Rock ‘N’ Roll Burger

Rock 'N' Roll Burger

Rock ‘N’ Roll Burger (hereafter referred to as R&R) is a small restaurant tucked slightly out of the way in Issaquah. There’s an old-school burger joint/Elvis theme going on in both the decor and on the menu. It’s just far enough off the beaten path that I’ve never driven by, but tonight I was craving a burger and made it happen.

I ordered a #6 – a Hound Dog Burger – which is a burger with Tillamook cheddar, romaine, tomato, red onion, pickles (not on mine, please), R&R sauce, and bacon. R&R sauce is described as “mayo & 7 secret additives with smokey flavor”.

The meat is “Premium, Fresh, 1/3 lb, 100% Ground Chuck”. I’m not sure what meaning if any the word “premium” when it comes to meat, and I’m hoping “fresh” means never-frozen but since they don’t say it’s hard to be sure. They offer to cook your burger to order but I decided to let R&R do it their way.

When the tray was placed in front of me I had a very positive first impression – everything looked good. After a couple of bites I was enjoying the burger, but I wasn’t getting much beefy flavor. The veggies were quite good, the bacon was nice and crispy, but the other ingredients were overwhelming the beef. It felt like I was eating a 1/4 lb burger instead of a 1/3 lb. This was one of the few burgers that would’ve been better with a second patty to balance out the other ingredients. However, the overall result was satisfying.

A few other details of note – the bun was good but needed to be toasted. The cheese wasn’t melted enough. The burger was a little overdone which left it dry.

The fries were good, and the vanilla shake was definitely above-average. I’ll be going back.

+ A satisfying burger

– Beefy flavor should be front and center in a burger, untoasted bun, cheese wasn’t sufficiently melted

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Lunchbox Laboratory – Sample 2

Lunchbox Redux

We returned to the Lunchbox Laboratory this weekend to take a second look at one of the few burgers to earn a 5 star rating from one of the crew at Legit Beef. Never having been, I decided to cast an objective eye on the experience.

Wise men render sage words to first-time visitors of the Lunchbox Laboratory . The consensus among the burger illuminati is to choose one ingredient from each column of the menu: one meat, one cheese, one topping, one sauce. Nothing wrong with this philosophy, but no matter what you do, you’ll still have a burger you can’t fit your mouth around. Be conservative and exercise restraint but adding one or two extra toppings or cheeses is not, inherently, a bad thing. Experimentation is encouraged, it’s a god damned laboratory.

For my burger, I went with 1/2 lb beef patty (obvi), cheddar, maple bacon, candied balsamic onions, and their secret burger sauce. This was freakin’ delectable. Let’s go from top, down. The bun is a Kaiser, toasted to perfection and doing an admirable job of holding together despite the abundance of juices from the beef and onions. The secret burger sauce is solid, pretty standard thousand-islands-esque burger sauce but there’s nothing wrong with that.

The bacon is, in a word, perfection. The slice is not too thick and the bacon is cooked lightly, allowing you to actually taste the maple flavor. They get away with the light cooking because the cut is so lean that it may as well be a slice of ham on your sandwich. The candied balsamic onions were great, trending the burger toward the sweet side but the saltiness of the cheddar cheese helps to keep the burger balanced. There wasn’t a whole lot of input from the cheddar but I doubt if the strongest of cheeses would have overcome the other flavors of the burger to shine through.

The beef is a quality patty but here I find my only fault with the experience. The seasoning they use in their beef is noticeably heavy on the pepper.  The taste of the beef should never be masked by its seasoning, particularly such a quality and juicy blend as they serve. There’s plenty of flavor here, it’s just a shame that the beef was seasoned by a kid who works at Fat Burger before they put it on the grill.

This burger was superb. All of the ingredients are top notch, as evidenced by the $20+ tally for each burger. Well worth it. There’s a great experience to be had here, you just need to find casino games your own. You know what you like but you don’t know if it all works on a burger. That’s half the fun. So long as you keep it reasonable you’re going to have one of the best burgers of your life. I took a shot and it paid off to the tune of a 4.0/5.0. You can easily build a burger here ranging from 3.0 – 5.0 depending on how you top it. It’s not about building the perfect burger, but building a great, unique burger. This is the place to do that. You miss out if show up and order a plain cheeseburger.

Unbeef: I had sweet potato fries, unremarkable, but the tots are great. You get to choose from 9 different salts too, pretty rad. The shakes look awesome.

+ Excellent bun, perfect bacon, candied balsamic onions I could have eaten alone on a bun

- Peppered patty

Lunchbox Laboratory 1/2 lb bacon cheeseburger with balsamic onions.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Crossroads Bar & Grill

crossroads bar & grill

Ah yes. The sweet smell of legitimacy. Let a multinational corporate chain restaurant (known as a garbage truck called Chili’s) go out of business, and replace it with a local bar and grill. The stage is set.

I ordered the Diablo 1/2 Pounder burger. Complete with a cayenne-seasoned burger, pepper-jack cheese, avocado, lettuce, tomato, red onion & chipotle mayo. I like my shit spicy, what can I say.

I’ll be honest. When the burger landed it looked bad. Something permissible only to those who relish sublime mediocrity.

Regardless, I destroyed the burger and I have to say it was decent. The beef did not seem freshly ground, more of the preformed pinch. Was it frozen? I dunno. But it was alright. The cheese was fully melted and even. The veggies were par for the course and they gave ample, nice looking avocado slices. The chipotle mayo was alright. Or maybe I am just yawn about chipotle mayos these days. The blackened cayenne seasoning was a very nice touch. Not something I would recommend to all but in this particular case it turned out well.

I’d like to give the bar & grill the benefit of the doubt, having just recently opened and still kinda finding their way through their stuff. Maybe down the road they’ll improve? If not, in current form they still pawn Chili’s. And thank god for that.

+ I give hooves up for ample, good looking avocado and a nice cayenne seasoning

– I give hooves down for very ok beef and an overly toasted bun

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

520 Bar & Grill

520 Burger

The 520 Burger, self-claimed "Best in Bellevue."

The 520 Bar & Grill features an eponymous burger which claims to be the “Best in Bellevue!” It’s hard not to scoff at the claim when you have titans of beef such as Daniel’s Broiler and Jack Howie’s just down the road, not to mention nearly 60 years of burger deliciosity from Burgermaster. Does their claim hold up? Obviously not, but failure is often more entertaining than success, so please read on.

Let’s start with the one thing they get right, the beef. On paper at least. It is quality fresh-ground beef which is juicy and delicious. Unfortunately, I asked for medium and received well done. This was no fluke as the same thing happened to my burger buddy’s patty melt. Still the beef was good and a little fire never killed anyone, so we can overlook that. However, things would quickly go down hill from here.

The onion bun looked like it had been sitting in a bag on a store shelf for a couple months, with no hint of toasting on either side. The lettuce wasn’t really lettuce so much as a house salad, mixed greens with spinach. What the hell? I’m a man who values his lettuce, this was befuddling. I gave it a shot, put it on half the burger but my taste buds were having none of it. The tomato was fresh and juicy, providing some much needed lubrication, as there was no sauce or mayo on the burger. The cheese was cheddar, mostly melted but not very flavorful.

In conclusion, I’d say that not only is this not the best burger in Bellevue, it’s not even the best for three city blocks. You watch your mouth, 520 Bar & Grill. It’s too bad though, if the house salad isn’t served as a burger topping, the cooks are more careful and they splurge on a better quality bun, this burger could easily reach 3.5-4.

Unbeef: Fresh cut french fries, decent nachos, cool joint.

+ Quality beef, juicy.

–  Overcooked beef negated its quality, the cheese was meh, the veggies were depressing, and the underwhelming bun appropriately bookended a disappointing burger.

520 Bar & Grill’s “520 Burger”

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

Quincy’s Charbroiled Burgers

Qunicy's Charbroiled Burgers 

Quincy’s is a small, local chain with an outpost in the cafeteria where I work.  I’ve eaten there about a half-dozen times when I’ve had a burger craving but haven’t had time to leave the office.

Today’s specimen was a “Quincy Burger” with bacon and cheddar cheese, minus pickles.

The burger was clearly a preformed patty without much texture or flavor.  The cheese not only wasn’t melted, it wasn’t even warm.  The bacon was limp.  The burger was drowning in mayo and ketchup – I had to wipe a lot of it off with a napkin to eat it.  The lettuce was the cheap shredded stuff.  The tomato was actually ok.  While the bun showed slight toasting marks, it’s didn’t taste toasted or above room temperature.

The fries were generic, frozen-before-cooking fries.

+ it’s close to my office.

– the burger.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 

Sengelmann Hall

sengelmann hall

As we travel around we like to experience all the burgers of the world. So although this is not a Seattle burger, consider this one in a line of many future guest burgers.

On a recent trip to the sticks of Texas I had the pleasure of hitting up Sengelmann Hall, a combination restaurant, czech bakery, dance hall, saloon, biergarten, and concert venue beautifully restored from its original 1890’s construction.

Their burger is described as a Fayette County beef burger on a house-made bun, with house-made pickles and mayo. Although not mentioned, it also comes with sweet red onion, beautiful tomatoes, real stone ground mustard, green leaf lettuce, and horseradish mayo.

Sengelmann Hall is also a Czech bakery and it shows. This burger easily included one of the best hamburger buns I have had. Chewy and moist with a slight buttery sweetness brushed on top. Simply gorgeous. The vegetables were all lovely with the homemade pickles clearly standing out above the garden. However, the red onions were less than sweet and very over powering. I had to remove a few rings to restore balance and harmony.

The horseradish mayo was interesting. For me, it mostly worked. Yes it was a bit strong. Yes it slightly overpowered other elements of the burger. And yes, I can definitely see a lot of people not digging it. Had it been a bit more evenly spread and maybe used a little less liberally, I think it could have tremendous.

Then there was the beef. Very nice, as one should expect in a state full of cattle. A very clean tasting beef. It was nice. I would mention, however, that it definitely suffered from a bit too lean of a grind making it a bit dry midway through. I think it could have been slightly juicier and perhaps even a bit less seasoned. Otherwise is was legit.

If you ever happen to find yourself in the sticks of Texas, I would definitely pay Sengelmann Hall a visit. A good burger at a very reasonable price, a beautiful building, legit history, and the staff was Texas wonderful.

+ I give hooves up for a very top tier homemade bun, and clean tasty beef

– I give hooves down for over-powering red onion, and a bit lean grind of beef

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

www.sengelmannhall.com

Matts’ Rotisserie

Matts' Rotisserie

Matt’s is one of the few good choices in the Redmond area if you’re looking to get a drink and a bite after work.  I’ve been going there for years – there’s good beer on tap, the nachos and wings are tasty, and they’ve got free wifi – so I felt obligated to give the burger an official going-over.

The menu calls it the Killer Burger, and also makes the claim that it’s “the best burger in town”.  That’s setting a pretty high bar, and I’m going to expect to see a claim like that backed up.  It’s described as fresh ground chuck seasoned with cracked pepper, barbecue sauce, and Dijon.  While those are all things I enjoy, I’m definitely not a fan of seasonings beyond salt and pepper mixed into the patty.  There’s also Tillamook cheddar and the “usual suspects”.

My order was for a Killer Burger with bacon, medium-rare.  The plate that hit the table in front of me looked nice – it had a strong visual appeal that made you want to take a bite.  The patty was cooked medium-rare as I’d asked for, which lately hasn’t been an easy thing to come by.  The bacon was pretty good, but the cheese wasn’t melted.  The lettuce was shredded and forgettable, but the tomato and red onion were both solid.  The barbecue sauce had been applied with a heavy hand, and definitely hid the taste of what seemed like pretty good beef.  It also had the side effect of killing the bottom half of the bun – by the time I was half through the burger it was a soggy mess.

The fries are good, and Bridgeport IPA never disappoints.  If you’re in the mood for dessert, the cobbler is always a good choice – and the best cupcake joint in town is just 100 feet or so away.

+ good beef, bacon, and veggies (except the lettuce)

– burger patties shouldn’t be “seasoned” like this, un-melted cheese, and a weak bun

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Matt’s Rotisserie & Oyster Lounge

Elliot Bay Brewing Company

elliot bay brewing company

If there is a safe menu item on a brew pub menu, it has to be the burger. Brew pub, screw up the burger and a plague on both your houses. The Northwest, aka the Pacific Northwest for those that have yet to learn the northwest only borders one ocean, is a beer mecca. In my opinion this regions pumps out more quality brew than any other in the country with a limitless number of brews and producers. Thankfully beer and burgers go well together. Like KP and bruised ankles.

The Elliot Bay Brewing company in west Seattle is cozy and inviting. Kick ass jazz from the swing era helps. They host a selection of gourmet burgers from your typical to your specialties, such as freshly ground all natural buffalo, and claim to be the best burgers in West Seattle. I ordered up the crumbled blue and bacon burger with, you guessed it, crumbled bleu cheese and thick slices of bacon on a natural 1/3rd pound Angus beef patty.

This burger was a ratio clusterfuck. We’ve spoken before about the ratio of beef to cheese to bun to toppings, and though there is no precise magical formula on the ratios, nor should there be, too much or too little of something can straight ruin a hamburger. There is simply no way this was a 1/3rd of a pound patty. Maybe a 1/13th lb. So thin, it could only be cooked to one wellness. The bun, although chewy and delightful, drowned out any reasonable relationship it might have once had with the beef. This was like a burger humbow. The vegetables were relevant and crisp. The bacon chewy with little in the way of crunch or crispness, a little too soft and flabby for my taste. The blue cheese was nice but overly plentiful on such a small patty. So little beef and so much cheese. In the end, I found myself chewing bread and blue cheese with intermittent bits of veggies, bacon, and beef.

So little in the way of beef I have almost no qualitative review of the actual beef. Sad. Decent ingredients woefully assembled in unwelcomed harmony.

+ I give hooves up for a charming bun and relevant vegetables

– I give hooves down for so little beef, and in turn, so much bun and so much cheese

The crumbled blue cheese and bacon burger at the Elliot Bay Brewing Company in west Seattle

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

www.elliotbaybrewing.com

Five Guys – KP Redux

Get what makes you happy.

Five Guys has a good name in these parts, Drew has spoken highly of them in the past and when it comes to chains, they’re about as highly regarded as they come. But all chains suck, and everybody knows that Drew is mostly full of shit, so I took a look myself.

It took a couple trips to completely wrap my head around Five Guys. The first time I went with the double cheeseburger, with the works. A good burger. However, I felt that all of their ingredients were pretty strong, all up in my grill fighting to be the headliner, overshadowing the burger. They just don’t come together to create a harmonious experience. I could not in good faith review that burger, when my stupid ass asked for the works in the first place. They gave me an out, she asked me if I wanted toppings, my naiveté prevailed.

I resolved then to return and order a burger which came without the frills, all the while maintaining the thrills. Thus I advise that when you go to Five Guys, only ask for the toppings which are completely necessary to your quintessential burger experience. The bacon cheeseburger comes with just those things (bun free with purchase), so when they ask if you want toppings, look into your heart and be honest with the lady. She’s trying to help you.

That’s not to say it’s a Lunchbox Labotomy experience, they only serve the standard toppings here, it’s just… well you get it by now. I decided to get just the burger, bacon and cheese for my second trip. I enjoyed this quite a bit more than the “works.” The beef is juicy and delicious, it’s not gourmet but neither is it low-grade. It’s perhaps the best beef you can find in a fast-food, burger joint environment.

The cheese is American. Drew hates this. Hilarious. Next time you see him be sure to ask him what it’s like to be a communist. I take no issue with American Cheese, especially a good Cooper’s Sharp American … mmm. This is just regular American, however, but it does the job well, achieving the perfect melted/congealed state. Because America is #1.

The bun and the bacon need work. Perhaps if Jimmy Carter brokered a deal between the two to share the crispiness of the bacon with the soft and chewiness of the bun, and vice versa, the world would be a better place. The bacon is too crispy, while the bun isn’t toasted or at least it’s not toasted enough to make a difference. These are nitpickings, neither is bad enough to stand out.

Overall, a very good but not great burger. Maybe next time I’ll do lettuce, pickles and mayo.

Unbeef: Yeah, they make good fries. And they are generous. Free peanuts!

+ Quality beef,  great cheese melt

– Blasé bun, bacon

Five Guys and Fries Bacon Cheeseburger (No toppings).

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Two Bells Tavern

two bells tavern

Located in the heart of darkness, the Belltown region of Seattle, Two Bells Tavern puts the old in old school. They have been around since the days of prohibition and long before the pretense and faux hipsters took over the neighborhood. Two Bells is content in their ways, rightfully so, so don’t come looking for kobe beef, wasabi vanilla bean sauce, or other amenities. Two Bells seems unwilling to deviate from what has worked forever. And thank god for that.

You’ll notice two things with a Two Bells burger. First, the french baguette bun that is chewy and pretty, and two, the rounded rectangular patty construed to fit such a thing. In many ways this is a love or hate relationship, baguettes being the atypical vessel for a burger, so choose your side.

I went with the Tavern Burger, 5 ounces of freshly ground beef charbroiled to order with grilled onions and bacon. I made the call to add Jarlsberg cheese, a very swiss-like cheese from Norway. In addition, all Two Bells burgers come with mayo and mustard on the roll and tomato, lettuce, pickles and red onion on the side, with the exception of my Tavern Burger which already included a heap of grilled onions.

Right off the bat, this burger is gorgeous and simple. Juicy as all get out and very appetizing to the eye. I was slightly miffed that they don’t do fries because a good french fry pairs so well with a burger. So I settled on some salted kettle chips.

The baguette bun was nice. Chewy and fresh without being overly crispy and hard on the outside. Truth be told, despite this it was still a bit difficult to eat without toppling the structure into a pile of mess. And honestly it wasn’t the best baguette I have ever had. It was good but nothing epic. But it worked.

The beef was stellar. Very fresh, juicy without being greasy, it had a lovely texture seemingly only found in fresh grinds, and it was cooked to order and perfection. Clearly this chef loves his ingredients.

The cheese was thick, even, and melted as it should be. More often than not I have found these places that offer top tier cheese choices tend to skimp hard on the quantity. Not here. The bacon, though I have had better, was very nice. Crispy and smokey and extremely complementary.

The onions were perfectly grilled, not sloppy and oily. Freshly grilled with that slight crunch in the middle. Nice lettuce and tomato with a pickle spear on the side rounded out the garden. The mustard and mayo were very lightly applied and stayed out of the way.

In the end this is what a burger should be. Simple, unfussy, prepared correctly with quality fresh ingredients. Straight forward with no gimmicks, no bullshits, just a delicious time honor tradition from the past.

+ We give hooves up for delicious beef ground fresh and cooked perfectly, beautiful cheese, and top tier grilled onions.

– We give hooves down for a bun that made it hard to eat and had room for improvement, and maybe for a slightly small portion size. I wanted more.

The Tavern burger at Two Bells tavern

Rating: ★★★★½ 

www.thetwobells.com

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