Thursday, October 22, 2009

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers

The past few weeks we’ve been visiting mostly full service places that serve steak, seafood, etc. We have not limited our exercise to this though, as you will see this week. When we started this quest, we made only a couple of rules. 1. it needed to be a place we’d not been to before. 2. The choice would rotate between the three of us. This past weekend was Angel’s turn and she decided to try a place that she had seen often but that we had not tried.

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers
130 Gravois Bluffs Cir, Fenton, MO
Official Website
Oct 17 2009

The place:
Gravois Bluffs is surprisingly enough a shopping center on a bluff just off Gravois Blvd, (Highway 30) in Fenton. The shopping center hosts our nearest Target, movie theaters, office depot, and nearby is the nearest Best Buy, Garden Ridge, etc. so we’ve been by the Red Robin scores of times. It sits in the parking lot near a Qdoba, Olive Garden, and a few other such places.
Inside we immediately noticed the staff busy filling helium balloons, and a large CRT TV mounted in the floor under thick glass. I noticed that no one was stepping on the TV, though they could, they were stepping around it; modesty perhaps? I also noticed that no one was watching it either. It seemed more gimmicky than functional.
The place was very busy, the noise level was quite high, high enough that even though I sensed there was music playing I could not identify it. We were quickly escorted to a booth in the back affording us a view of the entire place. We liked the lamps, small halogen deals suspended from the exposed metal rafters and covered with small, brightly colored thick glass shades. I think LOWES carries these, we’ve always liked them. On the walls were mounted pictures, different sizes, different subjects, mostly bright and happy. They really covered the walls, nary a bare spot was visible. There was no underlying theme, some movie posters, some animated ducks, some group photos and some scenery. It appeared to have been the result of raid on a flea market rather than a planned art hunt. There was a large mural near the entrance near the ceiling, of people smiling. A diverse group of people, heads only, all very content and happy. It appeared to me to be something you would see on the cover of a brochure for an insurance company or HMO. There was also for no apparent reason, an outrigger canoe dangling from the ceiling.
The menu we were offered was a single colorful card about four feet by eight feet in size. . . well maybe not that large, but close. The variety of offerings was very good considering we were in a place that bills itself as a gourmet burger restaurant. We did not expect a soup/salad bar or a vast array of main courses.

The food:
One ice tea, one diet coke and one regular coke.
Angel went off the grid and ordered the Grilled Salmon Burger , Adam, the Banzai Burger, and I decided on a classic Bacon Cheeseburger. I was asked if I wanted it ‘pink’ or ‘not pink’, of course I chose pink. All orders promised a bottomless supply of steak fries.
The tea arrived, I was not about to be impressed. The menu had highlighted the fact that it was Lipton as if there was reason for pride in such a claim. So one point was immediately deducted from the total score. It was clear and fresh though so they didn’t lose any more points than that. Angel and Adam said nothing about their unimaginative drink choices, so I assume they were as satisfactory as mass-manufactured soft drinks can be.
The burgers and fries arrived quickly enough in a basket about two sizes too small for the offerings. The burgers were tightly diapered to help catch the advertised drippiness. This was not a problem; I like my burgers a bit messy.
The fries were thick and mostly hidden under the burger in the small basket. Adding ketchup was difficult since I prefer to dip my fries rather than drizzle them. I cleared a corner in the basket and struggled throughout the meal to keep the fries from drowning in the puddle.
I have to say the burger was fantastic. It was indeed pink, somewhere near medium rare. It was thick and juicy and covered in cheddar cheese. It held together just fine in spite of its juiciness. I tried Angel’s salmon, and oddly enough it was probably the best prepared salmon filet that I’ve had anywhere, and here it was pretending to be a burger and served like one. Angel really liked it.
The fries were a disappointment. I would have preferred thin crispy fries. Of course by definition steak fries are thick. These however were also barely done, no crispiness, mostly soft and starchy. A few more minutes in the fryer would have done the trick, these were barely brown. However there was a promised infinite supply of them. Since the basket was so small there were not many served initially, Adam and I had to request more. To my taste they were also too salty, though that’s probably just me. Angel added salt to hers.

The service:
It was fine. The uniform was blue jeans and properly logo’d polo shirts. Our server was young, quick, friendly and attentive. Looking around the staff seemed to all be busy and content. I would not have been because:
The place was filled with babies!
I noticed this while we were waiting for our food. The place was full and by my estimate more than eighty percent of the tables had at least one baby or toddler, several had more than one. I mentioned this to Angel and she agreed that there was an astonishingly high proportion of families with very young kids. I tried to figure it out. The place was more expensive and slower than McDonald’s or Burger King, the burgers were certainly of a higher quality but still we’re just talking burgers and fries. I was perplexed. Then Angel pointed to the front of the building. I saw it; the bar.
A quick scan around the tables confirmed it. Nearly every table that had a young family also had a parent or two sipping something more potent than ice tea. Dads had a variety of choice beers to choose from; the mom’s and grandma’s seemed to prefer something tall with ice and an umbrella or sunken cherry. It made perfect sense. All around messy, smelly, greasy babies were sucking on their slobbery steak fries, while mom was taking the opportunity to dip her toes into a slightly more relaxing place.

The burgers were very good. I wouldn’t say ‘insanely delicious’ as the advertisements scream, but I certainly did enjoy the burger. The fries, though okay, were quickly too thick and heavy. This is an issue with steak fries in general, not just Red Robin’s. The baskets were frustratingly small. The meal only cost forty four dollars with tip, much less than our previous restaurants, but quite high for burgers and fries. Frankly Dairy Queen’s burgers taste almost as good, and are nowhere near as pricey. Given the choice between the two, I would probably more often choose Dairy Queen because of the price certainly, but also there are fewer screaming kids and less noise in general and of course, better fries. I can certainly recommend the place though, but ONLY IF you have small children and are seeking an ‘adult friendly’ burger joint.
The final score, eighty five; barely a ‘B’.

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