Review #89 – Local 22 (Durham, NC)

Michael: Damn!* 4.75

Carolyn: Daaayyuum!* 4.75

Don: Daaaaaaaammmnn!* 4.75

Chad: Lamb? Damn!** 4.75

Overall rating: 4.75 out of 5

Overall rank: 7 out of 89

*The overall consensus was that the build kept the burger from being a 5. The large leaf lettuce and the pickles speared to the top of the bun were dealbreakers.

** Holy crap, the lamb burger was good. The only thing that kept it from a rock solid 5 on the Straight Beef scale was a bun not quite capable of holding up to the wonderful juiciness of the burger.

Review #88 – Burger Boy (Wilson, NC)

Over the Memorial Day weekend, my family and I went to Wilson to see the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park. What do you do when you are in a city for the first time and find yourself hungry? You search Foursquare for the closest burger joint. I lucked upon a little place known as Burger Boy. It turns out 2019 is the 50th anniversary of Marion Boykin serving burgers and dogs to the people of Wilson. For the history of Burger Boy check out The Wilson Times. I’m here to talk about the burger.

Everything about Burger Boy screams classic — even the drink sizes. A small drink is 12 oz, medium is 20 oz, and large is 32 oz. I ordered the bacon double cheeseburger combo which included a large drink and fries. It arrived wrapped in paper on a foam plate with my fries. There were two (I’m guessing) 4-oz square patties with American cheese in between. Then came crisp bacon, tomato, then some of the whitest iceberg lettuce you have ever seen. Mayo was adequately slathered on the top bun. Bonus points for no toppings under the patties.

I like the fact that a place like Burger Boy exists. If you want a decent lunch, not spend a lot of money, and support a local business, this is the place to go in Wilson. I wanted it to be more, though. The patties were nice and salty but mostly dry. It could have used another slice of cheese to hold the bacon in place. The tomato was juicy, but that lettuce was pathetic. The only way to salvage that business would have been to shred it.
I really wanted my burger to be better. I was expecting Johnson’s. Unfortunately, I got a slightly better version of a Wendy’s double. It rates a 3.25.

Overall ranking: 62 of 88

Review #87 – Royale (Raleigh, NC)

Deconstructionism, the Royale burger, and Objective Burger Truth

Listen to The Straight Beef Podcast for more on the Royale and the topic of when a burger is not a burger

Oh those wacky French and their Deconstructionist philosophy. In theory, Deconstructionism questions traditional assumptions about certainty, identity, and truth; and challenges the idea that we can discover objective meaning outside our own biases and belief systems.

Yeah, we don’t get it either, but we suspect that the burgers at Royale in downtown Raleigh are the result. These burgers certainly make us question our firmly held beliefs about hamburgers, namely that patty+bun=hamburger. Even the much-loved patty melt was viewed with some skepticism. An open-faced burger? On toast? Pish posh.

Then we ate at Royale, an undeniably French restaurant that undeniably deconstructs its burgers and does so in spectacular fashion. Chad had the Royale Burger, which came on an over sized English muffin. Michael’s burger, Le Grand Garçon, had no bun at all! Sacré bleu! What were we to make of this?

We had to rethink our entire belief system in the course of one meal. Rationalization played a large part.

As Michael said, “We have railed against terrible buns like the kaiser and how it detracts from the experience. Even a decent bun simply gets out of the way. You would think that in order to appreciate the true essence of a burger, it makes sense to get rid of the bun. Why have something there that is neutral at best? But if a burger doesn’t have a bun, is it still a burger?

“Such was the dilemma I was presented with at Royale. The Plat du Jour each Tuesday is always a burger. Le Grand Garçon burger was a 6-oz patty, prosciutto, a sunny side up egg, and Bearnaise sauce served on a hash brown.”

No. Bun. Hash brown. Let that sink in for a moment.

But…but…where’s the bun?

The build was perfectly constructed. The hash brown served as a dense foundation for a perfectly-cooked peppery patty. Lightly crisped prosciutto served as an interesting departure from bacon. The Bearnaise sauce was artfully spooned around the yolk to drape over the egg white and everything else beneath. Micro chives dusted the entire creation.

Michael was wowed. “This burger was flavorful and rich. Sumptious, even. It was served with a tasty side salad, but it needed some arugula on top of everything. Something light to counterbalance the overall heaviness of the burger. I give it a 4.75. It just needed some greens to make it a 5. Usually a fine-dining restaurant such as this has a burger on the menu for the unwashed masses who are intimidated by fancy foods. Royale serves it proudly with care and with pride.”

You know what they call it? A royale with cheese.

Chad’s Royale Burger was the same 6-7ish ounce patty ground from short rib, brisket and chuck but served with gruyère and au poive aoili on a toasted English muffin. Again, the burger was extremely well prepared, the result of a chef and a well-trained staff turning their skills to re-think something as potentially mundane as a hamburger. The flavor was rich and beefy with a precise level of crispy char that highlighted the juiciness of the perfect pinkish-in-the-center patty. And, as Chad said, “Dammit, the English muffin just works. In this instance, it’s a great complement to the burger. I hate being so smug and so wrong. I want to give it a 4.75 for knocking my beliefs about objective burger truth for a loop, but this was an un-Deconstructed 5.0.”

Listen to The Straight Beef Podcast for more on this discussion.

Overall rating 4.88 out of 5.

Overall rank 2 out of 87.

Review #86 – The Mecca Restaurant (Raleigh, NC)

Our Double Glo Burgers crash landed at the table with its eponymous Glo sauce completely melted away. The first few bites revealed a well-seasoned, slightly over-cooked but otherwise fair to middling burger.

Whither art thou, Lee Majors?

The Double Glo Burger. A burger barely meriting a 3.5. We can rebuild it. We have the ingredients. We have the capability to build a burger that can contend with Raleigh’s best. The Double Glo Burger at The Mecca Restaurant will be that burger. Better than it was before. Tastier, tangier, cheesier.

The Glorified Jumbo Hamburger, introduced at The Mecca in 1958, might have been innovative at the time. However, like tail fins and tube radios, it’s time had passed. Drastic measures were called for.

It was vital to use components native to The Mecca, otherwise we would risk incompatibility and inevitable topping rejection. Using our wits, what we had at our table, and a very accommodating waiter, we got to work. Slathering on more Glo sauce was a good start, but we had to do more. This was not a time to be timid. Adding a slice of American cheese gave some much-needed texture, but it wasn’t enough.

We needed to do more.

We took away the pointless lettuce that was wilting under the double patties. Addition by subtraction.

We needed to do more.

Then, an epiphany. It was sitting there in a little crock, the Baked Cracklin’ Meccaroni. We carefully scooped a healthy helping between the two patties. The burger soared! The Meccaroni, excellent in its own right, turned out to be the key to the rebuild. Better than pimento cheese which oozes out at every opportunity, the Meccaroni held everything together and gave the whole burger a texture and flavor that the original just didn’t have.

The original Double Glo Burger merited a 3.5. Our new creation dubbed the Meccandcheese Burger was a triumph of burgiatric science and deserved a 4.5.

Overall ranking: 14 out of 86

Review #80 – Wimpy’s Grill (Durham, NC) CLOSED

No School Like the Old School

Chad’s review:

Wimpy’s Grill in Durham was a throwback from the day it opened in 1987. Even at the height of the Ford Escort, parachute pants and skinny tie, New Wave era, Wimpy’s was decidedly old-fashioned. Wimpy’s is so retro that in 2018 it is retro again.

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Like King’s Sandwich shop, Wimpy’s is a classic walk-up burger stand. There is no seating. You either get your food to go or eat it in your car. That’s just fine with me. There are some burgers (and my favorite sandwiches) that are better off eaten standing up so the juices don’t run down your arms, or eaten under the comforting, non-judgmental glow of your dome light, where no one can see you consume an entire double bacon cheeseburger and large fries in a disturbingly short time. Not that I did that.

The building itself is a narrow A-frame, most of which is taken up by the submarine-like kitchen. That leaves only a narrow aisle in front. You practically have to turn sideways to get through the door, like entering the haunted house at a questionable carnival. Luckily, the service is very fast. I barely had time to work up a good streak of envy for those waiting by the exit for their food before I, too, received the joyful call.

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I ordered a bacon double cheeseburger (mustard & pickle), large fries and tea. I fully intended to take half the burger home, knowing that there was no way I could eat all of that, especially standing around sweltering at the trunk of Michael’s hatchback in the middle of July. Imagine my surprise when I found myself pawing at the last crunchy ends of the fries and seriously considering licking the burger wrapper to get the last taste of the burger. It was that good. I should have gotten two. Wimpy’s classic flat-top griddled burger earns an estimable 4.5 grease stains* in my Straight Beef notebook.

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* In honor of the late, great Holly Moore.

Michael’s review:

I had the Garbage Burger. One of us had to. Chad was sane with his choice. Don couldn’t embarrass himself in front of his daughter. I, Michael Marino, being of sound mind and, until recently, sound body, ordered the Garbage Burger. What’s on the Garbage Burger you ask? A deep breath now: two four-ounce patties, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, slaw, chili, tomato, mustard, mayo, and ketchup. This is a mammoth burger. It’s about the size of a regulation women’s ASA softball. I’ll admit. I was a little intimidated at first. I had to eat it like an apple. The shame in that is that I couldn’t enjoy all the tastes together. It was almost like eating a different burger in every bite.

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The chili was tangy and meaty without being greasy. The slaw was crisp. The tomato was juicy and red. I could go on. There was really nothing inherently wrong with the burger except it was just too much. Eventually, all the flavors ran together. That’s the risk you take when eating a stunt burger.

I’m glad I did it. Next time, I’ll get a classic burger with the works. I imagine it will be outstanding. If they can make a ridiculously large burger delicious, they must be able to do wonders with a normal burger. The Garbage Burger rates a 4.25 in my book.

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Don’s review:

Wimpy’s grill is comfort food for me. In a former life, I worked in Durham and had Wimpy’s on Fridays as a bit of a celebration of the end of the work week. What made this trip special was it had been over ten years since my last visit and I was bringing my daughter to get her opinion. Hopefully, this would serve as a life lesson for her about good burgers. I got my old standby chili cheeseburger with tomato, mustard, and onions, a classic combination of flavors that took me back to my younger more fit days. The burger was like a good song that you haven’t heard in years that comes on the radio and puts you back in time. This burger time machine made feel younger, better looking and not so angry- a beautiful experience, albeit too short of one.  The chili, mustard and onions, play well with the burger, and the cheese smooths everything into a nice rounded flavor pallet.  I scored it a 4.25

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My daughter ordered her favorite (probably that of most preteens)- a cheeseburger plain. To me, this is the most dangerous burger recipe, so much can go wrong if any of the three ingredients is not up to par. What makes Wimpy’s able to pull that off is the fact that their burgers are deliciously juicy. The cheese was melted perfectly for a picky eater and she finished it in no time flat, a modern-day miracle. When she had finished, she said that was great (another miracle) and gave it a 4.5.

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Average rating 4.33 out of 5. Overall rank 16 out of 80.

Review #79 – Sutton’s Drug Store (Chapel Hill, NC)

Nostalgia Burger

You don’t go to Sutton’s Drug Store to get a prescription filled, unless your prescription is for a classic cheeseburger, lunch counter sandwich or milkshake. In that case, you’ve come to the right place.

There are a lot of burger places these days that trade on nostalgia for a time that never was, with bright colors, Elvis memorabilia and jukeboxes playing Chuck Berry and Bobby Darin. Sutton’s is the real thing. The drug store has been a Chapel Hill mainstay since 1923 and goes back to the days when pharmacies had soda jerks in white lab coats and served a reasonably priced breakfast or lunch to the downtown crowd. But Sutton’s is not a museum or a Disneyfied version of the past, just a small-town lunch counter (the pharmacy business was sold to CVS a couple of years back) that has managed to stay afloat in chain driven America. That, in and of itself, is pretty wonderful.

So, how’s the burger? According to Chad, it’s fairly close to what he remembers coming off the Eckerd Drug flattop in Chattanooga, where he grew up. “That was a special treat when I was a kid. My mom would stow us at the lunch counter while she shopped. Sutton’s burger patties are heftier and fresher, but the crinkle cut fries are the same.” With several decades and several thousand burger’s worth of experience, he’s hesitant to separate the burger from the location. “We sat and watched a steady stream of families, sometimes a couple of generations, having lunch that Saturday, the kids getting a taste of a hamburger that didn’t come from a drive-through. On a strict grading scale, Sutton’s burger would score a 3.25 or 3.5, but the combination of food, atmosphere and company skews the equation higher than that.”

I’ll take a bacon cheeseburger. Light on mayo. Heavy on nostalgia.

Michael grew up way out in the county near a medium-sized city. It was just after the time when these types of pharmacies were relegated to the city. Our pharmacies were more akin to the big box stores of today. He didn’t really experience greasy spoon dives until high school and beyond. “I don’t really have a place in my history that’s like Sutton’s. I can only compare it to places like Johnson’s. Given how good a Johnson’s burger is, the Sutton’s burger just doesn’t live up to what I expected when I walked in. The best thing I can say about my bacon cheeseburger was that it was solid. Good but not great, 3.25. I am glad for the experience, but I would probably order a bacon biscuit with a sweet tea next time.”

Does Sutton’s offer the best burger in the world? No. Not even the best burger in Chapel Hill, which these days boasts Al’s Burger Shack, Buns, and Top This within walking distance. What it does offer, however, is an experience that is worth seeking out and sharing, at least once.

Overall review: 3.38 out of 5

TSB rank: 52 out of 79