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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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

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