Review #77 – Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews (Apex, NC)

You May Ask Yourself, “How Did I Get Here?”

The Straight Beef is used to the rarified atmosphere of top-notch burger joints. We don’t care if that burger comes on Wedgwood china or on a chipped diner plate that hasn’t been truly clean since the Nixon administration. In fact, we loved to be surprised. We are thrilled when the best burger around comes from a dimly lit, greasy bar where your feet stick to the floor and you’re a little afraid to use the restroom (Chad: I’m looking at you Ty’s in Wichita, KS).

But we get it. Sometimes you need a clean, well lighted place with a predictable, no-risk burger — a place you can go after soccer or choir practice and mom and dad can have a beer while the kids have a burger that tastes the same in Poughkeepsie as it does in Apex.

But sometimes those places lead to a crisis of conscience, a testing of the faith. Like many others before us, we turn to the great philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and the Talking Heads, because . . .

You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large mini-van

And you may find yourself in a booth at Red Robin

And you may find yourself with a beautiful menu in your hand

And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

And you may say to yourself, my god, what have I done?

Michael’s Review: The Madlove Burger

This ain’t no party. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no foolin’ around — 1/2lb patty topped with a Cheddar and Parmesan crisp, Provolone and Swiss cheese, jalapeño relish, candied bacon, avocado, citrus-marinated tomatoes and onion on a toasted ciabatta bun.

Two’s company. Three’s a crowd. Eight is more than enough.

That’s 8 toppings. Nine if you include the shredded romaine lettuce. Too much. The bacon was there mainly because it is probably expected for a burger to have bacon on it. I couldn’t even tell that the lettuce, tomatoes, and onion were there. Cheese? Maybe. They didn’t use a particularly piquant variety. It didn’t really add anything. The standout of this crowd was the jalapeño relish. Great balance of sweet and spicy.

That being said, the ciabatta bun held everything together remarkably well. The patty was way over-cooked. Tastes like it was forgotten on the grill. Not just well-done but burnt. I ain’t got time for that now. 3.25

Don’s Review: Royal Red Robin

I can’t seem to face up to the facts. I’m tense and nervous, can’t relax. Can’t eat, full of malaise. Burger ruined by mayonnaise.

So. Much. Mayo.

Notes from the burger psych ward:

  • first bite was great… second bite was mayo… third bite was mayo, etc.
  • In fact there was a 1:1 ratio, mayo to lettuce
  • No individual flavors- even after scraping off Mayo
  • Burger was over done
  • Egg was slightly over done
  • Only the fact that it was so disappointing made it memorable.
  • started really strong, ended in me becoming a psycho-killer. Bad burger, ques que ces – better run, run, run, run away. 2.75

Carolyn’s Review: Sir Acha Tavern Double

Watch out, you might get what you’re after. Cool baby, strange but not a stranger, my burger was burning down the house — 2 flattened patties topped with sriracha onion straws, American cheese, pickles, lettuce, tomato and spicy mayo.

A bright spot in a sea of mediocrity.

Everyone else got the adult burgers in the room and mine came out like I had ordered off the kids menu.  Little did we all know that I would have the last happy laugh.  The burger was on point and got better with each bite. The toppings were proportionally right and none of them overwhelmed any other.  And the onion straws.  Good lord, those onion straws were a delight.  Crunchy and salty and totally setting off the mild – but still recognizable – spiciness of the mayo.  The patties were cooked through but they weren’t necessarily the star of the show – it was more of an ensemble. I would eat this burger again any day of the week. Maybe even EVERY day of the week.  4.25

Chad’s Review: Bacon Cheeseburger

I don’t know why you treat me so bad. Think about the things we could have had. You take my money, add calories. Sodium levels take me to my knees. It makes me wanna say…take me to the river. Drop me in the water. Take me to the river. At least refill my water.

Plenty of Na. Needs more Cl.

If you are on a low-sodium diet, Red Robin is not your place. They helpfully add up all of the calories, fat levels, sodium content, et al, on their website. That let me know that my Bacon Cheeseburger and a handful of fries hit the 2000mg daily limit exactly. While I admire the precision, that meant that I couldn’t really eat much the rest of the day. And what did I get for my sacrifice? An overdone, under-seasoned – yes, under-seasoned at 2000mg of sodium, a true miracle of chemistry – burger with limp, tasteless bacon. I’m willing to make adjustments to be able to splurge every once in a while, but the splurge must be worth it. The Red Robin bacon cheeseburger isn’t. 2.5

And that’s Red Robin for you. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.

Average: 3.19 Ranking: 54 out of 77

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.