Everyone always talks about their "burger" but this place is so fucking twee and stupid... they cut the burger into 4 slices and then arrange it around a pile of fries and you are supposed to share it or whatever and its like their signature dish or something (it has a little box around it on the menu) but its fucking dumb and not very good. Hella dry meat, too finely ground... skip it.
So... I'm coming around to this Rochester burger thing. I guess it was bound to happen, because really, I like almost all types of food, and I'm not generally one to discount entire styles or ingredients. Cuisine evolves because someone comes up with something that works, and it gets passed on down through the ages. Somewhere along the line though, the Rochester burger lost its way and degenerated into the kind of crap that gets served up at Bill Grays. As I learned from my experience at Food, its possible to make a good Rochester style burger, and Don's does just that. Don's has been around in one form or another since 1945 when it opened up as "Don & Bob's" hot dog cart. You can find the whole story on their site here and they currently have three locations. I ate at the one on Monroe Ave.
Of course I was wary going in. I have been eating crappy Rochester burgers for years, but the friendly dudes behind the counter immediately won me over by giving me the option of getting my burgers (they call the burgers by the old timey name "Ground Steak Sandwiches" but don't get confused, its just a burger) on a regular bun instead of a kaiser roll! HELL FUCKING YES! This burger adventure was off to a good start with the defeat of my Rochester nemesis, that bready german bastard.
They did seem confused about why anyone would want to take pictures of their menu board
So I got their "Famous Ground Steak Sandwich" plus a cheeseburger (which I think really for consistency they should call a "Famous Ground Steak Sandwich With Cheese") and some rings and fries.
Before I get into the burger I want to point out that as you can probably tell from this picture, these onion rings are lightly battered and freshly made, not like the usual crappy bags of frozen rings some places (I'm looking at you Dogtown) will just open up and dump into the fryer. It is really nice to see an establishment take pride in making decent onion rings from scratch, as they have always been my favorite side when done right. These rings seriously kicked ass. Highly recommended. The fries were mediocre - I'm not a fan of steak fries to begin with and these were pretty bogus anyway - but hey, awesome rings.
Now on to the burgers - here's the autopsy shot of the cheeseburger:
Aww yeah. This thing was good. The first thing I noticed about these burgers (apart from the fact that I wasn't chewing through a retarded amount of bread to get to the meat because they offered me the choice of a sane bun) is the quality of the meat. Definitely a cut above Bill Gray's. The grillmeister at this location also gave my patties some good char and a great texture - approaching the ideal fast food burger technique. The accoutrements - spicy meat sauce, mustard, onions and cheese (on the cheeseburger) all mingled nicely, and the meat sauce was a big improvement over that found over at Bill Gray's, mainly because it was spicier. A dry medium-well patty is always going to require some kind of toppings to give it a boost, and I have to admit that this Rochester trio works. There was a time in my young naive life when I thought I would never stray from boring toppings like ketchup and mayo, but then at times my thinking gets so uptight that the mere thought of toppings sends me into a blind rage. I guess the moral is that I'm usually wrong about everything, so you probably should take what I'm saying on this blog with a grain of salt. Or maybe the moral is that life is a journey, so right now I would like to thank Don's Original for being my guide on a little the part of that journey (the part where I start liking Rochester style burgers a little more).
The End (or is it?)
Prices (as of this post):
"Famous Ground Steak Sandwich" (actually just a burger): $3.95
Cheeseburger (actually a "Famous Ground Steak Sandwich" with cheese): $4.30
Onion Rings: $3.85
"Food" is an aptly named establishment located in Victor. I would recommend Food for people that enjoy food, and I am happy to report that they make a very good hamburger (hamburgers are a type of food). As you can see from the smaller sign to the right of the sign that says Food, the hours of Food are limited, so take note if you are in the mood for food at Food. Food is usually pretty packed, and its a small place, so be prepared for the possibility of a wait. Here is what it looks like when it is not open:
Usually, a lot of cars are here.
A sign that the food at Food is going to be good: it is always busy despite being a restaurant named "Food" with weird hours located in a boring portable-looking building next to an office park. My one previous visit to Food had been pleasant, so when I recently became hungry for food, I decided to return, and this time burgers were on the menu. The menu just said "Cheddar Burger" so I had no idea what to expect in terms of burger style, and our server seemed in too much of a hurry for me to ask, but since everything else at Food is good, I figured it would be a worthwhile offering.
Food serves up easily the best Rochester Style burger I've had to date, and though I'm generally not a fan, this burger won me over with a great execution. The first thing that set it apart was the bun, which although more robust than the typical fast food style bun, was still extremely soft and light and was clearly fresh baked, making it a great burger vehicle and a far cry from my burger nemesis, the kaiser roll. I was wary of the name "Cheddar Burger" which could have meant an overpoweringly Cheddary experience, but the cheese used turned out to be very mild, so even thought it was generously applied the flavor was subtle and well balanced in context.
Most important of all, the patty was awesome. You can see the killer crust peeking out from under the edges of the cheese, and it tasted as good as it looks. This is a smashed burger done right: smashed onto the griddle at the beginning of cooking, but not weighted down or repeatedly flattened, yielding maximum surface crust without losing too much moisture. Not only was this cooked properly, it was also well seasoned, good quality meat. As you can see, they put the lettuce and tomato on the side. A good move, as they would only detract from this burger. My only complaint is that I think it would really shine with two patties instead of one, so I may have to ask if they'll make me a double next time.
Verdict: Food serves a great Rochester Style burger, even if you're not particularly into that kind of thing.
Price: $7.00, came with a side of potato salad, which was also good.
(Also: I should mentioned that the menu at Food changes every day, so the burger might not always be available. If you want to make sure, give them a call first: (585) 742-3280)
I did not have a great burger at the Elmood Inn, but it's not entirely their fault. Once again my poor ordering skills were in full effect, as all the signs were there to point me towards what may have been a burger more suited to my palette, but like at Rohrbach's, I ignored them. A quick glance at the menu shows me where I went wrong.
As you know my main point of contention with Rochester burgers is the roll everyone uses for buns, which throws the beef-to-bun ratio off and results in a bready and dry burger experience. Well, this menu warned me that these burgers come on a roll, and yet still I threw caution to the wind and ordered a very basic cheeseburger - the standard lettuce, tomato, onion combo. I also asked for mayo, but my request went unheeded (that one is on you, Elmwood Inn, we both made mistakes here). My thought process was that I needed something simple to properly judge the meat.
Here's the spread:
I immediately regretted my relatively spartan burger choice as I began to power my way through another full-on bread slog. This burger wasn't horrible, but eating it made me wish I had ordered something else. My self doubt taunted me: "Why didn't I pay attention to that little square around the blue cheese burger? It's got a square around it, it has to be good!" The ghost of the "Cheeseburger Club" also haunted me with its tantalizing prospect of thousand island dressing (an In n' Out Burger staple) and two patties for a (in my imagination) better meat-to-bun ratio. But I had made my choice and now I had to eat it and judge it on its own merits. First of all, the Elmwood inn has some explaining to do if they think this is medium rare:
That is called medium, approaching medium-well. As we've established I have enough trouble ordering food without the added complication of having to guess what your establishment's arbitrary definition of medium-rare is, so here's a message to anyone cooking burgers: don't force me request a rare burger when I want medium-rare just because you are pandering to people who are scared of ground beef. Apart from the overcooking, the patty could have used a better sear on the outside and some more salt, but the meat was okay and it had a decent texture. The burger also comes with some unremarkable fries, which are indistinguishable from those you would get at Jay's.
Their website boasts "You'll Love Our Food... Or It's Free!" I'm sure they would have honored that if I had brought it up, but it's a moot point because even if I had read that guarantee before I did-not-Love their burger, who wants the hassle of trying to talk your way out of a bill at a restaurant? I'll tell you who: the kind of asshole who sends their medium-rare burgers back complaining that they aren't cooked enough.
Also on their website I discovered they had hired this dude (apparently some kind of poor-man's Gordon Ramsey-for-hire) to update their menu, and there is a deceptive video of him making a hamburger. Deceptive because he puts it on a normal hamburger bun, which he butters and toasts. I guess whoever is actually in the kitchen at Elmwood has never seen this video since they just put their burger on the standard Rochester unbuttered kaiser roll.
The verdict: Rochester style bun + unexciting pub style execution + Ron regrets his order = shoulder-shrugging indifference. If I try one of the other burgers on the menu and its an epiphany, I'll be sure to post about it. For now my opinion is that the Elmwood Inn is a decent place to grab a drink and chill out, but the burger is nothing to write home about.
Price: Burger + Fries: 7.59 (Or $0 if you do not love it, or just enjoy trying to weasel yourself free meals.)
This is gonna be quickie since I didn't have my camera with me and I wasn't taking notes, but I thought I would write up my impressions anyway. Recently I ended up at Rohrbach's Restaurant, an extension of the excellent local brewery, and of course I had to try the burger. I had vague memories of eating their "Heart Stopper" burger (topped with bacon and a fried egg) in the distant past, and was anxious to try what I hoped would be a good pub style burger. When I checked the menu, my eye was drawn toward "The Rohrbach Burger" and I ordered it under the assumption that something named after the brewery would be a good choice. But to quote Samuel L. Jackson as Mitch Hennessy in the Renny Harlin retardo-classic "The Long Kiss Goodnight" - "When you make an assumption, you make an ass out of you and umption."
In my burger ordering excitement I had failed to scrutinize the menu thoroughly and missed a detail that would have certainly made me alter my selection: it seems The Rohrbach Burger is "served on a large grilled hard crust Italian roll." Oh. Oh. So my main issue with this thing is it's actually not really a burger at all. It's more of a big sandwich that has some oblong ground beef inside. The bread was good, similar to what you get at DiBella's, and the beef was high quality, but overall this whole concept gets a thumbs down from me. First, the process of forming the patty into the weird long sub-sandwich shape seemed to have negatively affected the texture, as it was somewhat mealy. The other downside of this goofy patty was uneven cooking - its inevitable that the ends of this patty end up overdone (which happened in my case) or the center underdone. Apart from those issues, all my usual problems with using hearty sandwich-style rolls for burgers are just magnified by this giant, crusty, dense roll. I'm not ruling out Rohrbach's yet, but the fact that they have dubbed this sandwich "The Rohrbach Burger" doesn't give me a lot of confidence in their other offerings. On the plus side the beer-battered fries were above average and The Vanilla Porter I had with my meal was great.
For the first rageburger review I decided to revisit an old nemesis. Since my arrival in Rochester a decade ago, I have been plagued by what is known as the "Rochester style" burger. Initially I was confused as to why all my hamburgers were being served on kaiser rolls, then angered when I spotted a guy behind the grill at at Charlie's smash my patty flat with a weight, then finally resigned as I suffered a long series of disappointingly dry, flat, and bread-buried burgers. But as I mentioned in my first post, I'm going to make a serious effort to be open-minded with this blog, and that meant attacking the Rochester burger head-on with a trip to a restaurant that I vowed long ago never to return to, the standard-bearer of the Rochester style burger: Bill Gray's.
Bill Gray's slogan is a laughable boast clearly not meant to be taken seriously. A giant plaque at the Henrietta location reminds me that they offer the "World's Greatest Cheeseburger." The fact that this appears below a fake locomotive engine sticking out of a wall makes me think maybe I shouldn't be too hard on Bill Gray's, since it's obviously a place aimed at kids. But then I think, fuck you Bill Gray's, world's greatest cheeseburger my ass. The last time I was here was probably about five years ago, and I remember the burger as dry, tasteless, and not worth revisiting. When I saw the little placard that explained the basic toppings options, I realized to some extent why this was.
Back then, I had naively ordered my burger "deluxe" instead of the obviously correct choice "everything." To get any satisfaction out of the Rochester burger, I have learned to suppress my California-bred burger instincts. These days I know that this burger is going to need that meat sauce, and this so-called "lettuce and tomato" are not going to be my childhood pals, In n' Out lettuce and tomato. Instead they will be a soggy mess of shredded leaves and a pale, unripe imitator, both them them lying flavorless across the patty and contributing little more than a vague sense of unease. So here I am older, wiser, and ordering "everything." Another lesson: a single patty probably still won't be enough meat to combat the roll, so I order a double too. Maybe I was wrong about Bill Gray's and my poor condiment choices were the real culprit?
As you can see I also ordered some rings. I am a big fan of rings. My dining companion ordered a veggie burger and fries:
I'll leave the veggie burger review to her (you can read it at the end of this post) but fries are an important part of the burger experience, so I'll try to touch on them in my reviews. Unfortunately as you can see these are crinkle-cut. In my experience there has never been a good crinkle-cut fry. These were no exception, so there is no point discussing them further. Moving on to the onion rings, these weren't bad, probably frozen, but with a dive-pizza-place flavor that reminded me of my childhood. As for the burgers...
First impression: Not as bad as I remember. Congratulations Bill Gray's, you aren't as bad as I remember. Unfortunately that's probably much the highest praise I can muster for this burger. The sauce is a decent take on the typical Rochester spicy meat sauce, but it needs to be since its purpose is to distract you from the rubbery, chewy, and generally dry and flavorless meat. Second impression: Why is there so much bread in my mouth? Curse you, Kaiser Franz Joseph, I blame you for this egregious misuse of your otherwise delicious rolls! Time to move on to...
Okay, the ratio is much better now, and the extra meat sauce and cheese on this guy definitely made it more palatable, but they can't fix the fundamental flaws. Sub par meat is still the main issue here (I was literally picking chunks of gristle out of my mouth) and even with twice as much meat and cheese the roll still manages to be too dense, bready, and distracting.
The verdict: Bill Gray's is for children, but you should probably take your kids somewhere good instead. If there is a great Rochester style burger waiting out there for me, this isn't it.
Addendum: Bill Gray's Veggie Burger review, by Tara
I don’t have the same epicurean standards as Ron, nor do I share his animosity towards Bill Gray’s. As a vegetarian, I am just thankful they have something I can eat. Prior to this trip, I had been to BG’s a handful of times and had fond memories of their veggie burgers. The first thing you will notice about the burger, besides that it oddly hangs off the bun, is that it tries really hard to look like meat. I find it a little unsettling but I’m always more taken with how pancake-flat the burger is. It’s served on a wheat roll, which I appreciate, but you can ask for a roll of your choice. As for taste, it was more plain than I remembered, semi-dry and a little bland, with a slight “I’m trying to taste like hamburger” feel. Still, I’m happy not to be eating a salad so I roll with it. With this veggie burger, toppings are going to make or break your experience. This was my first BG’s veggie burger since I stopped eating cheese and it made a significant difference. There was only so much my tomato and lettuce could do to compensate for the flavor loss. Still, I liked my burger. It’s kinda fun to have the whole burger joint experience sans flesh. Next time I will just load up on condiments.