Review #25: Dain’s Place (Durham, NC)

Scott’s Review

8 oz. Angus Burger (Classic Rocks)

At the time of this writing, the U.S. Congress has yet to approve a Constitutional amendment requiring that burgers be rated by certified professionals. In fact, I know of no bill to this effect before any congress in any state.

This is a crime.

Warning: These statistics will shock you.

The absence of such legislation leaves us subject to everyone with a spatula claiming to have “the best burger in North Carolina.” Or “the best burger in the country.” Or, as at least one purveyor claims, “the best burger anywhere.” Sure—I get it. It sounds better than “arguably one of the better burgers in the vicinity” or “among the top 15 burgers in Pittsfield.” But c’mon, people, must we be so cavalier with our absolutes? Must we sling the word “best” like a drunken tailgater with a cornhole bag?

I say no.

Dain’s Place in Durham serves a fine burger. And yes, apparently it’s ranked #10 on the venerable list of “50 Best College Bars in America.” And yes, its 8-ounce Angus burger is respectable, even quite tasty. But does it really offer the “best burger in the Triangle,” as its website augurs? Until the fat cats in Washington get their priorities straight and illegalize such proclamations, we’ll never know.

Scott’s review: 3.25 out of 5.

    

Michael’s Review

The Defibrillator (Look at Me!)

“So, what are you guys in the mood for?” Scott asked.

“I’m going to go with something I love to do at home,” John said. “I’ll just cover it with ketchup and pepper. The essence of the patty will shine through.”

Scott turned from the temporarily insane John to me. “How about you?”

“I don’t know. Definitely not the Defibrillator.” It wasn’t going to get the restaurant’s signature burger, yet it called to me: An 8-ounce patty. With cole slaw. No, I can’t. And sweet chili. Sweet Jesus. And a hot dog. What?! I’ll just get a bacon cheeseburger. Definitely not the Defibrillator.

The waiter came to the table and sat next to Scott. “What can I get for you?”

While Scott ordered his standard and John ordered his ketchup concoction, I kept myself focused: Bacon cheeseburger, bacon cheeseburger, bacon cheeseburger. The waiter looked at me expectantly.

“The Defibrillator.”

What? I just ordered a burger with a chili dog and a side of slaw on it. What is wrong with me?

Hefty hefty hefty. Wimpy wimpy wimpy.

But once it arrived, all doubt was erased. The sweet chili, salty dog, and crispy slaw elevated the otherwise average patty to the centerpiece of an overall fine burger. If you don’t think you can stomach the full-on experience, split it with someone; Dain’s is really on to something with this burger. Make the trip to Durham and enjoy.

Michael’s review: 4 out of 5.

    

John’s Review

8 oz. Angus Burger (Classic Rocks; no cheese for a total focus on the patty I’d heard so much about)

This will be brief, as Dain’s warrants only a few words, despite what I had been led to believe about it. The patty was fresh but disappointingly bland (which would typically indicate low-grade ground chuck and an insufficiently seasoned flat grill). The bun was traditional and acceptable. I found the burger to be a 3.25 at best. I would be surprised if ever I Dain to eat another burger there again.

John’s Review: 3.25 out of 5

    

Dain's Place 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.

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"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)

Meh.

Scott’s Rating: 3.25/5


My Way 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 #8: Tribeca Tavern (Cary)

  • Joint: Tribeca Tavern
  • Burger: Land and Sea (Scott), Southern Lovin’ (John), The Masterpiece (Michael)
  • Burger Category: Look At Me! (Scott and John), Snooty Beauty (Michael)

Michael’s Review

There was a lot to like about the Tribeca Tavern in Cary. The service was excellent. The restaurant was beautiful, the table well appointed. My locally brewed beer was served with a hard pretzel—a nice touch. Tribeca’s burger menu is extensive, with 17 burgers to choose from.

I decided on The Masterpiece, which featured a Kobe beef patty topped with St. Andre triple crème and short ribs that were smoked for 12 hours, topped with port wine gravy.

It turned out to be a burger of contrasts. My first bites were complex and intriguing, but those first impressions gradually diminished. Eventually, it was just another burger. The gourmet ciabatta bun crumbled apart as I ate. The patty itself was silky Kobe beef, but it was overdone.

Despite the critiques, I will say that the burger was interesting. The short ribs and sauce could stand on their own as a respectable entrée. It was a difficult burger to rate. The bun was a 1. The patty was a 3. The short ribs and sauce were 5s. I look forward to going back to Tribeca, as I want to support a restaurant that supports local farmers and brewers. I might get another burger, but more likely I’ll explore the rest of the expansive menu.

I give the burger a 3.25.

Scott’s Review

Tribeca Tavern: A Play in One Act

 

FADE IN:

Still, warm evening. Outside seating area at Tribeca Tavern in Cary. Spotlight on our three heroes.

SCOTT

(pounding head on table)

What should I order? So many choices. Do I get the burger with short rib and St. Andre Triple crème, or the one with fried salami?

MICHAEL

(arms extended heavenward, imploring)

Or the one with 10 ounces of ground beef, 8 ounces of Kobe, 8 ounces of lamb, 5 ounces of spicy sausage, all topped with “Hoop” cheddar, mozzarella, pepper jack, and American cheeses, complete with 8 slices of bacon–all on battered brioche?

JOHN

(weeping gently)

Or the one with slaw?

FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER:

Table littered with beers, wing bones, and three plates of fries and quarter-eaten burgers, each four feet in height.

SCOTT

Who had the Southern Lovin’ burger, again?

JOHN

That would be me…I think.

MICHAEL

No, you got the Land and Sea.

JOHN

Was that the one with crab on it?

MICHAEL

I think so.

JOHN

[Examines burger on plate.]

Oh yeah.

SCOTT

So where’s the one with the fried egg on it?

JOHN

We got one with fried egg on it?

All three heroes look confusedly at one another’s plates, then their own.

MICHAEL

Probably.

Our heroes shrug, continue eating.

Big points for service, ambiance, and burger novelty. Mid-level points for taste. My review: 2.75 out of 5.

John’s Review

Oh my. You were right! She is breathtaking in this photo—exotic, even. And the way you describe her, we seem to have so much in common. I’m in. I want to meet her. Go ahead and set it up.

Blimey! She was attractive, but there was just no chemistry. And what the hell was she wearing? It was pleasant evening, and it had its high points, but just not what I’d hoped for. But there’s more to her, I think. I’m not giving up yet. I’ll see her again, but next time it’ll be much less formal. I think we need to just relax, hang out, and not try so hard. I’ll let you know how it goes.

My hopes were sky-high for the Tribeca Tavern, as it had come highly recommended (though not by a fellow burgiatrist, I should say). It seemed to offer such a special atmosphere, and while covering a more traditional burger menu, also promised some special burger artistry in a unique marriage of the “Look at Me!” and “Snooty Beauty” categories. Add that excitement to the availability of their proprietary brews on tap, and TSB was on its way.

And we went for it! We all opted for the Burger Menu, which is dedicated to such fanciful and esoteric burger creations as to put your imagination into overdrive. Eggs, fried green tomatoes, crab, goat cheese, rosemary hollandaise…these are all ingredients in the mix here. Despite the availability of some much crazier options, I chose a “Look at Me!” burger that you might find elsewhere: the Land and Sea, with Angus beef, lump crab, fried mashed potatoes, roasted garlic, and rosemary hollandaise. It came on what I would call a split ciabatta roll. All of these very special ingredients combined to create and thrillingly different burger that was, in a word, bland.

The thrill was gone, baby. What remained was to finish this thing in a state of mild disappointment. Perhaps even that Kobe burger on the main menu (which of course, would be in the “Snooty Beauty” category due to the professed quality of the ingredients).

I won’t drone on. The burger was a 3. The service was excellent, the sweet potato fries were good, the place was lovely, and the beer selection is probably delicious, even if I did make a poor, overly-hoppy selection. I still think Tribeca is highly attractive (smokin’ hot, as a matter of fact), and I’m actually looking forward to seeing her again. But we’re not going to put on any airs this go ‘round. We’ll just dress casually, kick back with a good beer, and maybe listen to some Classic Rocks together. (In other words, a good old-fashioned cheeseburger.)

Tribeca Tavern on Urbanspoon

Review #6: Carolina Brewery (Chapel Hill)

  • Joint: Carolina Brewery
  • Burger: SW Scorcher (Michael), Brewery Burger (Scott), Build Your Own (John)
  • Burger Category: Look At Me! (Michael), Classic Rocks (John and Scott)

John’s Review

One nice thing about writing a TSB Burger review is that we don’t require ourselves to do it the evening of the meal. If that were the case, I would be giving the burger at Carolina Brewery a solid 4, for there were not-so-subtle influences at play that night as to put me in a favorable mood and a mode of flattery and conciliation. As it is, however, I sit down to write my review with enough time between me and that burger and that night to have found my journalistic objectivity—the kind I owe my faithful constituents in this noble vocation. It would be egregious of me to let distracting influences blur my focus on the burger itself and skew my evaluation…influences like the powerful and sweet nostalgia of being back on Franklin Street for the first time since a distant epoch of collegial mirth and mayhem with my Tarheel freunds and fräuleins; like the intoxicating spring air that was fragrant and warm upon my skin and in my lungs as we strolled across the street to Carolina Brewery at dusk; like the liveliness of the street with its cruising cars and the sidewalks that seemed to vibrate and move all of the students and young couples amusingly along them at different speeds and in different directions, like the tiny plastic players on an old electric football field I had when I was young; like the two smooth Carolina Brewery custom brews that drained counter-clockwise down my throat before our burgers even arrived; like the easy feeling I always have as I join my fellow Burgiatrists in a cozy booth to share some good beer, beef and bombast for an hour or two.

If I were not so professional as to require a state of complete objectivity before issuing my evaluation and recommendation to you, I would give undue weight to the fact that the overcooked patty was still quite moist and flavorful, or that the dry-looking Kaiser roll was actually fresh and soft when I took that first bite. I might focus a bit too much on the order of the build (which was perfectly in order).  And I might surround those accurate facts about the burger itself with friendly fluff that simply isn’t useful to you in your own search for burger bliss (e.g., reminiscences about the general location of the restaurant, or pretty prose about the weather that night). However, with my professionalism and objectivity about me, I report to you that the burger you’ll find at Carolina Brewery—the burger itself—is a 3.5. Not bad at all, really, but not great. It goes well with your beer (which is delicious) and gets the job done as you sit in a very pleasant atmosphere among pleasant people on a pleasant night. Regarding any negative aspects of the burger…my mother always said that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all (so I won’t tell you that you can’t really get your burger cooked to temperature, or that the lettuce was less than fresh, or that my tomato slices were pinkish and flavorless with crystalline meat, as are those that are genetically manipulated to stay fresh for over a year). Carolina Brewery “Build Your Own” burger: 3.5. Carolina Brewery itself: 4.

Scott’s Review

I’ve always thought there should be a word for the concoction created by the simple combination of ketchup and mustard. Ketchard? Mustup? Yellow-red burgonaise?

There should also be a word, I think, for a burger that’s just plain good—not unpleasant in any way, not so outstanding that you’re ready to run down West Franklin Street singing a burger-themed paean.

That’s what the Brewery Burger was to me—a solid, tasty, respectable hamburger. Forty years from now, when I’m sitting around the Straight Beef office complex, reflecting on our jaunt to the Carolina Brewery in Chapel Hill, I’ll remember the outstanding signature brews fresh from the giant in-house copper cauldrons, the burlap bags of hops stacked nearby, and the insanely spicy Thai chili wings. Will I be able to describe the emotions that the Brewery Burger inspired in me? Mayhaps. Perchibly. Possiburger.

My rating: 3.25.

Michael’s Review

It was a perfect Carolina spring evening, and stars were aligned for a fine evening of handcrafted beer and burgers. Where else to go but the Carolina Brewery in Chapel Hill?

I kicked off the meal with a Sky Blue Golden Ale (silver medal at the World Beer Championships), along with “hot & spicy” and “Thai chili” wings. The hot & spicy were meaty and of the standard Buffalo ilk. The Thai chili were low on flavor but ridiculously hot. I wouldn’t recommend those except on a bet.

Lately, I’m emerging as the one who orders the burger no one else will try. (See my review of the Salem Street Pub’s My Wife Said It Wouldn’t Sell). True to form, I ordered the SW Scorcher, a spring special, “dusted with a Mexican rub, topped with jalapeños tossed in habanero sauce, melted jack cheese,” and, of course, “lime cured cabbage.”

In all my years as holistic burgologist, I had never experienced a burger-related burn quite like this one. The habanero sauce and freshly cut jalapeños completely covered the burger, promising a wallop in every bite. I can cross an intense burning sensation on the roof of my mouth off my bucket list.

The build was perfect: burger, cheese, habanero sauce, jalapeños, tomato, lettuce. The bun was perhaps a little too toasted, but it easily maintained the burger. Not a single rogue jalapeño escaped as I was eating.

The biggest drawback was the beef itself: way overdone, despite my request for the rare side of medium. Scott’s was medium well, as requested, but mine was left on the grill just long enough to cook the flavor away. That aside, the outstanding toppings might have brought the burger to a solid 4, perhaps even flirting with a 4.5. As it was, though, I give it a 3.5.

Carolina Brewery on Urbanspoon

Review #5: Salem Street Pub (Apex)

  • Joint: Salem Street Pub
  • Burger: My Wife…(Michael), All American (John), and Island (Scott)
  • Burger Category: Classic Rocks (John), Look At Me! (Michael and Scott)

Michael’s Review

To this point in my career as a burger reviewer, I had never ordered a burger that appeared in the menu with quotation marks around it. The quotes dared me to eat it. The ingredients triple-dog dared me.

The burger had the most interesting mélange of components: a half-pound of beef (normal), cheddar cheese (standard), bacon (typical), peanut butter (huh?), and honey (what the?!). My Straight Beef brethren were skeptical, but I was a moth to the flame. Peanut butter on a burger? I could barely wrap my brain around the concept.

But after a few cleansing breaths, I handed the menu to the waitress and ordered the My Wife Told Me It Wouldn’t Sell burger.

While we were waiting, we enjoyed the atmosphere. A guy strummed and sang cover tunes. TVs dotted the walls around the dining room and behind the bar. I can’t put my finger on it, but the place had a great vibe. I could already see myself going back.

The burgers arrived in black baskets with black-and-white checkerboard paper, which matched the décor. I can’t comment on the build of my burger because it didn’t really have one. This is not a negative. The toppings simply did not lend themselves to any traditional stacking order. The beef was handmade and was perfectly cooked. The bacon was chopped into the melted cheddar, which was different but pleasant. The peanut butter was liberally spread on the patty, as was the honey.

I had my doubts at first, but I must say that I loved it. The peanut butter was warm and added an unusual texture and flavor to the experience. The bacon was crunchy and salty, which was cut with just enough honey-sweetness. I could taste each ingredient in every bite, the mark of fine burger architecture.

I feel I missed a lot of the nuance of this burger because I was so surprised by how good it was. It was like following a complex movie plot; you want to go back and see what you missed. I want another one.

After careful reflection, I give this burger a 4.5.

John’s Review

Looking back at TSB reviews to date, Mojoe’s holds the top honors. In retrospect, it’s clear that the ratings this panel of cow-centric epicureans gave to Mojoe’s were based almost solely on the quality of the burger itself, bearing little reflection on the experience of eating there. There is almost no comment in those reviews on the ambiance, service, et cetera at Mojoe’s, all of which were just okay. It’s also clear that the ratings we gave Tyler’s Taproom took many trans-burger factors into account, with only our positive review of its beer selection saving from an all-out invective (though we were pretty snarky).

So let me state up front that The Salem Street Pub is getting an extra half-point from me due to the experience of eating a burger there, which featured parking directly in front of the pub on the nostalgic storefront street in downtown Apex; entering a cozy dark pub-and grill atmosphere reminiscent of “The Gunder,” featured in the latest “Pen and the Prod”; a young folk-dude playing acoustic guitar and crooning in the corner well enough to make you tap your toes and sing along; great service from friendly and attentive servers; and some wicked-hot hot wings.

That said, our focus here is to bring our experience, acumen, and exquisitely refined palates to recommending the very best burgers to our loyal constituents. So without further adieu, I tell you that Salem Street serves a great burger. A solid 4 (out of 5), based on a surprisingly high-quality patty, a surprisingly soft and moist Kaiser roll (I thought sure that thing was going to take a couple of Pepsis to wash down), and very fresh vegetables. Cooked perfectly to a medium temperature, this was simply a very good burger, one that “came together,” as we burgiatrists say, with the flavors merging to create that endorphin-releasing burger magic we all seek. It won’t exactly make you weak in the knees, but it will make you feel warm and happy, sitting in a warm and happy place with good friends. For reasons previously stated, I hereby recommend The Salem Street Pub—and their solid 4 burger—with a 4.5.

Scott’s Review

The Salem Street Pub’s menu calls it a “long-time dream [to be] the kind of place where you are always greeted by smiling and familiar faces; where good friends meet to share good times; where you feel at home whether it’s your first visit or your 100th.”

Well, one successful visit to SSP down, ninety-nine to go.

Of our Triangle-area burger jaunts thus far, SSP was for me the most enjoyable overall. Cozy, warm atmosphere, homey service, and a general warmth that permeated the place, from the Beatles-strummin’ guitarist at the front to the bounteous bar along the back. From the moment I walked in, I had every intention of staying awhile. After an hour and a half that featured a fine burger, ten crazy-hot wings, two beers, and easily 100 fries, my intention had been realized.

In my Oxford days I took a doctoral-level survey called “Ketchup and Mayonnaise: What Can’t They Do Together?” So naturally, I was drawn to the SSP’s Island Burger, featuring a tasty 1000 Island dressing. The customary lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles came along for the ride. All in all, quite delicious. Flavorful patty, crisp and cold veggies, a hamburger tastefully prepared and presented.

On the one hand, the burger seemed so utterly woven into the general grooviness of the SSP experience that it’s tough to assign it an appropriate rating. On the other hand, the burger was seriously good.

My rating: 4 of 5.

Special note: Hats off to my colleague Michael for ordering the My Wife Said It Wouldn’t Sell burger, peanut butter and all, which I asserted could be little more than revolting. Man, was I wrong. Michael found it in his heart to share a bite, and I will never again question his burgiatric sanity.

Salem Street Pub on Urbanspoon

Review #4: Tyler’s Restaurant and Taproom (Apex)

  • Joint: Tyler’s Restaurant and Taproom
  • Burger: Carolina (Michael), Bacon and Bleu (Scott), and Original Taproom (John)
  • Burger Category: Classic Rocks (John) and Look at Me! (Scott and Michael)

Scott’s Review

 

Dear Tyler’s Taproom,

This is hard to write. I like you a lot, and I don’t want to hurt you. It’s just that at this point in our relationship I think we should break it off be completely honest with each other. So here it goes.

Tyler’s, I think you’re super. You have a great personality, and I really enjoy spending time with you. You’re amazing in so many ways. Your beer selection is incredible—phenomenal, really—and your wings are just fine delicious. Tyler’s, you have so much going for you. Right now in my life, though, Tyler’s, what I really need is a good burger, and I just don’t think you can give that to me.

When I bit into your Bleu Cheese Bacon Burger, I was really hoping to feel that…that magic, you know? But I just didn’t. It wasn’t that it was bad, it just wasn’t very good what I’m looking for right now. The beef wasn’t especially flavorful, the bun not especially tasty or distinctive, and the bleu cheese was just kind of there. All in all, it was just kind of meh. I’m sorry. That was hurtful. I should stop before I say too much.

I do hope we can remain friends.

Your pal,

Scott

My review: 2.5 out of 5.

John’s Review

Did you ever have a friend who had one endearing trait, and with whom you’ve had some really good laughs, but came with a lot of baggage? Perhaps disorganized, habitually late, or unable to focus on more than one thing at once?

Well, let’s say you agreed to go to that friend’s house for beer and burgers. Knowing that you love a good beer, your friend promised to knock himself out to provide you with a wide range of the finest brews, each served in a thick glass bearing its own label. What a pal!

So you show up salivating, fantasizing about a mouthful of juicy cheeseburger surfing down your gullet on a tasty wave of malty artisan magic. You show up, your good pal greets you and your entourage with the fulfilled promise of the fine, cold beer of your choice, as rare and exotic as it may be. He even goes a step further, taking down your specific burger request. Again, I say: What a pal!

Then, he vanishes into his bedroom for a half-hour of X-Box with a fellow gamer on the West coast.

Finally, he comes back to the dining room table and says, “What? Dude, I’m so sorry. I told my roommate to get those burgers for you and he totally forgot! I’ll take care of it. Got your back, bros!” Then, he bolts to the kitchen, leaving you to your empty glasses and their frothy residue.

Another 20 minutes, and you have your burgers with an apology and a look that says, “Do you still like me?” Forgivingly, you nod and thank, and as he returns to the bedroom, you dig in. Starving, you put it down, thinking the patty resembles the reheated Angus patties from Costco you’ve zapped at home in desperation. Another beer might help, you think, as you use those throat muscles to massage down the dry Kaiser roll. You and your buddies around the table consume, all the while looking at each other, oozing with disdain. One of you speaks up, in charity, and states, “Tyler did come through on the beer, though.”

Your pal returns with a check.

John’s review: Beer 4.5. Burger 2.5.

Michael’s Review

Our trip to Tyler’s was an unexpected one. We had planned on going to Salem Street Pub, but learned the hard way that it’s closed on Mondays. Not to be denied, we journeyed through the slushy streets to a burger beacon in the night: Tyler’s Restaurant and Taproom in Apex.

The beer list at Tyler’s is long. I ordered a Lhasa from Tibet, which was quite tasty. Unfortunately, it was the highlight of the meal.

I had the Carolina burger, which was, as promised, “loaded with meaty chili, coleslaw, red onion, and melted cheddar cheese.” The roll was grilled exactly as I like it, but one big problem: They do not cook burgers to order. It’s medium-well, well, or nothing. I ordered it medium-well. It was well done. There was so much chili it was as if the burger was just a vehicle for it. I know the cheese was there because I could see it, but I couldn’t taste it or appreciate its texture. I couldn’t tell you if there were onions down there. The burger didn’t have so much as a build as a pile of toppings on a slab of beef.

The biggest problem with the burger, however, was that the beef itself wasn’t that great. The chili and coleslaw were good, but as a whole it was nothing memorable. The service was excellent, as our waiter knew pretty much every beer on the menu. I have been to Tyler’s before and had good food. I do not recommend the burger, though. Not great, not bad, just something to eat.

My rating: 3 out of 5.

Tyler's Tap Room on Urbanspoon

Review #2: Spirits Pub and Grub (Cary)

  • Joint: Spirits Pub & Grub, Cary
  • Burger: various
  • Burger Category: Classic Rocks (John) and Look at Me! (Scott and Michael)

Scott’s Review

I’ve always wondered why clothes didn’t come in extra medium. As I see it, there should be some designation to indicate a size that is not only in the middle range but is remarkably equal in distance between large and a small. Alas, however, no such designation exists.

But now, thanks to the Smoky Burger at Spirits Pub & Grub in Cary, that mythical place between extremes not only exists, it comes with your choice of cheese.

The burger wasn’t unpleasant, mind you, but the beef wasn’t especially flavorful, the bun not especially fresh, and the overall taste experience did not distinguish the burger as exceptional in the annals of burgrarian history.

My reaction surprised me, for three reasons:

  1. Spirits is owned by the same fellow who owns Daniel’s Restaurant in Apex, far and away my favorite Italian restaurant in the area. (And as a guy who grew up in New York, I know me some Italian.)
  2. The wings (c’mon—we needed something to whet our appetites) were excellent. (And as a guy who went to college in upstate New York, I know me some wings.)
  3. The service, décor, and atmosphere were all great. Oftentimes—though not always—that comes hand in hand with good burgers.

All in all, it was a burger that might best be described as eh. Or perhaps, s’alright. Or, if you will, a hearty fine.  My rating: 3/5.

 

Michael’s Review

I arrived before my cohorts and was greeted warmly. I decided to have a beer at the bar while I waited. Beer selection was good, and I was served immediately. Drs. Blumenthal and McManus arrived, and we were offered our choice of tables: tall or regular height. My training as a holistic burgrologist taught me to keep my heart as close to the ground as possible to fully experience a burger’s pleasures. We chose a regular-height table.

We went for buffalo wings as an appetizer: Buffalo-style, medium spice. Quite tasty and meaty. Unfortunately, the meal went downhill from there.

I opted for the Surfer Burger, intrigued by its “Spirits spicy seasoning” and pineapple salsa, the perfect mélange of spicy and sweet. (All burgers came with potato wedges, which had the unfortunate name “wedgies.”)

Juices flowed freely from the burger as I picked it up. But my initial enthusiasm was dashed with my first bite, when I realized that the juices were brown and not pink—a sign of surface grease, not of the burger’s natural, succulent drippings. The burger was cooked medium, as I had asked, but was overly dry. The miniscule dollop of pineapple salsa didn’t help. The blandness of the burger, I found, actually detracted from the sweetness. While in the moment, sharing a meal with my Straight Beef brethren, I thought the burger a three out of five. After serious meditation, however, I imagined myself trekking to a monastery in the Himalayas for quiet reflection, in an effort to erase the Surfer experience from my memory.

The service was excellent, the wings top-notch, but the burger was blah.  My rating: 2/5.

John’s Review

Dry kaiser roll, average-quality beef patty, and a taste experience that was a bit of a disappointment after the promising appearance of the “Basic Burger” with cheddar and bacon. Tomatoes were red and juicy, lettuce was fresh, burger was cooked to the requested temperature and built in the proper order… but it just didn’t come together. It didn’t do that magical thing that causes one’s brain to swim in a steady trickle of endorphins. It was an okay burger. After a two-hour tennis match or a day out on the boat it might have gone better with my frosty glass of lager, but there was no tennis or boating that day; just an evening out at Spirits and the anticipation of some burger magic.

The atmosphere was pleasant—a modern sports-pub-and-grill-type place, filled with a cacophony of sports broadcasts and gregarious folk chattering away over junk food and beer (and I mean this in a good way). The place makes you feel good, want to drink a brewski and hang out with friends, talkin’ some bull. The service wasn’t the best, but our waiter was amiable, the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind offering a chair to so he could sit down and talk some bull himself. Spirits is the good-time joint I expected it to be, with a good beer list, but a distinguished Burgiatrist like myself will not become a regular. Nor will my alter ego (see bio) be writin’ any poetry about that decidedly bourgeois burger.  My rating: 3/5.

Spirits Pub & Grub on Urbanspoon

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