Bobby Flay's burgers, not ready for a throwdown
By Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011
It's almost 2 o'clock on a Monday afternoon, and there's still a line outside Bobby's Burger Palace downtown. While it takes nearly 15 minutes to reach the register and place an order, the interior of the city's latest addition to the ground-beef scene gives a friend and me plenty to amuse ourselves: counters with more curves than Mae West, striped overhead lights that suggest taffy being pulled and gorgeous outsize photographs of onions, tomatoes and potatoes.
West Elm didn't dress the tasteful joint, but it could have.
The Bobby in the title is Bobby Flay, the New York-based chef, Food Network star and "Entourage" walk-on. The celebrity chef's Washington outpost, the sixth "Palace" in his growing empire, tries to make a mark with six-ounce hamburgers named mostly for American cities, the option for customers to "crunchify" their sandwiches by tucking potato chips inside, and milkshakes in such exotic flavors as blueberry-pomegranate.
I'm charmed by the look of the place. I appreciate the opportunity to get my burger cooked any of five ways, from rare to well-done, and to have the food delivered to my table.
Our smiles slip as soon as we bite into the hamburgers, however. The toppings - pickled jalapenos and crushed blue corn chips in the Santa Fe burger, Monterey Jack and coleslaw for the Dallas model - turn out to be distractions for ground beef that, on its own, has very little flavor. Nearby, a metal holder with five squeeze bottles encourages patrons to drench their troubles in sauce.
Just about everything else we check out is as regrettable, from the tepid french fries and the wan onion rings to the Crunch Salad, strewn with as many tortilla chips as kidney beans: greens for people who hate them.
The happy exceptions are those milkshakes, delivered with fat straws to accommodate their thickness. The pistachio accent is true to the nut; blueberry with pomegranate summons summer in Maine.
"When I go out to a restaurant, I don't want to feel like a sucker," says my lunch companion, pushing away the relatively untouched plates but continuing to nurse his drink. "Here, I feel like a sucker."
Up front, there are sauces and cookbooks and baseball caps for sale with Flay's name emblazoned on them. The only thing we want after eating here is the number of the set dresser.