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/

Down on the Farm.

March 31, 2011 § 10 Comments

My dear fellow Bun Voyagers, I must first begin by apologizing for the extreme delay since my last post. March has been an unusually busy month, and I have found myself without a lick of spare time for the past four weeks. The last few days, I have been so busy that I have even forgotten to eat a meal until around 6 or 7 at night. But with April coming and only a few weeks until the end of the semester, I can promise you more regular posts in the future. Especially with the warm weather coming in, I feel that much more inclined to walk around downtown and find a burger to eat.

So, it is without further ado that I introduce you to one of the best burgers, and maybe even one of the best restaurants, I have been to throughout my entire journey. That burger would be “the burger,” and that restaurant would be Farm 255.

For those of you who haven’t been to Farm 255, you are missing out on easily one of the best dining experiences in Athens. Farm 255 prides itself on using local, seasonal and sustainable meats and produce from its very own farms. In addition, it operates Full Moon Farms and Moonshine Meats, a co-op of several small farms that produce fruits, vegetables and meats in and surrounding the Athens area. The thing I love the most about Farm’s philosophy is that when you order something off the menu (which changes depending on what’s in season and what’s fresh), there is no doubt in your mind as to where it came from. It’s likely that the beans you’re eating for dinner were hanging on vines and covered in dew that very morning. For someone who’s from a city that also prides itself on local and sustainable food (what’s up, Asheville?), the very essence of Farm and what they do there appeals to me more than almost any other restaurant.

Farm 255 is tucked away behind Clocked on the far end of Washington Street, and you might miss it if you weren’t looking closely. But as you walk towards the door, you notice the small outdoor stage where they host bands almost every other night when the weather warms up. Small strands of twinkly white lights hang over the stage and across the door, and the Farm Cart sits at the back of the patio, just waiting to be opened up the next day for lunch (the Farm Cart deserves another post all its own, but if you’re interested, visit their website!).

As you walk in the door, Farm greets you with a sort of homey comfort and a sense of rustic simplicity. There is nothing pretentious whatsoever about the appearance of the restaurant; the minimal, bucolic design is intended to pay tribute to the history of the 1930’s building that it’s housed in. Polished wooden tables are scattered across the floor, and your eye wanders over the chalkboards describing their philosophy towards food, as well as their daily specials. The dining room gives way to a full bar and an open kitchen that lets you feel as though you’re sitting right there with the chefs. A small stage at the front of the room is just large enough for a small band or a jazz duo.

It was on one warm evening that I took my largest group of Bun Voyagers to Farm for dinner. They were all eager to join me on one of my journeys, and when I told them I wanted to go to Farm, I got an immediate sense of excitement from them. Going to Farm feels like such a treat to me; it’s somewhere I don’t go regularly, although whenever I do, it feels like a special occasion, something that I’m guaranteed to enjoy.

As we were seated at our table, the waitress brought the evening’s dinner menu to us, and it wasn’t long until I found the burger at the bottom of the page. “The burger” was made with their own grassfed beef and topped with Tillamook cheddar, sauteed onions, housemade pickles, local lettuce, ketchup and mustard, and served with a side of fries. Up until this particular meal, I had never heard of Tillamook cheddar, but with a name like that, who wouldn’t be excited to try it?

All four of us placed the same order, and it was only a short while later that we were greeted with four plates, each topped with our own local-in-every-way burger and a heaping pile of fresh french fries.

"The burger" at Farm 255

No matter how many burgers I try, I will never stop appreciating the grassy, delicate flavor of grassfed, local beef. Similar to the burger I had at Clocked, this one tasted as though the meat came from cows that have been happily chewing their cud in a field somewhere north of Athens. When we live in a country where you can’t turn right or left without bumping into a McDonald’s, eventually our palates become used to the bland, flavorless taste of processed beef. But as soon as you try a burger with beef that tastes the way it was meant to, it will broaden your flavor horizons to a level that you could never have imagined. Aladdin may even come and scoop you up on a magical carpet and sing you a song about it.

Okay…I may be exaggerating a bit. But really, if you have the chance, eat locally produced beef whenever you can. Your taste buds will thank you.

Everything about this burger was delicious. The lettuce was fresh and crisp, and the sauteed onions gave a sweet undertone to the rest of the ingredients, blending well with the bold, sharp taste of the Tillamook cheddar. Because I know you’re all curious, I did a little bit of research about Tillamook cheddar cheese:

Tillamook Cheddar is made in Tillamook County in Oregon, and has been made with the same recipe for over 1oo years. Each batch is aged naturally for at least 60 days, giving it an authentic flavor and unique richness. And apparently, it also won the World’s Best Medium Cheddar at the World Championship Cheese Contest.

Who knew, right?

Overall, with the combination of premium local ingredients, unique flavors, homemade toppings, I would have to say that Farm 255’s burger was easily one of the best I’ve had in Athens, and maybe ever.

Check out that Tillamook!

Quality of meat: 10
Local, grassy, and delicious.

Freshness of ingredients: 9.5
Homemade pickles, fresh lettuce that I’m betting was picked that afternoon, and sweet sauteed onions.

Presentation: 7
The burger wasn’t presented in any special way, but that didn’t take away from the fact that it still looked delicious.

Creativity: 8
Farm 255 didn’t do anything unusual with their burger: no peanut butter, no exotic sauces — just fresh, tasty ingredients. And sometimes that’s all you need.

Overall rating: 9.5

Below is the contact information for Farm 255. If you’ve never been, you need to go. If you haven’t been in a while, it’s time to make another visit.

Farm 255
255 W. Washington St.
Athens, GA 30601
706-549-4660
http://www.farm255.com/

Rock Around the Clocked.

March 4, 2011 § 10 Comments

When you think of the things that peanut butter typically goes on, what comes to mind? Toast? Crackers? Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? And…burgers?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve received a lot of suggestions for places that I needed to visit and burgers that I needed to try. And for the most part, I’ve thought that all of the suggestions sounded awesome. But when a friend recommended the Peanut Butter and Bacon burger at Clocked in downtown Athens…well…I just didn’t know about that one.

Call me old-fashioned, but I only really eat peanut butter on sandwiches or with a spoon.

But I’ve never been one to knock something before I try it. Plus, people just rave about Clocked, so anything they have on their menu must be good, otherwise it wouldn’t be there in the first place.

So it was one afternoon after class that my faithful roommate and fellow Bun Voyager, Ashley, and I went to Clocked for lunch. I was excited to finally go there for the first time. I think Clocked flies a bit under the radar, and with a location on the far end of Washington St., it’s not a place that people might pass by while perusing the boutiques of Clayton St.

We walked into Clocked and were immediately greeted with the quintessential American diner. A black-and-white checkered floor with red booths and tables and little quaint touches here and there. But it was such a nice day, so Ashley and I decided to eat outside to take advantage of the peculiarly warm February weather.

As we looked over the menu, my choice was already clear. It was going to be the Peanut Butter and Bacon Burger, no questions asked. Ashley, although tempted to get the same thing, went with the Jumbo Deluxe burger, a burger with cheddar, bacon and a fried egg. We both ordered tater tots for our side, hers with a ranch dip and mine with their homemade creamy feta dressing.

To fully complete my diner experience, I had to order a cream soda to go with my burger, and it was the perfect accompaniment to our lunch.

After maybe 10 minutes, our burgers finally arrived at our table. After having breakfast around 8:30 that morning, Ashley and I were beyond hungry at that point. When our burgers were set down on the table at 2 p.m., we were starving. Borderline famished. I think Ashley said it best when she picked up her burger, looked at it, and said in all seriousness: “Get in my mouth.”

I felt similarly about my burger, although I wasn’t able to express it quite as eloquently as Ashley was.

Peanut Butter and Bacon burger.

As simple as it looks from this photo, rest assured that this burger was bursting with flavor.  The burger came served with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and their house sauce, which is a bit like a Russian dressing/Thousand Island type sauce. It’s a little tangy, but still sweet, and has a lot more flavor than mayonnaise. But what really made this burger shine was the creamy peanut butter spread on the top bun, and the crunchy bacon right below it.

I had no idea that peanut butter would literally be the most delicious thing you could put on a burger. As the heat of the meat warmed up the peanut butter, it started to melt and blend with the bacon. It added the perfect amount of sweet, salty creaminess to the burger, and somehow, it complimented the meat perfectly. I almost couldn’t believe how good it was. I was a little concerned that the peanut butter would taste odd with the lettuce and tomato beneath it, but nope. It all worked perfectly. Clocked was on to something with this one. This peanut butter was working some kind of burger miracle right before my eyes.

I started to wonder to myself, Am I going to be that girl that asks for all of her burgers in the future to come with peanut butter on them? Or worse, would I just start showing up to restaurants with a jar of peanut butter in my purse to put it on my burgers myself?

Okay maybe not, but the thought did cross my mind.

But even with all this focus on the peanut butter, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how wonderful the actual burger itself was. I don’t know whether I have a more discernible palate than most, or if I’ve just eaten a lot of burgers lately (it’s moments like this when I pray to not have sky-high cholesterol by the end of this semester), but I can tell when meat is locally or organically produced. And Clocked’s meat absolutely was.

Meat that comes from local farms or co-ops, or even meat that comes from cows that still eat grass, has a much more distinct flavor than meat that is served in fast food restaurants. Cows that live on farms and eat grass and are generally healthier produce meat that tastes drastically different than meat from cows in large factories.

The reason I knew that this meat was local was because it had a slightly grassy, sweet flavor. It actually tastes like how meat should taste, not like a processed mixture of meat and mystery ingredients. I asked our waitress where the meat was from and sure enough, it was from a local farm. On top of that, it was perfectly cooked, juicy, and well seasoned.

This is something that sets Clocked apart from some of the other restaurants I’ve been to that serve burgers. Good quality meat really makes a difference, and it makes a burger that much better. Not only better taste-wise, but better industry-wise, as these cows were raised exactly how they were supposed to be: happily chewing grass out in fields in the sunshine all day.

Across the table, Ashley was thoroughly enjoying her burger. I’ve never had a burger with a fried egg on top, but the yolk serves a similar purpose to the peanut butter: it adds a smooth, creamy consistency that blends so well with the flavors of the meat and cheese. And it looked amazing.

Jumbo Deluxe burger.

Ashley and I finished our burgers in record time, and were so full by the end of our meal that we were only able to eat about half of our tots. But I’ll just say right now that Clocked has some phenomenal tots.

You’d think that if you’ve had tots once, then you know how all tots will be. Well, not the case here. They were supremely crisp on the outside, perfectly seasoned and piping hot. Dipped in the creamy feta dressing, it was a hot-cold, creamy-crunchy, deliciously salty side that made the meal.

I don’t think I’ve ever left a restaurant quite as satisfied, or quite as full, as I was when left Clocked that day. I had only heard great things about Clocked from friends of mine, and now I could see just what they were talking about. Even though this was my first time, it surely won’t be my last, especially with how many other tasty things they had on their menu.

Although, regardless of what I get next time, I’m getting tots.

So, how did Clocked measure up?

Quality of meat: 9.75
A few more dashes of salt in the meat and it would have been perfect.

Freshness of ingredients: 9
The vegetables were all super fresh, and the pickles might have been homemade, which is always a nice touch.

Presentation: 7
This burger, although it was one of the best that I’ve tasted, wasn’t easy to present attractively, especially once runny, melted peanut butter oozed out of it for the remainder of the meal.

Creativity: 9
This is the first place I have ever heard of a restaurant putting peanut butter on a burger. I’m surprised more restaurants haven’t stolen that idea yet.

Overall rating: 9.5

If you would like to visit Clocked, and I know you’ll want to now because you’re going to want to try the Peanut Butter and Bacon burger for yourself, you can find them here:

Clocked Diner
269 West Washington Street
Athens, GA 30601
(706) 548-9175
Clocked Diner

Graze Anatomy.

February 22, 2011 § 5 Comments

First of all,  I would like to apologize for my brief departure from this blog. It’s funny, this whole college thing keeps you busy, what with classes and homework and miscellaneous obligations. Don’t my professors know I have burgers to be eating?

And secondly, I would like to just tell those of you who read my blog and then mention it to me in person how much I appreciate you. Nothing makes my day like someone stopping me in class or around campus and telling me how much they enjoy this blog and how there’s an amazing burger somewhere that I simply must try. I don’t think I like hearing anything more than someone telling me they want to go on a “Bun Voyage” with me.

But without further ado, my fellow burger voyagers, let’s get down to business, shall we? And be prepared, this is a longer post than normal, but there was so much burger action going on this time, I had to include it all.

So I finally went to Graze.

Graze has received a lot of hype since it opened some time last year, and I had only heard good things about the restaurant before I went. For a restaurant that specializes in burgers, it only makes sense they would make a good one. Although to be honest, I had no idea what to expect, so like the good college student I am, I did my homework and went to their website.

Under the tab for Specialties, one can locate Graze’s full burger menu. And with the colorful pictures and thorough descriptions of each burger, I already knew what I would get at the restaurant before we even got in the car.

It was with a small entourage of five that I arrived to Graze one night for dinner. Walking into the restaurant, we sat ourselves at one of the long booths and waited for our waitress to hand us menus. The inside of Graze is minimally decorated, but with bright green walls that bring to mind a sort of fresh and clean atmosphere.

(Also, I would just to take a moment to credit my roommate Ashley, once again, for the title of this entry. Although this restaurant has nothing in common with Grey’s Anatomy whatsoever, I just can’t resist a good pun, and Ashley is the master of all things punny. So kudos to you, my clever friend.)

As we perused the very extensive menu at Graze, I couldn’t help but to be impressed with their variety, not just in toppings, but in types of burgers offered. Your everyday beef burger is available, but why get beef when you can get a burger made out of lamb, tuna, bison, fried mozzarella, duck or alligator? And you might be used to lettuce and tomato on your burger, but why not branch out and try crispy onions, golden raisins, goat cheese or fried plantains?

With that mentality, everyone at our table ordered something different, that way to have the full Graze “experience.” An important note about Graze’s burgers: the burgers are only about 3 oz., which is just bigger than your average slider, but smaller than a Krystal burger (although I wouldn’t know personally because I’ve never eaten one…they just look bigger than 3 oz. in advertisements). So since none of us would be full after one 3 oz. burger, we all got at least two, some of us three.

I got the Asian Ahi burger, with sesame-encrusted Ahi tuna, a tangy Asian slaw, creamy cucumber-wasabi dressing, and a splash of soy sauce. My other choice was the Go West burger, a bison burger piled high with cheddar cheese, bacon, fried onion rings and horseradish sauce.

Asian Ahi burger and Go West burger.

My burgers were both very good, although not quite as good as I was expecting. The toppings on the Asian Ahi burger were fantastic, with the Asian slaw giving a nice tang and a fresh crunch to the tuna, but the tuna itself was a little tough which made it difficult to eat in burger form. The bison burger was better, with the fried onion ring adding a great, salty crunch to this little burger. The bison was a little dry, but with a patty so small, and with bison being much leaner than beef anyway, it wouldn’t be hard to overcook it in only a few quick seconds.

My friend Aly went the non-meat route and ordered the Falafel of Arabia burger, a falafel burger served with sprouts, sliced cucumbers and red onions and a spread of tangy hummus. She also ordered the least burger-y “burger” on the menu, the Pepperoni Pizza burger, with fried mozzarella topped with marinara sauce, sliced pepperoni and a sprinkling of oregano.

Pepperoni Pizza burger and Falafel of Arabia burger.

To be honest, I was a little skeptical of these burgers before she ordered them, but I have to say, they were among two of my favorites that night. The falafel burger was wonderful, one of the best falafels I’ve ever had, with a smooth creaminess on the inside and a satisfying salty, crunchy exterior. The toppings were fresh and the perfect accompaniment to the falafel. And wouldn’t you know it, the Pepperoni Pizza burger was very tasty too. It was very much like eating a piece of cheesy bread, complete with marinara sauce and pepperoni. If a piece of pizza were to be combined with Sonic’s mozzarella sticks, this would be the result.

When it came to Courtney’s burger choices, she too chose the Asian Ahi burger, but she also chose to design her own fun-sized burger. She ordered a turkey burger with herbed goat cheese, sauteed mushrooms, lettuce and a fried onion ring. A little unusual, but that’s the best thing about Graze: you can finally have the toppings of your dreams that you couldn’t get on your burger anywhere else.

Courtney's "Masterpiece" burger and the Asian Ahi burger.

I’ve gotta give Courtney credit, because this particular combination of toppings seems a little strange, but was actually pretty tasty. Again, the turkey was a little dry, but this is common with turkey burgers across the board. Turkey, and poultry in general, is just much leaner than red meat, and thus doesn’t make for the juiciest of burgers. But overall, still a good burger.

Celeste helped to expand our coverage of the specialty burger menu, with her Taco burger and the Knuckle Sandwich. The Taco burger offers the choice of beef, chicken, turkey or pork (Celste got beef), and is topped with Mexican-style shredded cheese, salsa, taco sauce and shredded lettuce. The Knuckle Sandwich was a close contender when I was ordering my burgers, but Celeste promised I could try some of hers. The Knuckle Sandwich is a chicken burger doused in spicy buffalo sauce, topped with a ranch slaw and blue cheese crumbles.

The Knuckle Sandwich and the Taco burger.

The Taco burger wasn’t particularly special, with the meat being dry once again. However, the Knuckle Sandwich was delicious. The spicy buffalo sauce on the chicken burger was cooled down with the crunchy slaw tossed in Ranch dressing, and the blue cheese added the perfect buttery texture and salty tang.

Ethan, our token boy on this largely female burger excursion, stepped up to the plate and ordered three burgers: the Southwestern Black Bean burger, the Knuckle Sandwich, and the Gator Hater. The Southwestern Black Bean burger was served with a homemade black bean patty and topped with avocado, sprouts, fresh salsa and melted Pepper Jack cheese. You all remember the Knuckle Sandwich, but the real excitement came from the Gator Hater. That’s right, folks, a hamburger made out of Cajun-rubbed alligator meat and topped with crunchy onions, jalapeños, and ancho chipotle sauce.

The Southwestern Black Bean burger, the Gator Hater and the Knuckle Sandwich.

Ethan’s Knuckle Sandwich was just as delicious as Celeste’s, although the Southwestern Black Bean burger was a little disappointing. The black bean patty itself didn’t have much flavor, and fell apart within a few minutes. The most exciting burger was easily the Gator Hater, and if you have ever heard that alligator tastes a bit like chicken, you’re absolutely right. It has a mild flavor that easily picks up whatever is on it, which was the problem with this burger. Although it was really good, the strong flavors of the ancho chipotle sauce and the jalapeños dominated the flavor of the meat and you lost a little bit of what made this burger so unique.

After all of us finished our little burgers, we were much fuller than we thought we would be. Turns out two miniature burgers are just as filling as one regular sized one. And for my readers who have encouraged me to try burgers of all varieties, I’m glad I experienced so many non-beef burgers and found out just how good they are.

Quality of meat: 8.5
Although they had a wide variety of burgers, many of the ones made of meat were just a little too dry, which took a few points off.

Freshness of ingredients: 9.5
All of the vegetables served on the burgers were very fresh, and many of the toppings were homemade.

Presentation: 7
It’s hard to attractively present a little burger when you have such a small area to work with. Although they looked pretty without their buns on, some of them looked a little haphazard.

Creativity: 10
They won me over with the Gator Hater and the Pepperoni Pizza burger, not to mention the incredibly long list of unique toppings. They put things on burgers I didn’t even know were possible.

Overall rating: 9

If you would like to go on your own miniature burger excursion, you can find information for visiting or contacting Graze here:

Graze Burgers and Salads
Athens, GA 30601
(706) 543-5514
http://www.grazeburgers.com/

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

Globe Trotter.

February 2, 2011 § 10 Comments

In case it wasn’t already obvious, I am a girl who loves a good hamburger.

And wouldn’t you know, I happen to have a lot of friends who enjoy the very same thing. So it was with a small entourage that I went to The Globe one night for dinner, all of my friends hungry for burgers and eager to embark upon my journey with me.

Prior to my actual creation of this blog, I had heard of The Globe’s burgers. “They’re so good,” people said. “You’re either going to find the best burger there or at Five Guys.” So it was with high expectations that I stepped into The Globe for the first time.

The Globe is fashioned in the style of an old English pub yet has elements of a relaxed southern style, with bare wooden tables, brick walls and art placed above the old fireplace and full bar in the back of the restaurant. It gives off a very unpretentious vibe: this is a neighborhood place where people from all over Athens come to hang out and relax after a long day.

The menu covers a range of classic American dishes and and familiar southern favorites, with a few unusual flavors thrown in:  Croque Monsieur, French Dip Au Jus, and a Tandoori Chicken Sandwich. Most exciting to me, however, was the presence of six different types of burgers on their dinner menu.

“Do you know what you’d like to order?” my waiter asked me. “Well, what would you say is your signature burger?” He appeared confused at my (rather simple, I thought) question and named several of the different options, clearly unsure as to which of the burgers really was the restaurant’s signature. I explained, “I’m writing this blog about the best burger in Athens and so I was wondering which of your burgers is the most representative of your restaurant…” and on and so forth.

My explanation didn’t really appear to help him very much; in fact, he appeared a little more confused after I finished talking. Rather than rely on my waiter, I decided to order the “Globe Burger,” which seemed to be the most promising option, as it is, after all, named after the very restaurant in which it is served in.

The “Globe Burger” promised to be a juicy six-ounce burger with lettuce, tomato and red onion on a toasted onion roll. Cheese was an extra $0.50, but hey, you gotta live a little sometimes, right?

The Globe's signature "Globe Burger"

My burger appeared not 10 minutes after ordering, and my friends and I all made quite the scene snapping some photos of our food before we began eating. Not one to fall short of perfection, my roommate Ashley made sure that we captured as many pictures as we needed to ensure supreme photo quality.

Even though I don’t mind onions on my burger, I just knocked the little chunks off, as they already seemed to present me with the difficult challenge of keeping them inside my burger while eating. I added a little ketchup and spicy brown mustard and took a bite of my burger, the symbolic first step in a 15-week long journey.

Now, you know within the first, I’d say…two bites whether or not you’re eating a truly amazing hamburger. And although my first two bites were good, they just weren’t great. The lettuce and tomato were fresh enough, although tomatoes grown out of season are always going to lack that sweet, delicious flavor of  summer tomatoes. Alas, The Globe cannot help that it’s January and the only places currently growing tomatoes are in South America.

I think my main problem with this burger was that it was overcooked. I had ordered it medium, as had another person at my table, and we were both served well-done burgers. Now, I understand the health repercussions that come from not cooking beef fully. But oh, the lack of flavor that accompanies fully cooked beef is simply not worth the slight risk of contracting some remote strain of bacteria!

At least that’s my philosophy, and I’m sticking to it.

Other than the actual meat itself, the hamburger bun was fresh and flavorful, and the french fries were truly very tasty. So aside from the overcooked beef, the rest of the burger was just fine. Had the burger been cooked slightly less and had a touch more seasoning, the “Globe Burger” really could have reached its “wordly” potential (…get it?).

To make my quest as quantifiable as possible, and also for ease of calculating scores at the end of my journey, I have devised a ranking system that will accompany each burger. Each burger will be given a score from one to ten in five different categories, with a one being “Hmmm…that was kind of terrible,” a five being an “Ehh…I’d eat it again if I had to, but if I didn’t have to, that’d be okay too,” and a ten being “Let me call everyone I know and write about this burger immediately, because it is AH-MA-ZING.”

So, here we go:

Quality of meat: 6
Had it just been cooked a little bit less and seasoned a little bit more…

Freshness of ingredients: 8

Presentation: 6
The onion chunks were a little untidy, but what can you really do with onion chunks, you know?

Creativity: 6
For being the restaurant’s namesake burger, I think they could have done something a little more exciting, but I will give them credit for having multiple burger options. Variety is the spice of life, as they say.

Overall rating: 6

*Now, let me just go ahead and state that I certainly don’t have the most sophisticated of palates. I don’t claim to have the experience with food that Anthony Bourdain does, or the knowledge of ingredients that any of the New York Times food critics do. But, I do know when things are cooked properly, and when ingredients are fresh, and when things generally taste good. So, please take my comments with a grain of salt if you disagree with them. I’m just stating my opinions, and if you think that The Globe has the BEST DAMN BURGER you’ve ever had, then by all means, continue to think so.

If you’d like to visit The Globe and try out the “Globe Burger” for yourself, or any of their other tasty-looking burger options, you can contact them with the information below:

The Globe
Athens, Ga.
http://www.globeathens.com/

The journey begins.

January 28, 2011 § 5 Comments

Photo via chichacha on Flickr

What makes a great hamburger? Is it the type of beef used,  lean ground sirloin versus juicy ground chuck? Maybe it’s the freshness of the ingredients, like vine-ripened tomatoes and crisp iceberg lettuce? Or is it the bun, something freshly baked right out of the restaurant’s own ovens?

Or is it something more metaphorical? Is it the atmosphere of the restaurant, the music playing in the background or the friends sitting at your table? Is it the warm smile from your waiter as they welcome you to your table, or the personal greeting the manager extends to you at the end of your meal?

I think it’s all of those things. A great hamburger is more than just what’s between two pieces of bread — it’s the whole experience.

My name is Sarah Varner, and I am setting out on a quest to find just that: the perfect hamburger experience.

Currently a junior at the University of Georgia in the unique college town of Athens, Georgia, I am enrolled in a Social Media class that requires us to keep a blog for the duration of the semester. Although I have kept a blog before, and keep a personal one on another site, I wanted to do something a little different with this assignment.

I’ve long been a foodie at heart, and as a public relations major, I hope to gain a job in the lifestyle/hospitality industry after graduation. Most of my secret dreams and ambitious goals revolve around food: I would love to be a sommelier, prancing around France and Italy tasting wines all day long. I’d love to be a food writer for a magazine like the no-longer published Gourmet, traveling around the world trying foods that many people have never even heard of.

But until then, I’m going to take my love for all things culinary and put my passion into finding the best of what I believe to be the quintessential and beloved American meal: a good ole’ hamburger.

I will be going to 15 different restaurants in Athens, from your typical burger joint to the classiest of white tablecloth establishments.  My question is this: what makes a great hamburger, and where is the best place to find one in this city? Is it the diners with neon lights on the windows, advertising awards for their “Best Burger” achievements? Or is it the subdued eateries that offer a $2o burger because the beef really is just that good.

I owe the cheeky yet apropos title of this blog to my roommate, Ashley.  I could think of no better way to describe this experience than as a quest, and as such, I hope that the literal translation of “bon voyage” holds true for me this semester as I traverse all of Athens, eating as many hamburgers as I possibly can.

Have a good trip? Why yes, I think I will.

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