When in Roman’s…

May 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

My semester has finally drawn to a close. I finished my last final on Friday and made the three hour trip back home to Asheville. And now that I’m back home for a few days, today seemed like a perfect time to highlight another favorite burger place of mine right here in my hometown.

Roman’s is a relatively new restaurant in downtown Asheville, although I believe they were already open out in another part of town before they moved to their current location. They’re located on Haywood Street right next to the Civic Center in a small little storefront, with big windows and a few tables out on the sidewalk. It’s just a block past the main drag of Haywood Street, so many tourists have already turned around and headed back down the street before they see Roman’s. Most of the people I’ve seen there are either local businessmen or Asheville residents (and if you live in Asheville, then you know what I’m talking about: you can spot an Ashevillian a mile away).

I went to Roman’s a lot over this past summer, and tried almost every type of sandwich they have on their menu. They feature a daily special (their orange barbeque chicken sandwich was to die for), but I have special place in my heart for their Italian sandwich. But their burgers are truly outstanding, and some of the best I’ve ever had.

Roman’s gets its beef from Hickory Nut Gap, a local farm out in a part of town called Fairview, near where I used to go to high school. Hickory Nut Gap cows live a happy life, eating grass out on wide open pastures, and the farm promotes sustainable practices in every aspect of their business. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know how I feel about local and organic meats. “They taste so much better!”  “Such a delicious grassy flavor!” and so on and so forth. So no need for me to brag about Hickory Nut Gap, because you can probably guess what I would have said.

So today my father and I went to Roman’s for lunch, and because he is also a Bun Voyage enthusiast (Hi, Dad!), he decided to get a burger as well. I went with my favorite choice, the Ranch burger, which is a 6 oz. burger on a whole wheat roll, served with vine-ripened tomatoes, red onion, Bibb lettuce, Colby Jack cheese, thick-cut bacon, and a delicious avocado-dill ranch sauce. My dad went with the BBQ Bacon burger, which is served with the same thick-cut bacon, baby Swiss cheese, grilled red onions, mayonnaise and a sweet, tangy BBQ sauce. Served with only a pickle spear on the side, the burger really is the star of the meal.

After only a few minutes, our burgers were brought out to us, and I’d be hard pressed to say that I had seen a prettier burger during this whole semester.

Ranch burger.

Isn’t that the most picturesque burger ever? The vibrant colors of the vegetables just pop, and give it this wonderfully appealing sense of freshness. And once it was sliced in half, it looked even better.

Yummm.

My dad’s burger didn’t look too shabby, either.

BBQ Bacon burger.

The first thing I tasted when biting into the burger was not the meat, actually, but the super flavorful whole wheat bun. I’m not typically a fan of extra wheat-y things, but for some reason, I loved this bun. It had the perfect wheat flavor mixed with just the right amount of sweetness. Slightly toasted on the underside, it served as the perfect platform for a bevy of other ingredients.

The next thing I tasted was, of course, the meat. Grassy, perfectly cooked and seasoned impeccably. No need for extra salt here; the flavor of the burger leaps out at you in every single bite. The avocado-dill ranch sauce blends perfectly with it, giving the meat the perfect cool, creamy accompaniment, with just a little bite from the dill. And along with the sauce was the Colby Jack, which had melted down perfectly, blending with the meat and the sauce. The bacon gave the burger a welcomed salty crunch.

To be fair to the burgers that I ate in January and February, it would have been difficult to find vegetables in season unless they came from somewhere under the equator. And this is why I love spring, because it is the perfect season for fresh ingredients. Tomatoes aren’t exactly in season yet, but we’re getting close. Even still, this tomato was one of the best I’ve had on a burger. And even the red onions, which I’m not normally a huge fan of, were sweet and delicious. The Bibb lettuce is a little less crisp than your traditional  iceberg, but has a great flavor nonetheless.

In between bites of my burger, my dad let me try his. Even though his wasn’t topped with the fresh vegetables mine was, the flavors in his burger shone in a completely different light. The sweet grilled onions and the salty bacon blended together so well, and the baby Swiss had a mild flavor that helped bring all of the other toppings together.

Our burgers were gone in less than 10 minutes, with nothing to show for them save a few crumbs and the stem of a pickle spear.

But how did Roman’s measure up all across the board?

Quality of meat: 10
Hickory Nut Gap never fails to disappoint me, and they didn’t this time either.

Freshness of ingredients: 10
Fresh Bibb lettuce, juicy tomatoes and perfectly sweet and crisp red onion. Probably all from local farms, too.

Presentation: 9.5
This burger looked like the kind of burger that would belong right on the cover of any national magazine.

Creativity: 8
There wasn’t anything particularly creative about this burger, save for the homemade avocad0-dill ranch sauce. But extreme creativity isn’t really needed when you’ve got such awesome ingredients to begin with.

Overall rating: 9.75

If you live in Asheville, or if you live in Athens and you’re considering a trip up to Asheville one day, you’re not going to want to miss out on Roman’s for much longer. Find them with the information below:

Oh, and be sure to check in tomorrow for the VERY EXCITING news that I promised you last week!

Roman’s
75 Haywood St.
Asheville, NC 28801
http://www.romanstakeout.com/

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Hometown Spotlight.

February 13, 2011 § 10 Comments

When I began writing this blog, I planned to focus all of my entries on restaurants in Athens. But who says you can’t bend the rules sometimes, especially when you’re the one who created them?

So this weekend, as I drove home on an impromptu trip to Asheville, North Carolina, I couldn’t help but let my mind wander to different burger places that I had been to over the years. Even though I’ve been eating burgers since I was a little girl, and I’ve grown up in Asheville, I couldn’t think of a single place that I thought had a really great burger.

But that was only because I hadn’t been to Burgermeister’s yet…until now.

Burgermeister’s is said to be the best burger place in Asheville, but for one reason or another, I’ve simply never thought to go there. For one, it’s all the way over in West Asheville, which is an area that I don’t visit very often, although I probably ought to.

West Asheville is what you would call the “funky” part of town, full of vintage shops and antique stores, pubs and beauty salons, an organic bakery and a local co-op. It has a very hipster feel to it, perhaps even a bit bohemian. Many of the buildings are from the early 1900s and have been renovated within the last several decades to accommodate new businesses. People in West Asheville march to the beat of their own drum, and dress to the beat of another drum altogether. It’s a fun part of town, although I think I’d probably fit in better if I had dreadlocks.

When you first see the sign of Burgermeister’s, you would probably think exactly what I thought every time I drove by before this weekend: “Oh, yeah, a burger place in a sketchy-looking little strip mall. That looks promising.”

Right?

So, even though I was expecting Burgermeister’s to be a dive with old plastic booths and several cooks slinging around greasy burgers in the back, my dad and I went to Burgermeister’s for lunch on Saturday, open to being completely surprised about what we would find inside.

You know that expression, “You can’t judge a book by its cover”? Well, the same should hold true for restaurants: “You can’t judge a restaurant by their sign or their location in a questionable-looking strip mall.”

The inside of Burgermeister’s is reminiscent of a 50s style diner, with some very retro touches, but mixed with some more modern touches too. Old vinyl records decorate the windows while mod-looking chandeliers hang over the tables. The walls are sky blue with light lime green accents, and the tables are decorated with newspaper cut-outs from years long past.

If I wasn’t already impressed with the decor, all I had to do was take a look at the menu. During my journey thus far, I’ve come to appreciate a menu that boasts creativity and variety in their burgers. It’s interesting to see the combinations that restaurants come up with, mixing together toppings and creating recipes you would never even think of. And Burgermeister’s did not fail to impress, with somewhere around 20 different burger options.

Even though I’m a girl who appreciates variety, it does present me with difficulty when it comes to deciding just which of these burgers I want. Especially when they all sound so delicious.

A few of the choices I debated between: The Saint Patty’s Melt, served on sourdough toast with caramelized onions, Swiss cheese and homemade mayonnaise; the Macho, with jalapenos, pico de gallo, guacamole, cheddar, sour cream and lettuce; the Carolina, a burger topped with beefy chili, cole slaw and mustard; and the Missouri Elk burger, with lettuce, cranberry horseradish relish and caramelized onions.

But, for some reason, I tend to always lean towards a restaurant’s namesake burger. Maybe it’s because I assume that if it’s named after the restaurant, it’s probably their best burger. Or maybe because I just liked the fact that it was called the Meister Burger.

Burgermeister’s Meister Burger is the biggest burger on their menu at 9 oz., and the meat is mixed with Guinness Beer and a little bit of liquid smoke to give it a smoky, bold flavor. It’s served with “All the Fixins” which includes marinated tomato, green leaf lettuce, caramelized onions and their own homemade mayo.

Once I saw that burger on the menu, there was no question which one I would choose.  A burger mixed with beer that has a wood-smoked flavor and lots of delicious homemade toppings? Duh.

My dad ordered the Saint Patty’s Melt, which would have been my second choice, and we both ordered Burgermeister’s homemade kettle chips as our side.

My dad and I spent the next 15 minutes talking about beer and sales jobs  and other typical father-daughter topics until we were presented with our lunch, and on my plate was one of the biggest burgers I’d ever seen.

Behold, the Meister Burger:

The "Meister Burger"

This burger was huge. This burger wasn’t joking around: the Meister Burger meant business. It was one of those burgers that I had to put the top bun on and then kind of push it down just to make sure I could hold it with two hands. But finally, I succeeded and was able to take my first bite.

The very first thing you notice when eating this burger is how extremely flavorful it is. And it wasn’t just the sweet homemade mayonnaise or the tart, slightly acidic marinated tomatoes or even the sugary caramelized onions: it was the meat (cue Hallelujah chorus).

The meat was full of that authentic smoke flavor that comes from burgers cooked over an open flame or smoked over hickory wood chips. Liquid smoke might be a little bit of a shortcut, but for the flavor it imparts in the meat, it’s absolutely worth skipping a few steps.  In addition to the smoky flavor, you can pick up hints of the Guinness in the meat. Even though the majority of the alcohol has been cooked out of the meat, what’s left is a robust, rich flavor that can only come from a good dark beer. The final flavor component that really completed this burger was the perfect amount of salt. No matter how good the quality of meat you’re using, a little bit of salt can go a long way in bringing all of those flavors in the meat out and melding them together nicely to create the best flavor possible.

My burger was amazing. It was cooked perfectly, and with the meat mixing so perfectly with the condiments, I was convinced that the Meister Burger had to be the best on the menu. Although it was easily one of the messiest burgers I’ve eaten recently, falling apart in its final moments, not a single tasty piece of meat went to waste.

And wouldn’t I be remiss if I forgot to mention the fried pickles! Yes, the fried pickles stealthily hidden on the side of the burger beneath my kettle chips that I forgot about until now. An already great burger experience + surprise fried pickles = an even BETTER burger experience.

And here we are, at the moment of truth:

Quality of meat: 10
Beer, smoke, salt, yum. ‘Nuff said.

Freshness of ingredients: 9.5
Especially given the fact that so many of their items are homemade, which almost guarantees better quality.

Presentation: 8

Creativity: 8.5
So many different options, so many tasty ingredients to put on your burger, and innovative ideas (who ever thought to put chili and slaw on a burger? Someone from the Carolinas, that’s who.)

Overall rating: 9.5

For my readers who live in North Carolina, or for those of you who ever find yourselves in West Asheville, you too can go get a burger at Burgermeister’s and be lucky enough to find fried pickles on your plate. Find them here:

Burgermeister’s Kitchen and Tap
Asheville, N.C.
828-225-2920
http://www.burgermeisters.com

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