Chuck’s Re-Review – Fall from Grace

Chad got there early. Despite the fact that the restaurant was 90% empty, he was denied a table. The hostess would not seat him until the full party had arrived. He had to go sit in the corner. Literally sit in the corner on a lonely metal chair. They might as well have given him a dunce cap.

Strike one. Nobody puts Chad in the corner.*

“Chuck’s has changed its burger formula. As I recall, they used to feature 1/3lb burgers, the perfect size (or at least gave you an option). The burgers at Chucks are now 1/4lb, which is fine if you like medium to medium well. I ordered mine medium rare. That’s a tricky temperature for a thinner patty, but I expected the grill cooks at Chuck’s to be able to pull it off, as they are among the best in the Triangle. They didn’t. I got an overcooked, underseasoned burger.

Strike two.

We generally don’t let atmosphere or sides influence our burger ratings. I’m going to make an exception here. I was not happy about sitting alone in the corner while the few patrons who were there wondered what I had done wrong, but I can deal with that. When Micheal showed up, the hostess did indeed show us to one of the many empty tables before Don arrived. That was nice. But the the other element that should not be influencing my feelings about Chuck’s (but is) are the fries. I haven’t been there in a while, but the last couple of times I’ve been to Chuck’s the fries have been plentiful and perfectly crafted. This time the side order of fries was skimpy and had clearly only been fried once rather than twice, which is standard restaurant practice to achieve a crispy outside and fluffy, potato-y interior. These were like the fries my mom used to make in her Fry Daddy — too brown on the outside and mushy on the inside.

Strike three.

Chuck’s used to be one of the best — if not the best — burger places in the Triangle. We have sung its praises for years. We put it at the top of our Best Burgers in NC list. In that time, however, the bar has been raised significantly. Al’s Burger Shack, Mojoes, b.good, Buns, Only Burger and others have come along to create a vibrant burger scene. Chuck’s has not kept up. They have rested on their laurels, and it shows. I can’t give this burger any better than a 3.5.”

* Extra points if you get the “Dirty Dancing” reference.

Michael arrived to find Chad sitting at his place in the corner. He walked past no less than 8 empty tables to be told that we wouldn’t be seated until everyone in their was party was there.

“The thing that really disappoints me about the Chuck’s burger is how good it used to be. I think I would give it a pass with something like a 4.00, if this is the first time I had eaten this burger. It used to be the pinnacle of burger establishments. When people would ask me about my favorite burger, I would tell them it was at Chucks.

Alas, The Spirt Animal is no longer the best burger in the Triangle. It is not even the best burger in downtown Raleigh. The care that was taken at Chucks originally set it apart. This burger was thrown together hastily. Gone are the perfectly-sized 5 oz and 8 oz patties. Replaced by a too small 4 oz and a too-thick double to replace the 8 oz.

The Spirit Animal is described as having tortilla dust. The first time I had it, it was pulverized and mashed into the cream cheese. It gave a hint of tortilla flavor without any evidence it was there. On our re-review night, there was a solitary tortilla chip broken into 6-7 pieces on top of the cheese. The other toppings were below the patty making it a pathetic mess. Below. The. Patty.

I may sound harsh in this review for something that, honestly, is decent. This used to be a 5.0 burger. The burger against which all other burgers were based. Now it is an uninspiring place that is more about flare than flavor.

Chucks? Pfft. Whatevs. Head down to b.good a block or two away. 3.5″

Don was nostalgic for better days. “There comes a time when your greatness causes complacency – like a middle-aged burger reviewer who once could spin words into gold, comedy gold, but now can barely string two words together with a hyphen. Unfortunately, Chuck’s is struggling with this now. There was a time when I would fast in the morning and  gladly schedule my time where I could be there at 11:45 am to beat the lunch rush just to get that fresh juicy love in my stomach. It was special, it was our best. But alas that time has past. And the worst thing I can say about is, ‘it has become ordinary’. A fairly good ordinary, but ordinary and unmemorable.

I go my usual, ‘Bear in Heaven’ and it was nothing special. Unlike my com padres I don’t worry about atmosphere or fries, so my burger is my task and my task was uninspired. The ingredients played well together, but it had lost something- that “it” factor.  It has been mentioned before, but the lack of the bigger patties being replaced with thinner smaller patties really removes the juicy factor to the burger that made Chuck’s so special.

Chuck’s you are still pretty good- a 4.0 but you, like me, were so much more.”

After our re-review, Chuck’s falls from 1 to 15 out of 73.


Carolyn has since been to Chuck’s since our visit described above.

“I went to Chucks on Monday for lunch and was surprised at the burger, in a good way.  I got the Dirty South, as I always do, but it was much better than it has been in the past 3 or 4 visits.  I’m not sure if they have a new cook or what, but the burger was excellent.  The past few prior times the burger has been sub-par – the meat has been meh and the toppings have been spotty and limp. Monday, tho – everything was working together, fresh-tasting and snappy.”

Is this a sign that Chuck’s has started to turn it around or a one off visit? Time will tell.

Renegade Review: Wahlburgers (Myrtle Beach, SC)

The writing was on the wall (pun not intended) about this burger. Right there on the menu it had a schematic of the Our Burger. I will quote from the menu, “Paul strategically stacked the Our Burger from the bottom up to deliver maximum taste & happiness.”
No. No. No.
If you want to deliver maximum happiness with a burger, how about having the burger be what you taste the most. They need to take a page out of Smashburger’s book and put the main flavor on the bottom. The only thing between the bottom bun and the patty is the seasoning. The theory is that the seasoning will touch the tongue first, and that will be the dominant flavor.
With the Our Burger, you get sauce (good), lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, then the patty. This build is just wicked wrong.
It’s a shame, too, because the patty was excellent. Excellent balance of char and flavor. I highly recommend heading to Wahlburgers if you have one near you. Just be prepared to take it apart and build it properly.

YAY!

BOO!

My rating is a 3.75. It would have been a 4.75 if the build hadn’t been upside down.

Review #73 – Village Burger (Chapel Hill, NC)

Village Burger is a little hard to find. As it turns out, that’s one of it’s best features. The place has a lot to live up to. Chapel Hill is home to Al’s Burger Shack, Buns, and Top This, all truly excellent burger places. But as Michael said, Village Burger doesn’t even live up to Wendy’s.

We had a difficult time finding Village Burger. It’s tucked away in University Mall, near Southern Seasons. Given the gorgeous website, great logo, and the claims of a world famous chef char grilling burgers and placing them lovingly on a buttery brioche bun, our expectations were high. The website actually includes the words “gourmet work of art.” Well, all right then. Please bring us a great burger. Make us sing your praises. We’re happy to do so if the burger is that good. The burger at Village Burger wasn’t.

Let’s be honest here. Writing a bad review can be a lot of fun. You can be snarky and mean and hilariously funny. Village Burger doesn’t warrant that. We don’t really want to write bad reviews. We want places to succeed. We want them to wow us with a spectacular burger. Places like Al’s Burger Shack do that. They blow our minds and we’re deliriously happy to write a great review. If we can sneak in a little humor, that’s great. The truly awful places get funny reviews that include the smackdown they deserve. Those are fun to write because we don’t have to hold back. This is somewhere in between. Village Burger is a strip mall food court burger, and not a good one.

Chad had the Village Burger, a 1/3 lb of purportedly Angus chuck with feta cheese. It was overcooked, under seasoned, and dry. Feta cheese is pungent and salty, but it barely added enough flavor to make the burger palatable. Chad went back for pickles to add to the toppings, hoping for something to add some flavor.

Hello? Flavor?

It was a hopeless task. The burger tasted like something you might microwave at a convenience store at 3:00 in the morning. The fries were good, though. On the Straight Beef scale, this was a 2 out of 5.

Michael had the Village Burger with cheddar cheese. This burger suffered from what I call Elevation sickness. Elevation burger spends a lot of energy touting the ingredients, but does not deliver where it is important. It misses out on the little things like taste, build, and being cooked properly.

There is a burger in there behind all the tots and lettuce.

The tots were excellent, though, and abundant, as though they were trying to make up for the lackluster burger by engulfing it in tater tots. Michael’s rating is 2.5 out of 5.

Don barely remembers his burger. When asked his thoughts he replied, “What were we talking about? The burger? I have no recollection.” Either he blocked it from his mind, or it was solidly forgetful.

Don’s rating is 2.5 out of 5.

Overall rating 2.33 out of 5 for 70 out of 73.

Review #72 – b.good (Raleigh, NC)

Dearest Jolinda,

I know it has been a long time since I have written. I made a fantastic deal with the Easterners to bring back some high quality saffron, and they decided to include tomatoes. I have heard tell of a new sauce the Far East called ke-tsiep. It will go quite splendidly as a dipping sauce for chips. I think it will sell quite well. I shall call it Sir Kensington’s Ketchup.

When we made it to America, we had a few days of rest. I decided to go exploring and order a common burger at a tavern B. Good. I know, I was shocked as well. I even ordered the Buffalo. What is that you might say? It is a spice combination from the New World that combines a tangy sauce with bleu cheese and shaved celery. I decided against the carrots. I mean, I was going out on a limb with the celery. Can you believe it? Celery. On a hamburger.

The concoction was shockingly good. The mix of orange sauce absorbing into bleu cheese and the fresh crunch of the celery. All atop a perfectly medium fresh-made patty.

My only quibble was the toppings were sloppily placed. If they were centered on the toasted bun, it would have achieved perfection. As a result, I give it a 4.75.

Regards,

Reginald Kensington

Dear Reginald,

I am writing you to inform you that Jolinda is no longer interested in your courting. As I have taken her to B. Good’s myself and indelibly marked her heart with their food and my intentions. In fact, so honored were they with our visit, they named the burger I ordered after myself called the Cousin Oliver.

I proclaimed my love for their burger by requesting a second patty be added to the most delectable combination of lettuce, tomato, onions and Chef Tony’s homemade pickles, plus I dared to add cheese and might I add, it made all the difference.  Jolinda was so overcome with feelings of joy and happiness that we had found and tasted a 5.0 together, we knew it to be a sign that our love was true.

Regards,

Oliver Milkshake

Ollie and Reggie,

You know how very fond I am of you both, but I regret to inform you that I have had the most amazing experience which has verily made me rethink my love.  The sensational new experience of this burger from B. Good has marked my soul indelibly.  I will be forever in your debt, Ollie, since you introduced me to this new and remarkable provision!  Please forgive me as I must correct your misunderstanding – my love and joy was for the burger, and I must be true to what my heart desires.

I, too, ordered a burger with a concoction from this Buffalo location.  With the addition of celery, carrots, bleu cheese and a hearty bun, I was hopeful yet suspicious. Indeed, my first bite was overly full with the buffalo sauce and my heart wavered.  However, each subsequent bite was better than the last and by the end, the taste buds of my mouth were flying.  The meat was well seasoned and salty.  The celery and the carrots were snappy, not overpowering. Each topping was well-proportioned although I do agree with you, Reggie, that the toppings were weakly structured.  On the whole, however, it was divine, my darlings. Simply divine 4.75.

Fondly,

Jolinda

Overall rating: 4.83 – 3 out of 72

Review #71 – William’s Gourmet Kitchen (Durham, NC)

These are the voyages of The Straight Beef. Our seven-year mission: to seek out new burgers and new toppings, to boldly go where … ah, screw it. Sometimes a burgiatrist is just tired of the adventure-burger of the week and wants something comfortable and predictable. We here at The Straight Beef are intrepid eaters. We’ll try just about anything once, even if it gives us the meat sweats, but sometimes we just want to go where everybody knows our name. Scratch that, we’re mixing classic TV metaphors. Sometimes we just want something we know is good, that we don’t have to think too hard about, and that isn’t too far away.

For Chad, that’s the Salem Street Pub in Apex. For Michael, it’s William’s Gourmet Kitchen near the intersection of highway 55 and highway 54 in Durham.

With Don in Prague for an international burgiatry conference and Carolyn on the DL, Michael and Chad sallied forth to William’s for a straightforward, no-nonsense great burger.

Michael: I ordered the special burger of the day, the Bacon Lovers Burger — six strips of bacon, cheddar cheese, and bacon aioli. I know you’re thinking, “Six strips of bacon? That must have been a mess.” Au contraire. The strips were layered in both directions and held together with a generous amount of cheddar cheese. It was difficult to tell, but I bet they cooked the patty to medium rare, then put on a piece of cheddar cheese, carefully placed the bacon, added another piece of cheese and left it to cook under a lid for 30-45 seconds. It was too perfectly melted together to have been done any other way.

So. Much. Bacon.

So. Much. Bacon.

The brioche bun was slathered with a bacon aioli. I’m not usually one for bacon stunts, but William’s nailed it. Smoky crisp bacon, loads of oozing cheese, a perfectly cooked patty. They were also thoughtful enough to not throw on the perfunctory lettuce, tomato, and onion. This burger was smoky salty goodness wrapped in a soft brioche bun that was more than up to the task of holding this monster together.

Chad: Let’s get the obvious out of the way. William’s Gourmet Kitchen looks like a repurposed Wendy’s, but like Durham’s Only Burger, the plain looks belie the wonders therein. I ordered the Black & Blue Burger, a blackened-spiced patty with blue cheese crumbles, pickles and blue cheese dressing.

I have some quibbles. The blackening spice, which should bring some New Orleans style Cajun heat to the party was not as present as I would have liked. It was a little tame. Likewise, the blue cheese barely registered on my palate. A blackened burger with blue cheese should be a flavor beast, a potent combination of spicy, salty goodness. This burger was much more subtle than that.

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On the other hand, the mild toppings really let the flavor of the patty shine through, and shine it did. This was a perfectly cooked, beefy hamburger that I’d rate as among the best in the Triangle.

In his book Plain Talk About Fine Wine, the late, great Justin Meyer of Silver Oak described a monthly gathering of California winemakers. They didn’t talk about “nose” or “finish” or “terroir.” The greatest compliment one winemaker could give another was, “That’s a damn fine wine. I wish I’d made it.”

In my day job as a cookbook author, and in my alter ego as former burgiatry supervillain, I’ve eaten hundreds of burgers. I’ve probably cooked twice that many. To the good folks at William’s Gourmet Kitchen I’ll say, that’s a damn fine burger. I wish I’d made it.

(The rest of my WGK photos can be found here. — MM)

Michael’s review: I couldn’t really find any faults with this burger. I give it a 5.0

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Chad’s review: The Black & Blue Burger was a little tamer than I expected, but still an excellent burger. I give it a 4.5.

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Overall rating: 4.75 for 5 out of 71

The Straight Beef Podcast #27

Excuse me waiter, there aren’t any flies in my soup. Our eminent burgiatrists Donald and Michael discuss eating insects. A sea change to help our environment or an underhanded tactic by the Musroom Council. You decide.

Download our latest episode directly from Libsyn. Subscribe via iTunes or Google Play.

You can also find all of our content on the go with the TSB app.

Revisit – Mojoe’s Burger Joint (Raleigh, NC)

How many times have you said to yourself, “I could go for a burger.” Well, the media, backed by the people at the Mushroom Council, has come to demonize red meat. If burgers are so bad for us, we should make our times spent with them count. We shouldn’t just go to the nearest fast food place to satiate our desire for ground cow meat.

We should go to a place like Mojoe’s Burger Joint. A place that cares. A place that serves up consistent quality. A place that uses the Keep It Simple Stupid method of burgering. A place that deserves to be TSB Certified.

Michael’s rating: I knick them a bit for poor bacon placement. When in rarified air such as this, one has to nitpick. I give them a 4.75.

Don’s rating: Mojoe’s has the consistency ideal down pat. A good burger at a good value. 4.5

Review #70 – The Wooden Nickel (Hillsborough, NC)

Preserve Hillsborough’s history and heritage

http://www.newsoforange.com/opinion/article_672ba652-32a9-5b29-96d3-00ba6a79328c.html

We approached The Wooden Nickel with trepidation. If former Mayor Horace H. Johnson is to be believed, downtown Hillsborough was to be a “major disaster” if dens of iniquity like The Wooden Nickel were allowed to serve patrons outside. There would be rampant “lewd licentiousness and debauchery,” a hive of scum and villainy not seen since the Mos Eisley Spaceport. Thankfully, we had a fearless regular of The Nickel, Trey Benfield, to guide us. We asked Trey to give us the skinny on his favorite place to hang out. This is what he had to say.

“The Wooden Nickel is my local neighborhood bar and I will freely admit my bias.  I go there are least once a week and more if I can help it – but there is a good reason for that.   A lot of bars try to pull off the neighborhood bar feel, but rarely accomplish it.  I love the fact that I know my bartenders and they know me.  They are even happy to see me.  Most of the people there are regulars – even the current mayor of Hillsborough is a frequent patron.

However, what really sets the Nickel apart is the food.  Most bar food struggles to be mediocre.  The Nickel takes pride in serving outstanding, creative food with mostly locally sourced ingredients.  The quality rivals many nice restaurants.  When I first starting going to the Nickel, my wife ordered salmon.  I made fun of her for thinking she was going to get decent seafood dish at a bar.  I was wrong – it was perfectly pan seared in a way most nice restaurants cannot accomplish.

Though known mostly for their wings and tater tots, the Nickel can serve a great burger.  The standard menu consists of classics – a burger with lettuce, pickles, and tomato, a Western burger with bacon and bbq sauce.  They even have an emu and bison burger.  I am particularly fond of the fried egg burger. Also the Nickel offers a special burger that changes weekly. The weekly burgers are fun and creative.”

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Obviously, the denizens of Hillsborough couldn’t care less for former Mayor Johnson’s warnings. The tiny place was packed to the rafters. Beers and food were flung with reckless abandon. Quite literally in Carolyn’s case as she ended up wearing her cheeseburger. Given that she was 8-months pregnant at the time of our review, she said that ketchup and beer worked well to cool her down a little bit.

We’ll focus our review on the special burger for the evening: an 8-ounce burger with white cheddar, bacon, and curry peanut butter. An old favorite of TSB, Salem Street Pub, has a great peanut butter topped burger called “My Wife Said It Wouldn’t Sell.” We figured, local pub, peanut butter on a burger, how can we go wrong?

Chad was reminded of a comment he received at a bluegrass jam several years back, “Hey Man, I really like what you’re trying to play.” That fits the vibe we all got from our burgers. It was a really cool idea, and it had its moments, but it didn’t quite deliver. The patty was solid. The bacon was a little limp. The curry peanut butter could have used more time in the blender. A few bites would be peanut butter only then — BAM — a big lump of curry. It was distracting and left the experience somewhat inconsistent.

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Don put it perfectly, “Much like the edge of an actual wooden nickel, the curry peanut putter sauce was a bit rough and uneven, but the overall uniqueness of the coin finds a place in your memory.”

Chad would have given it a 3.5 but he ended up at 3.75 because of the degree of difficulty and the terrific atmosphere.

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Don’s rating: 3.5

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Michael thought the place was charming as hell, but he wished the burger was better. His rating: 3.5.

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Carolyn gives it a solid 3.5.

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Trey didn’t give a rating, but this is what he had to say, “Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t quite live up to the promise but they keep things interesting and are fun to try. If you want a great burger in a bar setting, I cannot think of any place that outdoes the Nickel.  Tell them Trey sent you.”

Overall rating: 3.56 for 38 out of 70