Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ten Upscale Burger Chains Compared

Over the past decade or so new types of burger restaurants, more upscale than the Clown, the King and the Redhead, have popped up in an attempt to elevate America's meal. They sit somewhere between fast food and casual dining and I call this style 'Nouveau Burger Cuisine'. Please feel free to use this term, just give me credit for coining it. Some are more upscale than the others, and most claim to use healthier ingredients. I have ranked them in the order of my preference and you may disagree with me. Don't take it too seriously, what follows is simply my opinions and very little separates them. Please note that not all of the new chains are listed, just the ones I have been to. Please feel free to leave a comment, just no spam or links.

Smashburger was started by Tom Ryan in Colorado in 2007 and now has over 300 locations in 32 states and five countries. They have regional favorites to match local tastes, and some darn good shakes. The fries are good, as are the sweet potato fries, and they make a nice side salad as well. Two can eat well for under twenty bucks. Smash is my favorite overall on this list for taste, and consistency. I have been to the Ramsey and Paramus locations.  

Zinburger is more upscale than the rest, and pricier too, but well worth every penny of the eleven bucks for the burger shown above. They are also the smallest of nine with only eleven locations. The burger is cooked to order and they gave me a perfect medium. They have a very nice wine selection, as well as craft beers and they have excellent table service. I went to the Paramus location. 

Habit Burger
The Habit Burger, better known as The Habit, started in 1969 in Irvine California and has grown to over a hundred locations, with some rapid expansion going on right now. They are publicly traded on NASDAQ under the name HABT. They also got the number one in Consumer Reports last year. Their signature burger is the Charburger. I went to the Fair Lawn, NJ location. 

Elevation Burger

Elevation Burger was founded by Hans Hess in California in 2005. They have grown to fifty locations here in the States and the Middle East and offer The beef is grass fed, and free range and the fries are cooked in olive oil, giving them a wonderful crispy taste. Two can eat well here for under twenty bucks. I went to the Willow Grove, Pa location. 

Jake's Wayback
Jake's Wayback Burgers started in Newark, Delaware way back in 1991 as Jake's Hambugers and they have grown to just under a hundred locations. They have a burger of the month, and a shake of the month so I like to try them when I go. Some locations also offer tap beer. I have been to the Thorndale, Pa location and the Monroe, NY one. 

Fuddruckers started in 1979 in Texas and has about 180 locations. It was started by Phillip Romano who went on to start Romano's Macaroni Grill. There are a few unique things about the. One of the coolest things  is the fixings bar where you can add pretty much anything you want, as well as melted cheese for your fries. The other cool thing is the availability of elk, bison, and Wild Boar, and I have tried them all. On the beef burgers you can choose 1/3, 1/2, or 2/3 pound patties. The buns are fresh-baked in house. I have been to four locations, two in Jersey, one in Middletown, NY, and in Myrtle Beach. I find some inconsistency between the restaurants and I feel that the one in Parsippany is the best. 

Shake Shack
Shake Shack was started in 2000 by Danny Myer in NYC and has grown to over 60 locations. They have also gone public so you buy stock in the company. They have a cult following and I so want to love them, but I find them a bit bland. I will give them another try and add some toppings to see if they improve the flavor. They do make killer shakes. I have been to Stamford, King of Prussia, and Ramsey. 

Burger Fi
Burger Fi has close to sixty locationsm, close to half of them are in Florida. They have a prime burger that looks interesting, and hot dogs too. I went to the one in Poughkeepsie, NY, right near Vassar College. They have a very nice craft beer selection there.

BGR- The Burger Joint, has 21 locations. They feature dry aged beef cooked to order over an open flame. While the burger looks rather pedestrian in the picture, it was good quality meat, properly seasoned, and close to the medium I ordered. Overall, it was quite flavorful. I was at the Danbury, Ct location.

Five Guys
Five Guys Burgers and Fries is the biggest, with well over a thousand locations, and one of the oldest, having been founded by Jerry Murrell in Virginia in 1986. It remains a family owned and run operation with Jerry's five sons, the five guys, involved in the business. They have a long list of toppings available for your single or double burger and you can even skip the meat and get a grilled cheese. The fries (regular or cajun) are very good and they give you a copious amount. I recommend sharing an order and they have malt vinegar to dip. 

If Zinburger is the most upscale, Five Guys is the closest to fast food. I don't mean that in a bad way, I do like them, even though I put them last on the list. They are way better than any of the big chains. The presentation is more rustic, read that as being served in aluminum foil to retain the heat. I've been to dozens of locations in New York, North Carolina, Virginia, and Connecticut and have find them to be consistent.   

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Elevation Burger- Willow Grove, Pa

Elevation Burger was started about a decade ago in Falls Church, Virginia and now has over fifty locations. Most of them are on the East Coast with a few in the Middle East. The founder, Hans Hess, came up with the idea of serving higher quality, grass-fed, meats and it was a novel concept at the time. They are what I like to call nouveau burger cuisine, those new slightly upscale burgers chains that have been popping up over the past few years. 

I had the Nyack location on my short list, but found there was one on the way down to our daughter's house so we stopped by the Willow Grove, Pennsylvania location to see what it was all about. Inside it has that modern burger place look, clean and neat. The menu is simple and easy to read and the service was friendly and helpful. 

I ordered the Elevation Burger, a double patty, with cheddar cheese and original toppings, lettuce, pickles, Elevation sauce, and tomato at $6.50. Teresa ordered a single burger with the same toppings and added caramelized onions at $4.50. We shared a regular fries at $3.25 and a drink at $2.25. Just a shade over eighteen dollars, comparable to the competition.   

So, how do they stack up to the competition in taste? The shoestring fries (fried in olive oil) were nice and crispy with good flavor. I like the fact that they have malt vinegar and Old Bay seasoning available. The burgers were quite good, equal to Habit Burger, Jake's Burger Fi and better than Shake Shake and Five Guys, but a bit below Smashburger. I would go again.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Billy Joe's Ribworks- Newburgh, NY

Billy Joe's Ribworks sits on the waterfront in Newburgh and I have been there a few times for happy hour on a Friday when they put out free appetizers. I thought it only right to stop by and have a meal so today being a gorgeous day we stopped by for lunch.

We sat outside to enjoy the view and looked over the menus. I was thinking of the Carolina burger, but I decided on the Brueben, a take on a Rueben, at twelve bucks. It was smoked brisket with cole slaw, melted provolone, and a BBQ mayonnaise on Texas Toast. It was quite good, the brisket was nice and tender, and came with some nice fries. 

Teresa went with the cilantro chicken sandwich, also twelve bucks. She opted for the sweet potato fries which were okay, but the regular fries were better. She said the chicken was good, but the portion was a bit small. 

Overall, a nice place with good service and good food. The view is excellent too. We'll go back again sometime. They have a website for more information. 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Cafe AIM- Newburgh, NY

I have passed by this place thousands of times over the years, but never at the right time to stop. About a year ago it changed hands and the new sign intrigued me enough to put it on my list. Well, today was the day and I must say that I have been missing out by not going sooner. 

Outside it looks small, but like a TARDIS it is bigger on the inside. It is clean and nicely decorated with the friendly and welcoming staff wearing black t-shirts adorned with the restaurant's logo. I was told to sit wherever I wanted and the waitress brought a menu. For a small place the menu is extensive and interesting, but I wanted a nice burger so I went with a bacon cheeseburger with chips for $6.79.

The burger was excellent. Nicely charred on the outside and close to the medium I'd ordered. The meat was seasoned nicely with salt, pepper, and I think I detected a hint of garlic powder. There was plenty of crispy bacon on it and the cheese melted to perfection. All of this sat on a fresh, toasted kaiser bun with lettuce, tomato, and red onions. 

Overall, a nice little restaurant with good food, at reasonable prices, and friendly service. I will be back again. I couldn't find a website, but they do have a Facebook page for more information.