Grill About Town
The recent burst of summerlike weather had me scrambling for something to wear, shopping for sunblock, and dreaming about backyard barbecues. Thing is, I didn't even have time to dust off my grill before I got a hardcore burger craving. Blame it on one of my neighbors, whose cookout I could smell from several doors down. The smoky aroma of sizzling beef was a whiff of paradise I wish I could've bottled it.
Once I get hungry for something, I want it now, so I grabbed a friend for a spontaneous lunch. She offered to drive us in her shiny red convertible, too, which only amplified my early summer fever.
"You know, there's something about a really good burger that's even better than a good steak," she said.
I agree. Steaks are satisfying in a straightforward, primal way, but burgers have so much more going on more flavors and textures to consider, and no silverware to interfere. It's no wonder the upscale burger trend is still going strong.
Blu Burger Grille
15425 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
To satisfy our jones, my carnivorous friend and I headed up to Blu Burger Grille, in a plaza across from Kierland Commons. The restaurant occupies a corner spot, with a front patio that wraps around the side of the building. Inside, the minimal decor is a flashback to 20 years ago. With bright blueberry walls, shiny silver chairs, and a kooky wall hanging shaped like eyeglasses, the only thing that could've made it more '80s would've been some neon yellow paint splashes. We lucked out with a patio table.
If you like to micromanage your burger, come here. The menu offers several kinds of patties (including Kobe beef, lamb, and crab cake), four kinds of buns, and a huge variety of toppings, along with salads, sandwiches, and some specialty burgers. I went for the signature Blu Burger, topped with gorgonzola, caramelized onions, and applewood bacon, while my friend ordered a Southwest Burger, which was slathered in chipotle and roasted red pepper mayo, sautéed peppers, and pepper jack cheese. Both were half-pound Angus patties served on big, fresh onion buns.
With burgers, the first bite is everything when the meat is hottest and juiciest, when the bun is still intact, and when all the toppings are still in place. The experience can be downright cathartic after so much anticipation. Thankfully, Blu Burger Grille gave me me a thrill when my food finally arrived. (Service was a tad slow.) The patty was flavorful and perfectly cooked to medium-rare, as requested. The bun was soft but sturdy, with toasted bits of onion, and there were just enough toppings to complement the meat without overpowering it. A side of addictingly crisp sweet potato fries lightly sprinkled with sugar provided a good foil to the tangy blue cheese.
The fare at Blu Burger Grille won't topple my absolute favorite burger in town the famous house specialty at Delux but I'll definitely go back for more if I'm in the vicinity.
Simply Burgers, 1455 West Elliott Road, Gilbert
On another afternoon, I met up with some friends from Gilbert to check out Simply Burgers, a new place tucked into a quiet plaza on Elliott. If we didn't have the address handy, we definitely wouldn't have stumbled upon it.
The place is clean and colorful, decorated with toys and framed music posters that give it a vaguely vintage feel, with a nondescript patio out front. The huge menu is posted up on a wall like a mural, and like Blu Burger, there are many burger options as well as salads. We ordered at the counter and received a buzzer to let us know when our food was ready.
Considering Simply Burgers was less than half full of customers, I was puzzled that it took a while to get our meals. Even stranger were the limp, undercooked fries. Surely, the kitchen had enough time to fry them to a crisp, but they tasted like they were made in haste. A side of onion rings had more crunch but, unfortunately, they were way too salty.
As for the burgers, they didn't quite shine like I expected them to. The Desert Heat burger was overpowered by too much spicy barbecue sauce, while a mushroom swiss burger that was supposed to be medium rare was closer to medium well. And a quarter-pound Angus burger seemed cooked down to nothing, with scant meat inside a nice-looking but slightly dry bun.
I love that Simply Burgers promotes its quality ingredients high-end stuff like natural, grass-fed American Kobe beef from Snake River Farms, free-range chicken, and organic salad greens but none of it added up to an exceptional burger. With some tweaking, the restaurant could be really good. But right now, it's not a destination. It's strictly a neighborhood joint, at best.
Heart Attack Grill, 440 West Warner Road, Tempe
"You took one for the team today, Michele."
That's what my editor told me after I came back from lunch at the naughty nurse-themed Heart Attack Grill. I think my face must've been green. On my drive back to the office, I kept salivating (from nausea), and the queasy feeling lasted throughout the afternoon.
The strip mall eatery itself was tinier than I expected, with mirrors and counter seating all around the room, and a stage-like waitress platform beneath an oversize wall menu. It was a pared-down, unhealthy list: Single, Double, Triple, and Quadruple Bypass burgers (they supposedly haul you out on a wheelchair if you pig out on that last one), fries proudly cooked in pure lard, iced tea and soda (diet drinks are absent), and cigarettes. That's it.
I had to choke down my Single Bypass burger. The half-pound beef patty, seasoned with too much black pepper, was overcooked, but then again, nobody asked me how I'd like it done. Same goes with the non-negotiable toppings: cheddar cheese, red onion, tomato, and bacon. Those were fine, but what ruined the burger for me was the bun; the surface was moist and wrinkly, as if it had been steamed. At least the thick-cut steak fries were decent.
I had been excited to check out Heart Attack Grill after hearing about its slutty, lingerie-clad servers you know, some entertainment with my meal. I love kitsch, and the outlandish "nurse" concept sounded like a poor man's Hooters. But then I got there and saw the waitresses. Oh no, they weren't the pneumatic models from the restaurant's Web site, but rather ordinary-looking ladies (blemishes and all) parading across a dirty stage in tacky red-and-white spandex.
I felt sorry for my server, who seemed genuinely nice. But then she got a little too friendly and sat down on the counter right in front of us to take our order. It's an unusual observation to make in a restaurant review, but you need to know this: Her skimpy panties were not enough to contain her butt cheeks.
Usually, "cheeky" has a fun connotation for me but not in this case.
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