Review #18: Crabtree Tavern (Raleigh, NC)

Scott’s Review

BBQ Bacon burger (Classic Rocks)

I’ve always been wary of dating restaurants I meet on the Internet. It’s just too easy to slap on a sexy homepage and strut one’s virtual delectables across something as deceptive and inedible (believe me—I’ve tried) as a computer monitor. But there I was again, ready to play the burger field with a restaurant about which I knew nothing, save for its name, address, and a clear understanding that it likes sports.

At first, I was sure I’d been duped again. Online, the place fancied itself an “upscale sports bar,” but its collar—from the mellow, homey atmosphere to the “Go local sports teams!” décor—couldn’t have been more blue. I thought that our tête-à-tête would be brief and unmemorable, that we would exchange pleasantries but not phone numbers.

My number? It's 867-5309.

But when it came down to what really matters in life—our innermost feelings about patty seasoning, where we stood on the big issues like shredded vs. whole-leaf lettuce, our shared belief that the blend of fixins is greater than the sum of its parts—we managed to do just fine. Not a sizzling romance, perhaps, but a perfectly agreeable burger-burgiatrist friendship—one, with wings as good as theirs, with benefits.

Not ready to bring it home to the folks, but a good, solid burger.

Scott’s review: 3.25 out of 5.

Michael’s Review

Classic Tavern burger (Classic Rocks)


Imagine coming home from work. The house is relatively quiet, dinner is on the stove, and nothing to attend to but a spot in a comfy recliner. That’s what the Classic Tavern burger is. Nice build, crisp lettuce, juicy tomato, flavorful patty, perfectly melted cheese. It is simply an easy burger to enjoy. John and I seriously considered ordering another one and splitting it.

No one thing was outstanding about this burger. However, it does not fall into the same category as Scott’s “extra-medium” Spirits burger. The total experience was greater than the sum of its parts.

The cook at Crabtree Tavern got it right. Everything came together into a truly enjoyable burger. It was a potato bun away from approaching Mojoe’s perfection. The dry kaiser requires a full point deduction, though.

Michael’s Review: 4 out of 5.

John’s Review

Classic Tavern burger (Classic Rocks)

Always judge a book by its cover, that’s what I say. Then you’re more apt to be pleasantly surprised in life. Take, for example, the TSB visit to Crabtree Tavern…

As we drove up a slight grade toward the restaurant and it revealed its façade, I was struck by the fact that the size and shape of the building was reminiscent of a chain restaurant, and there was a quirky glass entrance that felt like it could go with some sort of restaurant-chain theme. Turns out that the Crabtree isn’t part of a chain, but chain-bar-food expectations were set nevertheless.

Mmmmm...pleasant surprise.

As we entered the restaurant and panned across the unusually open layout of the place, I noted the big central rectangle of a bar, booths along walls, railings dividing sections of tables on the open floor, tv screens with sports, and lots of banners, framed ads, and other typical sports bar & grill accoutrements. It was a bit of a barn of a place…unusually open, capacious, and lacking the many typical nooks and cozy spaces of its peer establishments. Perhaps because of its size and openness, but also its healthy number of jovial customers, I felt at once exposed at our table, but glad to be a part of that sprawling and bustling crowd of jovial diners and drinkers. Once I took it all in, I found myself in a good mood and glad to be where I was. At the same time, there was something quirky and inchoate about the place, and thus my expectations for the burger dipped from chain-level to dubious-chain-level.


Great service and a spanking good burger! Another #$&^!#$*&^$%!!! Kaiser roll, but a decent one (as far as they go), and it managed no to distract too much from a shockingly well-cooked and flavorful patty as the centerpiece to a well-built and balanced ensemble of fresh vegetables and melty, greasy, gooey cheese. This was a strong burger, and I’m pleased to say that once again—thanks to my own cynicism and characteristic prejudgment—I was very pleasantly surprised. Only the tiniest of room for improvement with the patty and the frustrating faux pas of the Kaiser hold this burger back to a tap-dancing 4.5.

P.S. Until we’ve visited a burger joint more than once, there’s always a risk that we’ll later regret our most positive reviews. Have no reason to doubt that Crabtree would come through for you if you follow my recommendation, but feel obligated to offer the caveat, lest you suffer an off night like the one I had recently at Bonefish Grill—one of our highest rated burgers despite the being out of their forte and, on my second visit, I was served a rock-hard, over-seasoned brick of a burger on an over toasted bun. Crabtree has earned its review, so go, and I’ll cross my fingers that you don’t get “Bonefished.”

Crabtree 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 #15: MacGregor Draft House (Cary)

  • Joint: MacGregor Draft House
  • Burger: Kansas City Burger (Scott), Fromage a Trois (John), California Burger (Michael)
  • Category: Classic Rocks

Scott’s Review

Did this happen?

If you asked me to recall a meal from my childhood—let’s say something I ate 30 years ago—I’d do my best toremember. I’d close my eyes. I’d concentrate. I’d cull together every speck of memory that I could—tastes, smells, shapes—in an effort to provide you with as substantive a response as I was capable. I would recognize, however—and hope you would too—that my attempt would fall short, and that my recounting would be little more than invention, constructed, perhaps, from a single fossil of recall.

If you asked me about last week’s burger at MacGregor Draft House in Cary, my response would be equally as vague. I can hardly remember a thing about it. Still, I’d do my best to remember. I’d close my eyes. I’d concentrate. I’d cull together every speck of memory that I could. In the end, though, I’d come up with little more than shape-shifting memories that appear and disappear like smoke. Wispy words like “average” and “fair” and “meh.” Fuzzy phrases like “decent enough” and “not terrible.” Hazy sentences like “Given how long we’re waiting for our food, we should request a senior citizen discount.”

That’s not to say that the experience was bad per se—as I also have equally amorphous memories of a pleasant atmosphere, good beer selection, and tasty fried mushrooms—it’s just that I’m not prepared to commit one way or another. My memory of it just isn’t that good.

Scott’s review: 3 out of 5.

John’s Review

I’m growing tired and weary. No longer do I have the energy to educate and re-educate on how a burger made with fresh, decent quality ingredients can still fail to produce burger magic. Or why dry Kaiser rolls have no place in the burger world. Or why the order of the build is so important. We at TSB have been in a slump lately of suffering down the weak culinary attempts of dilettantes to deliver burger magic. Suffice to say that the ability to produce a top hat, stick, and rabbit does not a magician make. To the epicurean burger lovers out there I say, read no further and avoid the burger at Macgregor unless you have to kill time while your car’s in the shop at the autopark. To the rest of you out there who are perfectly satisfied to lose yourselves in knock-off music of a cover band, swill two-buck-chuck to stupidity with inordinate wonder and pleasure, or stare obdurately into the print instead of the painting, I say, “Bon Appétit!”

John’s Review: 3.0, or “Will do if your car’s in the shop.”


Michael’s Review

Imagine Ferris Bueller’s economics teacher. Go ahead. That’s it. The dullness, the drabness, the lethargy. That’s the California burger at MacGregor Draft House.

The California was your standard bacon cheeseburger, with a glob of guac to give MacGregor license to don it “California.” The bacon was carelessly placed, with the lettuce, tomato, and onion on the side. (A tip for all burger purveyors: Remember the McDLT? You know, “Keep the hot side hot and the cool side cool”? Well, it was discontinued. For a reason.) I had to rearrange the bacon, spread the guacamole, and construct the burger myself. I got the impression that the cook was just as bored making it as I was eating it. The burger’s saving grace was the patty itself. Tender and juicy, cooked just shy of medium.

The place itself was cozy with lots of TVs. The wings and fried mushrooms were very good. If you want a place to watch the game while you are eating, I’ll recommend the MacGregor Draft House. As for the burger, well…Bueller? Bueller?

Michael’s review: 3.25 out of 5.

Kansas City to California: 1600 miles or one glob of guacamole.

Macgregor Draft House on Urbanspoon

Review #14: Abbey Road (Cary)

  • Joint: Abbey Road
  • Burger: George Burger
  • Category: Classic Rocks

John’s Review

Abbey Road to Nowhere

With a Little Help from My Friends, I was encouraged to give Abbey Road another try. I’d been there before, but had no plans to ever Get Back. The burger had not lived up to the hype, and I was content to just Let it Be. Nevertheless, I walked into Abbey Road recently for the second time, filled with hope and repeatedly sending out a telepathic message: Please Please Me.

Before I offer my professional opinion of this burger, a message for the proprietors of Abbey Road: I Want to Be Your Man. I do. I want to give you All My Lovin’. Love Me Do the concept of your establishment, and when I first heard from some dilettante burger-likin’ acquaintances of mine  the pitch about your theme, the beers, and the basic building blocks of your burgers, I thought to myself, Got to Get You into My Life! Well, In My Life, I’ve given you two tries now, and I have to say, because of one maddeningly foolish mistake, I have to say Hello, Goodbye. (The good news is, We Can Work it Out. Just change one thing—well maybe two things—and I’ll be there Eight Days a Week. Until then, you’re going Nowhere Man!)

Not a Second Time! I Should Have Known Better. Whether it was at the prodding of my “friends,” or someone simply slipped me a Yellow Submarine, I found myself Back in the USSR. The waitresses, Sexy Sadie, Lovely Rita, and Michelle, were friendly enough, but moved like Eleanor Rigby. That said, they’re not the real maddening problem here. No, the Yoko in this situation is the Day Tripper that decided to choose a bun made of Norwegian Wood as the wrapper for the otherwise lovely ingredients of this 4-plus-potential burger. I don’t care how freshly baked it is, if a bun is too thick, dense, and dry to allow all members of the burger orchestra to Come Together, be heard and to blend into blissful harmony, it’s a jackleg mistake of the highest order, and it makes me want to get my Revolver.

So, to Abbey Road I say, while I Want to Hold Your Hand, you’ve got to get rid of that bun first. That #$%&!@*&^%$#!@! bun! You’d be better off buying one at the grocery store. Take my keys; you can Drive My Car.

Burger: 3.0, objectively. Factor in my frustration at that Yoko Ono of a Kaiser roll and the slow service, and it’s a 2.5.

Can this burger Carry That Weight? No.

Michael’s Review

When I get home from a burger outing, I make notes of my first impressions in an old-school notebook. Then, I put them away and don’t look at them again for a few days. When I looked back at my notes on Abbey Road, I decided I didn’t need to change them much.

Scott’s Review

Abbey Road on Urbanspoon

Review #13: Buns (Chapel Hill)

  • Joint: Buns
  • Burger: Double Stack (various toppings)
  • Category: Classic Rocks

John’s Review

I’m a sensitive man, and I’m proud of it. Many a time have I found myself overwhelmed by a sudden revelation of sheer varicolored beauty, in rich chiaroscuro and in salient relief to the fundamental grayness of this world and our lives within it. When I’m blessed with such revelations, I absorb them instantly, completely, and make no effort to abate my tears of joy. This time, it was captured for posterity.

Look at the deep saturation of natural color in the image above. Witness the wondrous interplay of the fluorescent light upon the curved surface of the freshly baked bun, verdant lettuce, and healthy tomato, with the deep shadows of the perfectly charred ground chuck and sautéed mushrooms. Behold in this moving burgiatric composition not only the colors and textures of the fresh ingredients, but how the elements relate. The vision comes to magical fruition and bespeaks a talented artist who creates with love and passion.

Buns is owned and operated by a man who loves and understands a great burger. I know this from eating one of his creations and from listening to him share not only his own burgologic values, but his sincere appreciation for the offerings of other gifted peers. Rather than dive into exposition on each ingredient of this burger, I’ll let the image above and my emotion within it do the talking. Buns is recommended with a strong 4.5. I hold back on giving a perfect 5 because the delicious ground chuck patties were capable of a bit more juiciness (though I checked with our proprietor and he assured me that no patty-pressing occurs under his roof….Thus, it is a mystery). Perhaps on my next visit, which will certainly be soon.

Michael’s Review

This is The Straight Beef’s 13th official review, but I urge all triskaidekaphobics to set aside your superstitions for a moment.

I eschewed the typical toppings for my Buns burger, going with sautéed mushrooms, Brie, and pesto mayonnaise. Going without lettuce or tomato was almost exotic. Made for a burger that was earthy in aesthetic and flavor. It was a welcome change of pace from the usual American cheese, lettuce, and tomato. Not for the novice, though.

At first taste, the burger seemed a little dry, like it might have been left on the grill a little long. I thought it might have been because there wasn’t quite enough mayo. When I went to ask for more, the owner (George, more on him later) said he had originally thought the cook used too much and had him scrape it off. The fact that he cared enough to make that adjustment speaks volumes about his burger philosophy.

In Buns we trust.

After a lengthy conversation with George Ash, Buns’ owner, about a wide range of burgiatric topics, I decided to confer upon him an honorary Doctor of Letters for his tireless work in the field of burgiatry. As for my burger, I confer upon it a 4.75.

Scott’s Review

A disclaimer: It has been suggested by a reader that The Straight Beef was preordained to review Buns, Chapel Hill’s popular new burger joint. After all, averred the shrewd observer, both parties have names that are “more than slightly suggestive.” Rather than deign to respond, I will simply dismiss this suggestion is ludicrous, unseemly, and more than slightly rude. But because this is a family site, and because I recognize that the confluence of the two names in question might result in an inappropriate—albeit unintentional—implication, I will place my review on a separate page, to ensure that minors be shielded from any erroneous turn of phrase.

Yes, I am over 18.

I am not over 18.

Nice tomato.

Buns 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



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


(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?


(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?


(weeping gently)

Or the one with slaw?


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


Who had the Southern Lovin’ burger, again?


That would be me…I think.


No, you got the Land and Sea.


Was that the one with crab on it?


I think so.


[Examines burger on plate.]

Oh yeah.


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


We got one with fried egg on it?

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



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 #7: Johnson’s (Siler City)

  • Joint: Johnson’s
  • Burger: Cheeseburger
  • Burger Category: Classic Rocks

Scott’s Review

This review is a tale of two photographs. The first is of Michael’s daughter Chloe (right), who famously eats nothing but waffles and bacon. Check out this photo. See the delight. See the intensity. See the unbridled joy. This photo embodies the burger greatness of Johnson’s Restaurant in Siler City.


It’s quite possible, I thought upon witnessing Chloe’s culinary epiphany, that her brain will forever associate the highest echelon of pure food enjoyment with that burger. If so, I can’t blame her. I might be a few years older, but my experience was not dissimilar.


Which brings us to the second photograph (below), of my daughter, Eve,also undergoing a transformative experience: the first time she witnessed her father devolve into a brainless, burger-ravishing lunatic. Her eyes tell the whole story, a story she will recount for a therapist thirty years hence.


I refused to settle on a rating until the next day. It was between a 4.5 and a 5, that much I knew, but the decision was too important not to sleep on it, to let it sizzle on the juicy flatgrill of memory.


In the end, I’m going with a 4.5, but only because I didn’t love the slab of Velveeta as much as I loved the other components, and for me it thwarted the burger’s otherwise sterling pursuit of brilliance.

But man, what a great burger.

Michael’s Review

Johnson’s Restaurant in Siler City might represent the farthest The Straight Beef will travel for an official review. So why travel so far? Well, its reputation is legendary. Because the beef is delivered fresh and the place closes when it runs out, we decided to head out early with our families and get there when it opened at 10 a.m. We arrived at 9:55, with already about ten people ahead of us, waiting patiently by the door. We crammed into the last available booth.

The menu was simple: hamburger, cheeseburger, grilled cheese, hot dog, and a lettuce and tomato sandwich. I ordered a cheeseburger with the works, which included slaw, chili, and onions. The order of the build saw the toppings hiding beneath the patty, and a hunk of Velveeta melted on top. The patty clearly was made immediately before being fried on the griddle. It was medium to medium-well. The bun was tremendous, cooked on the griddle with the meat. The kicker was that it was buttered. A very nice touch.

The flavor of the beef was perfect. The toppings were just enough to give it a little zip without being overpowering. Unfortunately, the over-processed aftertaste of the Velveeta kept it from being the perfect cheeseburger.

It was excellent. I’m giving it a 4.5.

John’s Review

Burgiatrists sometimes disagree. It’s a fact. And while the diversity of professional analyses and conclusions serves only to elevate our collective value to the burger-loving world, sometimes a single burgiatrist is so moved by salient truth that he must risk offending his respected colleagues by most vehemently—and publicly—disagreeing. He must do so for the good of humankind (at least the portion that lives for a good cheeseburger), and you fail to lend credence to this lone wolf burgiatrist at your own peril.

At this moment, I am compelled to be that lone wolf, and to howl at the moon until you disregard the derogatory comments my TSB peers have issued regarding the use of Velveeta on the Johnson’s burger. Listen to reason now…This is a hand-pattied hunk of the freshest ground chuck (not prissy Kobe beef), and its high-fat (70/30 at a minimum) flavor is trapped within the ultimately juicy patty by frying it fast on a sizzling hot and time-seasoned flat grill, leaving just the right amount of crispy, flavorful char on its outermost layer.

What do you put on a patty like that? Vermont cheddar? Goat cheese? No! You put classic American cheese on it, whether pulled from a thin fold of cellophane or hacked off a big block the size, shape, and weight of a good brick! This is no Snooty Beauty. On the contrary, this is perhaps the most classic of the Classic Rocks genus! An American cheeseburger at its most fresh and pure, with school-bus-yellow, artery-clogging cheese all gooey over the patty, intermingling with the fatty grease, and so perfectly pressed between two steamy and greasy white bread buns. (A tear now…please bear with me a moment. There. I’m okay now. My apologies.)

Do yourself a favor, my friends. Go to Johnson’s soon. Get there early. Get that classic, humble, beautiful, delicious, American, quintessential cheeseburger and wash it down with a Pepsi. Savor the melted Velveeta. Then drive back to the Triangle among the pastures and fields along Highway 64. Get yourself one of these 4.5s and live the American dream. I implore you.

Johnson's Drive-In 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

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