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

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

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 #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.

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

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

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