Review #23: Barry’s Cafe (Cary, NC)

Michael’s Review: Papa Burger (Classic Rocks)

The Hungry Burgiatrist

Once upon a time, there was a hungry burgiatrist. One day, the burgiatrist came upon a small restaurant in the middle of a strip center. He opened the door and followed the sign’s instruction to seat himself. When he reached the booth, he found he had a terrible problem. “What size burger should I order?” asked the burgiatrist. For there were three different-sized patties on the menu.

“The Baby Burger is too small,” said the burgiatrist. “But the Mama Burger will not fill me up!” Finally, the burgiatrist settled on the Papa Burger. That would be juuuuust right. Soon, the waitress brought the burgiatrist his burger. It was topped with American cheese, lettuce, and a shiny red tomato.

When the burgiatrist finished his burger, he leaned back. He wanted to doze right there in the booth. He was right. The Papa Burger was juuuuust right.

His rating was 4.25 out of 5.


Scott’s Review: Mama Burger (Classic Rocks)

@&$%ing Mad 

I can’t believe I’ve been @&$%ing living in Cary for three and a half years before knowing that there was a @&$%ing 4.75 burger just over a mile away, right there in Swift Creek @&$%ing Shopping Center—right @&$%ing down Tryon Road from me—at the modest, unassuming Barry’s Cafe. It was like finding a $100 bill in my pocket. Or a Van Gogh in the attic. Or a @&$%ing golden ticket in my @&$%ing Wonka Bar.

Oh the @&$%ing humanity.

You think I’m angry? You’re damn right I’m angry. Do you know how many Barry’s burgers I could have enjoyed in the past 1,278 days? A @&$%ing lot—that’s how many.

Scott’s review: 4.75 out of 5.


John’s Review: Mama Burger (Classic Rocks)

Barry’s: So Very

If you want a very good burger in a very interesting little family restaurant with a very cool fire-fighter theme and very good service, go to Barry’s Cafe on Tryon Road. They have a very good flat grill there that is very well-seasoned due to the very many breakfasts and burgers that have been cooked upon its very hot surface. As a result, the very fresh hand-made ground chuck patties are very well charred to establish the strong foundation for a very, very good burger.

From there, Barry’s continues to get it right, with very nice American cheese, very fresh veggies, the very build order required, a very nice and traditional bun (not a VERY infuriating Kaiser roll!) and very nice attention to proportions and assembly to bring all of the very nice flavors together. And, after you’ve enjoyed a very, very, very good flat-grill Classic Rocks cheeseburger—heavy and laden with the very burger magic we all seek—Barry’s servers will surprise you with a very scrumptious fresh-baked chocolate chip or white chocolate/macadamia cookie to solidify your very well-deserved gratitude and newfound loyalty.

This is a very, very, VERY good burger, people. Which is why I wanted to provide the very serious and very straight-forward review it deserved, resisting any urge to replace the word “very” with “Barry,” which would have been juvenile.

John’s Review: 4.5 out of 5.


Barry's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Review #19: My Way Tavern (Holly Springs, NC)

Michael’s Review

Made “My Way,” with provolone, grilled onions, banana peppers, pepperoni (Look At Me!)

As I was trying to write my review, my mind kept going back to My Way as sung by Frank Sinatra. So, I went with it.


"We might have been meant for each other. To be or not to be. Let our hearts discover." Alas, it was not to be.

Michael’s Rating: 3.5 out of 5

John’s Review

Red Wine sauce & sauteed portabella mushrooms (Snooty Beauty)

At My Way, I broke from a long stretch of Classic Rocks burgers to try a Snooty Beauty. What can I say? It was just okay. Honestly, I’m finding it hard these days wax poetic about the latest slightly-better-than-average burger. There are so damn many of them! Good enough, but nothing special.

What the hell is that on my screen? I’m always cleaning this thing and it’s never clean! Then you try to scrape off a little speck with a fingernail and you leave a big fingerprint on there. Geez! And my keyboard is a dust trap, look at that.

Oh, right. My Way. Sorry. Okay, so this thing had red wine sauce and portabella mushrooms. Came on another &#!@$%*@#&#& Kaiser roll, but as least it was on the more moist and less flaky end of the Kaiser spectrum. It tasted okay, but no burger magic. No endorphins. I just wish.

Sweet! Jaws is coming on! Welp, I know what I’ll be doing for the next couple of hours. What a flick! Just kind of takes you away, you know? Kids are napping, dear wife’s on the Triangle Mommies chattin’ away, and we’ve got beer and chili cheese Fritos! This is the first one, of course. All of the sequels should be burned, deleted, erased, eradicated. But the first one! Shhh. Sssshhhhh. SHARK! Can’t beat the characters, the dialogue, the menacing and surprising plot iterations of calm, chaos, consternation, camaraderie. The wonderful crescendo to calamity! Then, of course, ultimate victory, if at a price, and the denouement to our two heroes kicking ashore in the distance on a couple of yellow buoys tied to a deck board. So cool how they step ashore as the very last credit rolls. Quint! “Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies…” “Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women!” “Not a bad record for this here vicinity!” The inimitable Robert Shaw, and the ONLY man who could’ve played that part. Jaws is high art, and that’s final.

That's no candy-gram. You're that land shark, aren't you?

Huh? Burger? Sorry. Another 3.25

Scott’s Review

Made “My Way,” with cheddar, lettuce, tomato, bacon (Classic Rocks)


Scott’s Rating: 3.25/5

My Way Tavern on Urbanspoon

Review #18: Crabtree Tavern (Raleigh, NC)

Scott’s Review

BBQ Bacon burger (Classic Rocks)

I’ve always been wary of dating restaurants I meet on the Internet. It’s just too easy to slap on a sexy homepage and strut one’s virtual delectables across something as deceptive and inedible (believe me—I’ve tried) as a computer monitor. But there I was again, ready to play the burger field with a restaurant about which I knew nothing, save for its name, address, and a clear understanding that it likes sports.

At first, I was sure I’d been duped again. Online, the place fancied itself an “upscale sports bar,” but its collar—from the mellow, homey atmosphere to the “Go local sports teams!” décor—couldn’t have been more blue. I thought that our tête-à-tête would be brief and unmemorable, that we would exchange pleasantries but not phone numbers.

My number? It's 867-5309.

But when it came down to what really matters in life—our innermost feelings about patty seasoning, where we stood on the big issues like shredded vs. whole-leaf lettuce, our shared belief that the blend of fixins is greater than the sum of its parts—we managed to do just fine. Not a sizzling romance, perhaps, but a perfectly agreeable burger-burgiatrist friendship—one, with wings as good as theirs, with benefits.

Not ready to bring it home to the folks, but a good, solid burger.

Scott’s review: 3.25 out of 5.

Michael’s Review

Classic Tavern burger (Classic Rocks)


Imagine coming home from work. The house is relatively quiet, dinner is on the stove, and nothing to attend to but a spot in a comfy recliner. That’s what the Classic Tavern burger is. Nice build, crisp lettuce, juicy tomato, flavorful patty, perfectly melted cheese. It is simply an easy burger to enjoy. John and I seriously considered ordering another one and splitting it.

No one thing was outstanding about this burger. However, it does not fall into the same category as Scott’s “extra-medium” Spirits burger. The total experience was greater than the sum of its parts.

The cook at Crabtree Tavern got it right. Everything came together into a truly enjoyable burger. It was a potato bun away from approaching Mojoe’s perfection. The dry kaiser requires a full point deduction, though.

Michael’s Review: 4 out of 5.

John’s Review

Classic Tavern burger (Classic Rocks)

Always judge a book by its cover, that’s what I say. Then you’re more apt to be pleasantly surprised in life. Take, for example, the TSB visit to Crabtree Tavern…

As we drove up a slight grade toward the restaurant and it revealed its façade, I was struck by the fact that the size and shape of the building was reminiscent of a chain restaurant, and there was a quirky glass entrance that felt like it could go with some sort of restaurant-chain theme. Turns out that the Crabtree isn’t part of a chain, but chain-bar-food expectations were set nevertheless.

Mmmmm...pleasant surprise.

As we entered the restaurant and panned across the unusually open layout of the place, I noted the big central rectangle of a bar, booths along walls, railings dividing sections of tables on the open floor, tv screens with sports, and lots of banners, framed ads, and other typical sports bar & grill accoutrements. It was a bit of a barn of a place…unusually open, capacious, and lacking the many typical nooks and cozy spaces of its peer establishments. Perhaps because of its size and openness, but also its healthy number of jovial customers, I felt at once exposed at our table, but glad to be a part of that sprawling and bustling crowd of jovial diners and drinkers. Once I took it all in, I found myself in a good mood and glad to be where I was. At the same time, there was something quirky and inchoate about the place, and thus my expectations for the burger dipped from chain-level to dubious-chain-level.


Great service and a spanking good burger! Another #$&^!#$*&^$%!!! Kaiser roll, but a decent one (as far as they go), and it managed no to distract too much from a shockingly well-cooked and flavorful patty as the centerpiece to a well-built and balanced ensemble of fresh vegetables and melty, greasy, gooey cheese. This was a strong burger, and I’m pleased to say that once again—thanks to my own cynicism and characteristic prejudgment—I was very pleasantly surprised. Only the tiniest of room for improvement with the patty and the frustrating faux pas of the Kaiser hold this burger back to a tap-dancing 4.5.

P.S. Until we’ve visited a burger joint more than once, there’s always a risk that we’ll later regret our most positive reviews. Have no reason to doubt that Crabtree would come through for you if you follow my recommendation, but feel obligated to offer the caveat, lest you suffer an off night like the one I had recently at Bonefish Grill—one of our highest rated burgers despite the being out of their forte and, on my second visit, I was served a rock-hard, over-seasoned brick of a burger on an over toasted bun. Crabtree has earned its review, so go, and I’ll cross my fingers that you don’t get “Bonefished.”

Crabtree Tavern on Urbanspoon

Review #17: Brewmasters Bar and Grill (Raleigh)

  • Joint: Brewmasters Bar and Grill
  • Burger: The Hangover (Michael), The Brewmaster (Scott), The Standard (John)
  • Category: Classic Rocks (John), Look at Me! (Scott and Michael)

Michael’s Review

Michael’s review: 4.75 out of 5.

Scott’s Review

The life of a burgiatrist's wife has certain...advantages.

Despite being married to a celebrated burgiatrist, a former research fellow at Cheltenham & Gloucester College of Meat Pies, my wife isn’t much into hamburgers. (Nobody’s perfect.) So when I saw the expression of burger joy on her face as she savored the Brewmaster Burger at Brewmasters Bar and Grill in downtown Raleigh (formerly the Cherry Bomb Grill), my suspicions were confirmed: This burger is something special.

For the first time since being becoming a PhB, I returned to an establishment for a second visit within a week of the first. This burger—a shockingly delicious ménage of bleu cheese crumbles and cherry “beermalade” on a truly fine patty (ringing with notes of rosemary and Worchester)—had enchanted me, captivated me, bedeviled me, to the point where I was drawn back to the corner of Martin and Dawson Streets yet again, mouth open, like a baby chick squeaking for more.

The details of my second visit were different: I was with my betrothed on date night, as opposed to my burgiatric brethren on burger night; I sided with the tasty homemade mac salad instead of the masterfully crisped fries; I traveled farther down their highway of 66 beers, enjoying a Shotgun Betty instead of the previous week’s Blue Moon. The entrée, however, was exactly, blissfully, the same: the hand-crafted, sweet n’ savory, don’t-talk-to-me-I’m-eating, toppings-are-gonna-dribble-on-the-plate-but-that’s-OK-they’re-condiments-now, Brewmaster Burger.

The burgiatric moral of the story is this: When you go for your first Brewmaster, be sure to tell your wife—or husband, or girlfriend, or pal, or mail carrier, or hamster—not to be insulted if you don’t take them along. You can explain that you’ll take them next time. You’ll be back.

Scott’s review: 4.75 out of 5.

John’s Review

Now here’s a genuine surprise! A Classic Rocks that rocks just fine in the category, while throwing in a couple of swanky dance moves that will please the Snooty Beauty crowd.

The Standard burger at Brewmasters is a unique Classic Rock (more on that oxymoron later): a fresh, high fat—ground chuck, most likely—patty perfectly charred on a venerable flat grill that tells epic stories of its ancestral patties through its deep and meaningful flavor. (As a side note, and in perhaps the most didactic line of this review, I’ll inform you that every bit of this history-infused flavor exists soley in the charred edges of the patty—and oh how magical those bits of sizzled beef fat can be! Your homework to fully absorb this knowledge awaits you at Johnson’s in Siler City.) From here, suffice it to say that the American cheese, veggies, and mayo were all up to standard for the Classic category; they were fresh, colorful, flavorful, and stacked in proper build order. All the ingredients came together in harmony, and endorphins flowed freely in the warm moments of burger bliss.

Hmm. How can I use the word oxymoron in my review?

Now, about that oxymoron…How can a burger be both a Classic Rocks and unique?

It’s those swanky dance moves I mentioned…an unusual bun and a surprising flare of flavor.

We asked about it, and the bun—brought in fresh from a local baker—was identified as a Kaiser. Those of you familiar with my disdain for the use of Kaiser rolls in burguisine will certainly anticipate a complaint. There is none. And though I will not question the baker on the classification of his own buns (nor would I question ANYONE on the classification of their own buns), I have to say that it was like no Kaiser I’ve encountered. This one was soft, even moist. It had the outward appearance of a Kaiser, but the texture and flavor of perhaps a potato roll. I was pleased by this, and even though I would have preferred an eggier, or more classic potato roll, I was content. Definitely a unique aspect of this burger, but perhaps more surprising and unique was the seasoning involved with the patty. Notice I say “with” and not “in” the patty, as I would never classify a burger as a Classic Rock if seasoning had been mixed into the pre-cooked patty. The indirect seasoning of this patty came from the methodology they employ in caring for and cooking on their very special flat grill. The result is a rich undercurrent of flavor that surprises, excites, and satisfies. These are the aforementioned surprising and sophisticated Snooty Beauty elements of this burger, yet it remains a true Classic Rocks. And I thought I’d seen it all!

One more thing…With such a strong undercurrent of great flavor comes the one exception I must make: Most great Classic Rocks burgers are capable of being blissfully devoured once per week, if not once per day. Because of this one’s unique flavor—wonderful though it may be—burger lovers might find themselves longing for the comfort of the true standard at that kind of frequency. With that one caveat, this is also not one to me missed, and I’m pretty sure I could dig on one every other week for the rest of my life without looking back.

4.5 out of 5. A strong, and surprising, Classic Rocks.

Brewmasters Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

Review #16: City Beverage (Durham)

  • Joint: City Beverage
  • Burger: Fuego Diablo (Michael), Blackened Blue (Scott), Super Deluxe (John)
  • Category: Look At Me! (Scott and Michael), Classic Rocks (John)

Michael: Is anyone else having a hard time writing the City Beverage review? I just can’t get it going.

John: City Bev-a-what? Huh?

Scott: That was the one with the bleu cheese and kaiser roll, right? Decent burger. I guess it’s time to write the review, eh?

Michael: Yes–I had the burger with like 50 toppings on it. I’ve have had my share of burgers that have had odd toppings, but those ingredients had purpose. The City Beverage (Fuego Diablo burger?), on the other hand, seemed like they took a standard burger and threw ingredients onto it until it sounded Mexican enough.

Scott: Isn’t that how Taco Bell got its name?

Michael: I’m looking at the description. The thing actually had seven toppings. Lettuce, tomato, onion, avocado, smoking hot chile relish, applewood smoked bacon, and queso fundido.

John: Sounds like a mariachi band of flavor. Who ate that? Was I with you guys that night?

Michael: Mariachi band indeed. Unfortunately, what I got was white noise. Remove the lettuce, tomato, onion, and bacon and serve it on anything but a kaiser roll. Then, it might be a 4.25. It would have been actually manageable to eat, and it would have allowed the really cool ingredients like the queso fundido and chile relish to shine. Unfortunately, the character of this burger was lost in trying to do too much.

Scott: My review is slightly more favorable. I got the Blackened Blue burger, with a “messy blue cheese sauce.” They didn’t lie. The sauce was both messy and blue cheese-y. I enjoyed it. Wished it wasn’t on a kaiser roll, but I’m beginning to realize that without the most basic understanding of the burgiatric sciences, one might be tempted to do something as unforgivable as hide a perfectly respectable burger inside a mountain of bready thickness.

Wait. Is that a potato bun over there?

John: I seem to recall a hip little joint with eclectic décor and a big poster of somebody–maybe Laird Hamilton or Brad Gerlach–dropping into a huge wave at Jaws in Hawaii. Was that it? I’m sure I ate one, but don’t recall the burger much at all. Think it was just okay. Pretty cool poster though.

If only the burger was as simple as their menu.

Michael’s review: 3.5 out of 5

Scott’s review: 3.75 out of 5

John’s review: 3.25 out of 5

City Beverage on Urbanspoon

Review #15: MacGregor Draft House (Cary)

  • Joint: MacGregor Draft House
  • Burger: Kansas City Burger (Scott), Fromage a Trois (John), California Burger (Michael)
  • Category: Classic Rocks

Scott’s Review

Did this happen?

If you asked me to recall a meal from my childhood—let’s say something I ate 30 years ago—I’d do my best toremember. I’d close my eyes. I’d concentrate. I’d cull together every speck of memory that I could—tastes, smells, shapes—in an effort to provide you with as substantive a response as I was capable. I would recognize, however—and hope you would too—that my attempt would fall short, and that my recounting would be little more than invention, constructed, perhaps, from a single fossil of recall.

If you asked me about last week’s burger at MacGregor Draft House in Cary, my response would be equally as vague. I can hardly remember a thing about it. Still, I’d do my best to remember. I’d close my eyes. I’d concentrate. I’d cull together every speck of memory that I could. In the end, though, I’d come up with little more than shape-shifting memories that appear and disappear like smoke. Wispy words like “average” and “fair” and “meh.” Fuzzy phrases like “decent enough” and “not terrible.” Hazy sentences like “Given how long we’re waiting for our food, we should request a senior citizen discount.”

That’s not to say that the experience was bad per se—as I also have equally amorphous memories of a pleasant atmosphere, good beer selection, and tasty fried mushrooms—it’s just that I’m not prepared to commit one way or another. My memory of it just isn’t that good.

Scott’s review: 3 out of 5.

John’s Review

I’m growing tired and weary. No longer do I have the energy to educate and re-educate on how a burger made with fresh, decent quality ingredients can still fail to produce burger magic. Or why dry Kaiser rolls have no place in the burger world. Or why the order of the build is so important. We at TSB have been in a slump lately of suffering down the weak culinary attempts of dilettantes to deliver burger magic. Suffice to say that the ability to produce a top hat, stick, and rabbit does not a magician make. To the epicurean burger lovers out there I say, read no further and avoid the burger at Macgregor unless you have to kill time while your car’s in the shop at the autopark. To the rest of you out there who are perfectly satisfied to lose yourselves in knock-off music of a cover band, swill two-buck-chuck to stupidity with inordinate wonder and pleasure, or stare obdurately into the print instead of the painting, I say, “Bon Appétit!”

John’s Review: 3.0, or “Will do if your car’s in the shop.”


Michael’s Review

Imagine Ferris Bueller’s economics teacher. Go ahead. That’s it. The dullness, the drabness, the lethargy. That’s the California burger at MacGregor Draft House.

The California was your standard bacon cheeseburger, with a glob of guac to give MacGregor license to don it “California.” The bacon was carelessly placed, with the lettuce, tomato, and onion on the side. (A tip for all burger purveyors: Remember the McDLT? You know, “Keep the hot side hot and the cool side cool”? Well, it was discontinued. For a reason.) I had to rearrange the bacon, spread the guacamole, and construct the burger myself. I got the impression that the cook was just as bored making it as I was eating it. The burger’s saving grace was the patty itself. Tender and juicy, cooked just shy of medium.

The place itself was cozy with lots of TVs. The wings and fried mushrooms were very good. If you want a place to watch the game while you are eating, I’ll recommend the MacGregor Draft House. As for the burger, well…Bueller? Bueller?

Michael’s review: 3.25 out of 5.

Kansas City to California: 1600 miles or one glob of guacamole.

Macgregor Draft House on Urbanspoon

Review #14: Abbey Road (Cary)

  • Joint: Abbey Road
  • Burger: George Burger
  • Category: Classic Rocks

John’s Review

Abbey Road to Nowhere

With a Little Help from My Friends, I was encouraged to give Abbey Road another try. I’d been there before, but had no plans to ever Get Back. The burger had not lived up to the hype, and I was content to just Let it Be. Nevertheless, I walked into Abbey Road recently for the second time, filled with hope and repeatedly sending out a telepathic message: Please Please Me.

Before I offer my professional opinion of this burger, a message for the proprietors of Abbey Road: I Want to Be Your Man. I do. I want to give you All My Lovin’. Love Me Do the concept of your establishment, and when I first heard from some dilettante burger-likin’ acquaintances of mine  the pitch about your theme, the beers, and the basic building blocks of your burgers, I thought to myself, Got to Get You into My Life! Well, In My Life, I’ve given you two tries now, and I have to say, because of one maddeningly foolish mistake, I have to say Hello, Goodbye. (The good news is, We Can Work it Out. Just change one thing—well maybe two things—and I’ll be there Eight Days a Week. Until then, you’re going Nowhere Man!)

Not a Second Time! I Should Have Known Better. Whether it was at the prodding of my “friends,” or someone simply slipped me a Yellow Submarine, I found myself Back in the USSR. The waitresses, Sexy Sadie, Lovely Rita, and Michelle, were friendly enough, but moved like Eleanor Rigby. That said, they’re not the real maddening problem here. No, the Yoko in this situation is the Day Tripper that decided to choose a bun made of Norwegian Wood as the wrapper for the otherwise lovely ingredients of this 4-plus-potential burger. I don’t care how freshly baked it is, if a bun is too thick, dense, and dry to allow all members of the burger orchestra to Come Together, be heard and to blend into blissful harmony, it’s a jackleg mistake of the highest order, and it makes me want to get my Revolver.

So, to Abbey Road I say, while I Want to Hold Your Hand, you’ve got to get rid of that bun first. That #$%&!@*&^%$#!@! bun! You’d be better off buying one at the grocery store. Take my keys; you can Drive My Car.

Burger: 3.0, objectively. Factor in my frustration at that Yoko Ono of a Kaiser roll and the slow service, and it’s a 2.5.

Can this burger Carry That Weight? No.

Michael’s Review

When I get home from a burger outing, I make notes of my first impressions in an old-school notebook. Then, I put them away and don’t look at them again for a few days. When I looked back at my notes on Abbey Road, I decided I didn’t need to change them much.

Scott’s Review

Abbey Road on Urbanspoon

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