Review #76 – Ted’s Montana Grill (Durham, NC)

Oh give me a burger from Ted’s Montana Grill

Where your choice is bison or beef ground

Where burgers are served and sized most absurd

But it’s one of the best burgers around.


Home, home at the Grill

Where your choice is bison or beef ground

The toppings sound weird but shouldn’t be feared

Hear us out, for now we’ll expound.

Ted’s Montana Grill is one of a growing number of semi-national restaurant chains that is focused on using local ingredients when they can. Ted’s uses those fresh ingredients to great effect. They have 14 burgers on the menu. If you can’t find a combination of flavors you like, I don’t know what to tell you, pardner.

Don’s a greenhorn because he couldn’t finish his burger.

Don: I saddled up on the Cheese and Bacon Bison Burger. It was over 8 oz. of hand-pattied big sky bison goodness. The only confounding issue I did reckon, was the patty itself could have used a pinch or two of seasoning. The bacon and onions were a swell two-step partner with the lettuce, tomato, and pickles helping to corral the favors of this mammoth-sized burger.  Overall an enjoyable trip to the ranch. A solid 4.0.

Michael: I took a leisurely ride down the Canyon Creek. It was an 8 oz. beef patty with melted cheddar. The thick bacon was very well done. It wasn’t crispy, but it wasn’t chewy either. I had a good chunk of bacony goodness in each bite without having it escape in one big bite.  The jalapenos were freshly chopped. Bright green and definitely not from a can. They were on top of the egg, though, so the little bits were all over the place. It would have been better if they were melted into the cheddar. The fried egg was over easy.  The blackberry jam was what made this burger different. Unfortunately, not enough was used, and the burger was served with the top bun angled off the patty onto the plate which meant most of the jam was on the plate instead of the burger. Slather that stuff on there and keep the bun on top, and it would have been much better.

Notice the jalapeños and blackberry jam are not actually on the burger.

Ted’s serves a very solid burger. The big knocks were about the build and it was cooked medium well (almost well done) instead of the requested medium. The fact that it still had great flavor is testament to the ingredients. It was just left on the grill too long. I strongly recommend Ted’s. Make sure you go with a good appetite. I give it a 4.25.

Overall rating: 4.13 for a rank of 25 out of 76.

Review #75 – Acme Food & Beverage Company (Carrboro, NC)

We should know better. We really should. When an otherwise excellent restaurant offers an afterthought burger on the menu, skip it. We’ve learned that the hard way too many times.

But, like Wile E. Coyote, we were drawn to Acme. We couldn’t help ourselves. It seemed so promising.

Perusing the Acme menu

And like the coyote, we were doomed to disappointment.

Chuck Jones, the creator of the roadrunner and coyote, famously laid down the rules:

Chuck Jones’s rules for the roadrunner & coyote from his 1999 autobiography Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist.

We broke rule #3 first. We are indeed fanatics. We cannot stop. If there’s a burger around, we’ll try it, even when we know better.

Then we fell prey to rule #2, the failure of the Acme products. What looked so good, so promising, especially in light of the other wonderful items on the menu, just left us dangling over a cliff holding a small sign reading “Help!” before we plunged to our cartoon doom.

Carolyn Coyote’s reaction:

The Acme burger.  Mine was a study in chronological disappointment, which is to say that the more time passed and the more I ate, the more disappointed I became.  Meep meep, says the Road Runner.  Burp…ugh….says I.  The burger came out of the kitchen with some obvious glitches but no dealbreakers.  The criss-cross bacon was not the ideal but it can work under certain circumstances.  In hindsight, perhaps my over-hungry brain simply saw what it wanted to see.  My first bite wasn’t bad!  The meat itself tasted….mmmoookay.

After the next bite and the bite after that, it became clear that the burger build was atrocious and the bacon gummed up the works. By the end, I was viewing the greasy mess of what was a burger on my plate with disgust and not a little bit of self-loathing.  2 out of 5.

Michael Coyote’s reaction:

I have a feeling that the Acme burger is what would end up happening if the Coyote actually caught the Road Runner. Wile E. Coyote has spent his life in constant pursuit of that scrawny bird. Why? Is all that effort worth what minuscule meat is on those bones? I mean, they weigh about a pound on the high end. Even if it is not about the meal but a Captain Ahab-like pursuit of this creature, what next? Wile E. is left to wander the desert cleaning up the wreckage of his myriad of Acme contraptions remembering what once was.

Such was our experience at Acme. There was a lot of build up because the food there is outstanding. However, once I got my hands on the burger. It was a real disappointment. The stringy bacon was haphazardly placed on the over-cooked patty. The beef had decent flavor but nothing outstanding. The cheese fused the patty and the bacon together which made rebuilding a disaster.

Acme is a terrific restaurant with a less than average burger. They should do themselves a favor and just take it off the menu. 2.5 out of 5.

Chad Coyote’s Reaction:

What could possibly go wrong?

Nope. Just, nope. We did indeed run afoul of rule #2. The Acme product failed us badly. The burger was overcooked and underseasoned. The bacon was limp. The cheese was bland. All of the wonderful promise disintegrated before my eyes and I was left wondering how it could have gone so, so wrong. 2.5 out of 5.

Overall rating: 2.33

Overall rank: 72 out of 75

Review #74 – Big Ed’s City Market Restaurant (Raleigh, NC)

Michael’s take: Brunch has always been an interesting meal concept for me. To quote Jacques from the Simpsons, “It’s not quite breakfast, it’s not quite lunch…You don’t get completely what you would as breakfast, but you get a good meal.”

I’ve always just seen it as late breakfast with the option of enjoying an alcoholic beverage guilt-free. If you have bacon and eggs with Bloody Mary at 8:00 AM, you are a drunk. If you have the same meal at 11:30 AM, you’re having brunch.

Eating a burger for breakfast strikes me the same way. Burgers have been relegated to lunch and dinner. Big Ed’s throws that notion out the window. They have a Deluxe Hamburger and a Deluxe Cheeseburger right along side the biscuits and French toast.

It was seven ounces of juicy goodness. I had mine with lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayo, and an over-easy egg. The patty was a touch over done. The server offered to have them make it over again, but I was already halfway done. The build was perfect. The bacon was broken on top in half-strips so as to maximize the flavor experience. Everything was cooked on the griddle including the bun.

If the patty was cooked medium as I ordered it, we’d have a new number one on our hands. However, to be fair, I have to dock them a quarter point. I give it a 4.75 with a strong recommendation to get it with a cup of coffee the next time you are in downtown Raleigh for brunch.


Don’s take: I am ashamed. I have let you down. I have let myself down. I have lived in Raleigh for the past 25 years and I have gone to Big Ed’s in City Market more times than I can count. And I have lived a lie. I have had their pancakes, their biscuits, their bacon, their eggs, but I have never had a burger until that day. And on that day, I cried. All the opportunities missed. All the burgers forsaken. I beg you to not make the same mistake, look past the breakfast options and go for the burger.

After all, you can add country ham and a perfect over medium egg on that burger and have it all, like I did. I ordered the burger medium deluxe style, plus ham and egg.. The only thing that was wrong in this burger was that it was just slightly overcooked, like Michael’s. The patty was delectable with a nice sprinkle of char; the lettuce- crisp, the tomato- robust.  Ed’s country ham combined with the perfectly cooked egg was that little taste of heaven that we rarely get the chance to have.  I give the burger a 4.75 and know that it will hit the golden 5.0 the next time I go back.

Big Ed’s City Market Restaurant: 4.75 out of 5. Ranking 6 out of 74.

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.