

Scott’s Review

A disclaimer: Of the 2,900+ burger reviews I’ve written throughout my career, this is the first time I’m starting with a clear bias. The Hayes Barton Café & Dessertery is one of my favorite restaurants in the Triangle—maybe #1—and it’s just about impossible for me to judge a meal there without the myriad positive associations that preceded it: the succulent, homemade, best-meal-I’ve-had-in-months dishes; the 1940s nightclub-esque elegance, music, and décor; and, of course, the outstanding (and gargantuan) cakes and pies that—even without the exceptional entrées and setting—elevate HBCD to a level somewhere around Neptune. So if you find yourself halfway through my review questioning my objectivity, you’re on a one-way steamer to Right Town. I’m Hayes-Barton all the way, baby.

My review: The burger was very good. 4 out of 5.


John’s Review

I urge you to go to Hayes Barton for the flavor.

The burger was a decent-quality cookie-cutter mass-produced patty on a nothing-special bun with okay cheese and veggies and disappointing mayo (switch to Hellman’s or Duke’s, guys!), cooked and assembled well enough to eke out a 3.5. So that’s the burger.

But the flavor—this place is loaded with flavor!

Cozy cozy cozy atmosphere, with a WWII/AMC theme (think P52 Mustangs, Bogie and Bacall, and a black-and-white classic flick playing quietly up in a corner of the dining room). Low, dark ceilings, soft lighting, walls covered in framed pictures and nostalgia, and the front glass windows and door affording a safe and satisfying view of the chilly city street. Friendly proprietors and staff, a nice back story, a surprisingly solid menu (despite my burger rating), nearly perfect crinkle fries, and DIVINE, ETHEREAL, SUBLIME HOUSE-MADE DESSERTS.

If you don’t go for the burger, go for all of the other “flavors” I mentioned. If you go for only one reason (and you should), go for the desserts. I want to cry as I think of them now, they are so sweet and savory.


Hayes Barton Cafe & Dessertery on Urbanspoon

Review #26: Backyard Bistro (Raleigh, NC)

John’s Review

Build Your Own Burger (Classic Rocks)

I don’t know anyone with flat-screen TVs in all four corners of their backyard, much less the humendous (a word crafted by my three-year-old daughter; ginormous is so played) monster screens that you face while dining at Backyard Bistro, with football players looming and leaping literally larger than life. However, the name of this establishment certainly fits when you bite into its juicy grilled burger. It has a thick, high-quality patty that—when you sample a pure bite—is full of charred backyard flavor.

A little too full, if you ask me (and of course you do, by reading these lines).

When it comes to Classic Rocks burgers, I’m on the record as favoring the flat-grill over the open-flame grill. A flat grill imparts a pure charred flavor without the smokiness of an open flame. I could consume a good flat-grill Classic Rocks burger of at least a 4.0 rating every day of my life without tiring of it. I am occasionally in the mood for a good, smoky open-grill burger once in a while, but wouldn’t choose to partake more than once a week. Backyard Bistro’s patty is particularly strong on the open-grill smoky char, so perhaps no more than every two weeks on that one. Add to it the fact that it comes on another God-forsaken Kaiser roll and it’s perhaps every two and a half weeks. That said, when I am due for one, I will enjoy it, thanks to that quality patty, fresh vegetables, and a good job by the Grill Master in the back.

For my refined burgiatric sensibilities, it is a solid 3.5. For those of you with more of a palate for the open-flame smoky char when it comes to Classic Rocks, you’re likely in the realm of a 4.0 and will be quite pleased (though certainly a bit less refined).


Michael’s Review

Backyard Burger (Look at Me!)

Recently, I’ve begun to wonder why I am drawn to burgers in the “Look At Me!” category. Throughout my career, I’ve been a bacon cheeseburger burgiatrist, content in the basic goodness of a quality burger. Over the past two years, however, I’ve longed for more. Here’s a short list of burger toppings I’ve had in that time: sweet garlic mayo, bloody mary mayo, kimchee relish, bacon-onion jam, peanut butter, honey, lime-cured cabbage, port wine gravy, smoking hot chili relish, “queso fundido,” fried egg, sautéed garlic spinach, dirty fries, lump crab meat, chili, pepperoni, salami, short ribs, and a hot dog.

Has there been a void in my life that a simple Classic Rocks burger can’t fill?

Hi, I'm Michael, and I like Look At Me burgers.

At Backyard Bistro in Raleigh, I continued my journey down the rabbit hole. I ordered the Backyard Burger—an 8-ounce patty topped with pulled pork, slaw, and “western-style Q sauce.” (It was essentially the Carolina Burger from Tyler’s, with better execution.) The patty was well-contained in the bun, the pork was smoky and tender, and the patty was juicy, with decent flavor. Overall, the Backyard Burger was tasty, but not outstanding.

Did it fill a hole in my heart? No. But it did fill a hole in my belly.

Michael’s review: 3.75 out of 5.


Scott’s Review

Build Your Own Burger (Classic Rocks)

Words to describe the five hi-def TVs at Backyard Bistro in Raleigh:

Word to describe the burger at Backyard Bistro:

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Scott’s Review: 3.25 out of 5


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Review #25: Dain’s Place (Durham, NC)

Scott’s Review

8 oz. Angus Burger (Classic Rocks)

At the time of this writing, the U.S. Congress has yet to approve a Constitutional amendment requiring that burgers be rated by certified professionals. In fact, I know of no bill to this effect before any congress in any state.

This is a crime.

Warning: These statistics will shock you.

The absence of such legislation leaves us subject to everyone with a spatula claiming to have “the best burger in North Carolina.” Or “the best burger in the country.” Or, as at least one purveyor claims, “the best burger anywhere.” Sure—I get it. It sounds better than “arguably one of the better burgers in the vicinity” or “among the top 15 burgers in Pittsfield.” But c’mon, people, must we be so cavalier with our absolutes? Must we sling the word “best” like a drunken tailgater with a cornhole bag?

I say no.

Dain’s Place in Durham serves a fine burger. And yes, apparently it’s ranked #10 on the venerable list of “50 Best College Bars in America.” And yes, its 8-ounce Angus burger is respectable, even quite tasty. But does it really offer the “best burger in the Triangle,” as its website augurs? Until the fat cats in Washington get their priorities straight and illegalize such proclamations, we’ll never know.

Scott’s review: 3.25 out of 5.


Michael’s Review

The Defibrillator (Look at Me!)

“So, what are you guys in the mood for?” Scott asked.

“I’m going to go with something I love to do at home,” John said. “I’ll just cover it with ketchup and pepper. The essence of the patty will shine through.”

Scott turned from the temporarily insane John to me. “How about you?”

“I don’t know. Definitely not the Defibrillator.” It wasn’t going to get the restaurant’s signature burger, yet it called to me: An 8-ounce patty. With cole slaw. No, I can’t. And sweet chili. Sweet Jesus. And a hot dog. What?! I’ll just get a bacon cheeseburger. Definitely not the Defibrillator.

The waiter came to the table and sat next to Scott. “What can I get for you?”

While Scott ordered his standard and John ordered his ketchup concoction, I kept myself focused: Bacon cheeseburger, bacon cheeseburger, bacon cheeseburger. The waiter looked at me expectantly.

“The Defibrillator.”

What? I just ordered a burger with a chili dog and a side of slaw on it. What is wrong with me?

Hefty hefty hefty. Wimpy wimpy wimpy.

But once it arrived, all doubt was erased. The sweet chili, salty dog, and crispy slaw elevated the otherwise average patty to the centerpiece of an overall fine burger. If you don’t think you can stomach the full-on experience, split it with someone; Dain’s is really on to something with this burger. Make the trip to Durham and enjoy.

Michael’s review: 4 out of 5.


John’s Review

8 oz. Angus Burger (Classic Rocks; no cheese for a total focus on the patty I’d heard so much about)

This will be brief, as Dain’s warrants only a few words, despite what I had been led to believe about it. The patty was fresh but disappointingly bland (which would typically indicate low-grade ground chuck and an insufficiently seasoned flat grill). The bun was traditional and acceptable. I found the burger to be a 3.25 at best. I would be surprised if ever I Dain to eat another burger there again.

John’s Review: 3.25 out of 5


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