Archive | September, 2011

Wendy’s Finds a New Beef

19 Sep

I am a hopeless child of the 80s and grew up with the Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef” commercial, in which a cute, elderly lady asks a worker at another fast food chain about their burgers. I loved it almost as much as the Russian Fashion Show.

Today, Wendy’s announced that, after a long search, they are adding a new signature burger. As fast food goes, I don’t really mind Wendy’s. But you might find this interesting.


Wild Rock Grill: “The Artist Formerly Known as Locos”

18 Sep

You might call Wild Rock Grill a Prince of a Grill. You might call it a great place to have a meal.

Then again, you might be drugged frequently, forced to watch Gong Show reruns and look forward to your hunting date with Dick Cheney.

But lest I hold back … My experience at Wild Rock Grill was like the music of Prince (in case you were unaware, he’s changed his name back to a name). No, sadly, it’s not the inspired funky, rock, soulful grooves of Purple Rain or Sign of the Times. No, it’s probably from a period you don’t know much about, unless you are especially fond his purple majesty … Wikipedia politely calls it a time of increased out put; let’s call it what it is: a creative enema.

Around the year 2000, Prince got in a snit with his publisher – Warner Bros. Not that this is unusual or unusual with him. Instead of contacting
lawyers and working it out the American way, Prince (the symbol at the time) decided that the best way to be let out of his contract was to flood the universe with crappy music, producing albums quickly to hit quotas. It was a puzzling mess of uninspired schlock – album titles that no one can remember and songs as forgettable as junk mail.

Which brings me to Wild Rock Grill (in case you’re wondering, it’s the restaurant that replaced Locos on Lakeshore Pkwy) … Some places get by on reputation. Some get by on great food. Some atmosphere. If Wild Rock Grill is getting by in the burger department, it’s only through the support of people who are connoisseurs of uninspired schlock (or they could be the same people who purchased albums during Prince’s “Slave” period).

I went on a Wednesday evening. Very few people there. For a place that purports to be a sport bar and a bunch of other stuff, it was empty. To make the experience worse, “Wendy, Lisa and Sheila E.” were sitting in a booth next to us, discussing the intricacies of bladder surgery, oozy discharges and enough unsavory things that I was kind of hoping that there’d be more people to drown out there “disgust-ion.”

The service was fine, and the waitress was pleasant and attentive. It’s not her fault that when I asked about the fries, she said – without flinching –
“They are those frozen steak fries.” So, in a first for this blog, I ordered … the steamed veggies (fear not, I tried some of my kids …).

Ordering the burger was like going to a buffet, and about as inspiring. The signature burger comes with whatever you choose out of the list of stuff
you’d normally expect. Cheese is extra. Exotics, like mushrooms, are extra extra. You could dress this burger up with a $100 bill, and it would still be not be able to pay you for a hamburger today. What you’re getting is an uninspired attempt to fill out a menu at a place that has better foods there.

When it arrived at the table, I looked at the burger. It was a pre-made patty and had that “solution” taste that’s somewhere between meat, preservative, saline, melba toast and black licorice (maybe great in a wine, not so great in meat). So, I asked the waitress to tell me where they got their meat. She demurred …

At the end of the meal, which I didn’t finish (except for the veggies), I asked again, when she had yet to supply the answer. She came back, having consulted someone for talking points or whatever, “It’s doesn’t really come from anywhere; it comes on a truck. We get it from a service.”

In the end, I’d wished I’d ordered a veggie plate, or corned beef, or an additional copy of 1999. But in the end, I’m reaching for my mallet and whacking the gong on this act.

Points …

Meat – 5.5 …I don’t know, when I ask where the meat comes from, it’s not likely to make it more savory to say that it comes from a truck.

Bun and fixins’ — 6.5 … Let’s see, I could pick whatever I want on the burger from lettuce, pickles, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard and mayo. I could … wait for it … have one of two kinds of cheese. It’s not that the quality was awful here, but the lack of creativity and curiosity.

Sides – 6.0 … I wish you could get votes on this for steamed veggies, but it kind of cuts against the burger grain. But after having done this for a
while, some days, you reach a frozen fry limit. I found mine that night. Did try them … [sigh].

Service & Presentation – 7.5 … I don’t fault the wait staff for not having sufficient answers to simple questions. They only answer what they know to
say. The service itself was good, and I kind of like the simple presentation at a pub.

Ambiance – (-1) … This place receives the first negative score in the history of the beautimousburger blog. It might not be “their fault” that the conversations taking place around me were way more graphic than for polite company (had little kids with me). But that was my experience. Don’tmake the news; just report it.

Bonus X – … No points, but some of the other dishes looked more inspired and more authentic. I won’t be returning, but if you do, there might be
something there to appreciate.

Rating — BBB-

Wild Rock Grill on Urbanspoon

A few word about making your own burgers … or learning to embrace the Pareto Principle of fat

10 Sep

In so many things, you’ll find the truth in the 80/20 rule, also know in some circles as the Pareto Principle. In business, one of the rules of thumb is that 80 percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your customers. Or that 20 percent of people control 80 percent of wealth.

In burgers, there’s an 80/20 rule. It’s less of a rule, than a way to look at what you’re doing.

Before the crazes of the low-fat and the low-carb yo-yoed people to confusion about what was good for them, there was the hamburger. Noble. Innocent in all this posturing. Just making its way in the world today, taking everything its got.

But let’s put a stop to some of this goofiness. Let’s talk …

A burger is flavorful, and most meat, in and of itself, has flavor because of a combination of meat and fat. If you’re kind of reluctant to discuss fat, sensitive or whatnot, then call it meat and “moisture.”

Fat, itself, is a form of sugar that is stored. When it’s cooked, the sugar caramelizes. And us human beings, well, we do love us some sweeties.

So, when meat is cooked, it needs some fat in it; or more specifically to make it edible, it needs moisture. To little moisture, and you have the equivalent of a hockey puck … think beef jerky.

But it also needs fat because it adds flavor, and it needs fat because it’s also a source of hydration. Long story short, have you ever cooked boneless chicken on the grill? Those cluckers will dry out faster than a shamwow, unless you add more liquid (marinate), mix something with the meat that mediates the process of drying out (mixing in sauces, cheese or whatever) or cook very slowly (which breaks down the connective tissue in muscle slowly).

Fat is a friend … to a degree. Some fat. Too much fat and you end up with something that resembles bacon. Or at best, a nice steak. At worst, it becomes a radioactively-reduced version of the original.

Today, unless you get your meat from a special source and can custom-order it, you have a few options at your local grocer. The numbers are probably familiar:

  • 73/27 (beef)
  • 80/20 (chuck)
  • 85/15 (round)
  • 90/10 (round or sirloin)
  • 93/7 (sirloin)

There are older names for these mixes, ground beef, ground chuck, ground round, ground sirloin. But with regulations that required more transparency in what’s in the package, you now get percentages … and hopefully more confidence in the quality of what you’re buying. In the end, the numbers above refer to the percentages of lean(ish) meat and fat in the mix.

Like everything, you’ll get a bunch of different opinions about what the best mix to use is. Some people will try to get to a custom mix. In general, you don’t want too lean or too fatty.

For me, I usually use 80/20 if I just get a pound or two of meat. But if I’m making a lot, I’ll mix, because my experience is the 85/15 can be a bit too lean by itself. If I mix some outside liquid (pesto, cheese, ground mushrooms, etc.) in the meat, 85/15 will probably work, because I’m introducing additional liquid into the meat.

My advice, shoot between 80/20 and 90/10, depending on your needs, but experiment. See what works best for you.

And like all good cliffhangers, just realize all we’ve discussed now is the meat. You can throw a big old communist monkey wrench in this depending on temperature and length of cooking. You can turn your good, reliable Adam Smith-ian 80/20 rule into the next Stalin-managed five-year plan.

The Depot Deli and Grill (Helena): A Visit to the Island of Sodor

4 Sep

Burgers and burger places have a character. Ask for mushroom-swiss burger, and you’ll have an idea of what you get. Ask for some frou-frou avocado and arugula monstrosity, and you’ll have an idea of the place and the burger, too. Which makes the Depot Deli and Grill in Helena kind of like taking a trip to the Island of Sodor.

For the uninitiated, the Island of Sodor is home to many characters – Thomas, Percy, Sir Topham Hatt, and a host of steamies, diesels, cars, trucks and people – associated with Thomas and Friends, the children’s other-world where trains are kind of people, too. It’s wholesome, kid fun in which, luckily, no one get hurts. But every train has a character; each is slightly different … in a keep-kids-interested-and-force-parents-into-buying-the-latest-new-train-on-the-island-vortex.

So, when I visited a place that actually called itself a depot, I thought, “What train would this place be?” Now, to start, we could play a little game and go to some of my old reviews and assign a train to the place (if you know the show and the trains, this will be fun!):

And without considering that his name is a bit misleading for a burger place, the Depot could only be Salty. Now, let’s clear this up, straightway. The meal wasn’t salty …

Salty – and its doppelganger burger existence in the Depot Grill – is an easy-going, likable diesel. He was brought to the island by that
corpulent but enlightened despot, Topham Hatt. And Salty either entertains or drives his really useful friends nuts with the constant stories, sea shanties and an overall cheery attitude. He’s hard working, blue collar and appreciated because he’s proven himself to his quarry-mates – Bill, Ben and Mavis.

Depot Grill sits in-between train tracks and the dam/levee in old Helena. It’s all kind of throw back. Downtown Helena is a bit of an oasis in what would otherwise be yet another desert suburban bedroom community with as much fun as a nomadic clan of anesthetic-eschewing dental surgeons.

The inside is quaint, with license plates and decorated dollar bills all around the register. Outside, a large covered porch looks over the Cahaba River. It’s a nice scene. And honestly, that really makes this place. It’s hard working. It’s easy-going and fun. But it is its own unique little place in the midst of Helena-dom. Atmosphere takes this place a long way.

As for the burger, it’s much better than good. I ordered my burger Baptist – almost going all the way, but stopping just shy.

It was good, very good. It was served on a slightly sweet kaiser roll. The meat was the clear taste leader, along with the bun. It came with what you’d expect – lettuce, pickles, etc. And they offered several varieties – smaller and larger – on the menu. As testament to the burger there, I came at nearly 3 p.m. on a Saturday. It was still busy, and most everyone had ordered one of their delicious burgers.

At this point in my life, I view fries like the creators of Thomas use the Troublesome Trucks. They don’t always have a lot of character
individually. They are stock characters — the guy-in-the-red-uniform-on-Star-Trek (but no one get hurt on Thomas). Depot had crinkle fries, uninspiring maybe, but I will eat them … all of them. At least they don’t laugh maniacally like the Troublesome Trucks.

Points …

Meat — 8.0 … Like Salty, I have no idea where it came from. It just showed up after I ordered it on my plate. By all appearances, it was hand-made. By taste, it was delicious hamburger meat of unclear origin. But it was done just enough and was tasty, so I moved on.

Bun and fixins’ — 8.0 … The kaiser roll is a nice touch on a decent burger

Sides – 7.5 … The Troublesome Truck usually giggle a lot and talk nonsense. I consider frozen crinkle fries the Troublesome Trucks of the fry world; they are primarily useful as a ketchup delivery system.

Service & Presentation – 8.0 … Order at the window and pick up your food when they call your number. And get your own drinks. It makes me think that I am a very useful patron … and that I should somehow get a tip, too.

Ambiance – 9 … The porch was nice, while I’m sure that it could also be unbearable hot as it does get around here. But with fall in the air, this
place might just be a great hang-out.

Bonus X – +1 … The view is exceptional. Wanna watch the dam? Check. See people frolicking in the water? Check. Watch a train? Check. See people getting married at the wedding chapel? Check. Watch as people get pulled over for enjoying Helena at a bit too brisk a pace? Helena has it all.

Rating — A+

Depot Deli & Grill on Urbanspoon

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