Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bill Gray's and the "Rochester style" Burger

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?

 The Spread:
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...
The Single:
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...
The Double:

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.
Prices: "World's Greatest Cheeseburger," 3.99; Double Cheeseburger, 5.99; Veggie Burger, 4.29; Fries, 2.99; Onion Rings, 2.99

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.   



  1. man, what on earth did a crinkle-cut do to hurt you so?

  2. i have never had crinkle cut fry that didn't come out of a bag in a freezer

  3. Honest appraisals. Detailed assessments with great photos.
    Why don't you tell about the UMI(not sure that is the right name) burger you had in California? I guess cause you are doing local haunts for New Yorkers.

  4. seriously ... a Cali dude down on a NY burger ... you should go to Red Robin and have all that extra crap put on a 3/4 lb heart attack burger - or maybe a slice of avacado so that you can not even taste the beef. I don't want to have a big bushy fresh leaf of lettuce and a cold slice of tomato on my hot gooey burger. And if you prefer a small traditional bun for your burger well I think that says it all. Try a single BG cheeseburger w/ katsup - mustard - dill pickles and onion > RIGHTEOUS the way a burger should taste.