For me, the flavor of the recession has been defined by what can be served on a bun.
Before a big chunk of the city was in foreclosure, there was a wave of chic upscale steakhouses serving impossibly expensive slabs of Kobe beef; more recently, with the general public on the lookout for affordable luxuries, restaurateurs have ground said Kobe into burgers, or simply taken good old fashioned chuck and dressed it up with modern toppings.
Truffle aioli? Check. Fried egg? Check. Some kind of artisanal cheese? Check. And hopefully there's a good beef patty in there, too.
Michele Laudig cafe
2502 East Camelback Road, #127
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Roasted chicken salad...................$12
Bananas Foster shake......................$6
Yes, we've seen gourmet burgers plenty of times this past year, at those same upscale steakhouses as well as one-off places devoted to variations on the classic, and there's yet another new eatery joining in the fray.
Zinburger, which opened this past spring at Biltmore Fashion Park, doesn't claim to be original — it's a Fox Restaurant Concepts spot whose first location is in Tucson. For a split second, I might've rolled my eyeballs at the notion of one more place like this when we're already faced with too many choices, but I also had to be honest with myself: I can't shake the urge to devour a great burger any more than I'll tire of pizza, barbecue, or sushi.
And Zinburger is downright tasty. It has something else going for it, too: It's at the mall.
Or perhaps, it's that the mall has Zinburger going for it. Biltmore has had an identity crisis the past few years (especially with the unwelcome retail shuffle and paid parking lots), and it's been tempting to avoid the place altogether. The only thing that gives me hope is how the dining mix has slowly and steadily improved.
Award-winning chef Christopher Gross moved into stylish new digs. Scottsdale's Stingray Sushi spawned a second location here. You can actually get a decent tuna salad sandwich at Paradise Bakery. Another Fox Restaurant, True Food, serves cuisine for the health-conscious.
And finally, with the arrival of Zinburger, a girl like me can get a properly decadent burger as a reward for her exhaustive shopping efforts.
As a bonus, Zinburger also plies its patrons with thick Bananas Foster and Kit Kat-flavored milkshakes served in tall glasses, affordable wines, a handful of beers on tap such as Deschutes Black Butte Porter and Four Peaks 8th Street Ale, and a few novelty drinks, including a bloody Mary with bacon-infused vodka, and an ice cream float made with Sessions Black Lager.
Retail therapy is great and all, but I can truly unwind with some comfort food at one of Zinburger's butcher block tables or at the inviting bar that faces the front patio (which I imagine will be quite a scene once the weather dips below 100).
The menu here is so streamlined that food takes up less space than drinks. A list of eight burgers runs the gamut from The Plain & Simple Burger, dressed with lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise, to the signature Zinburger, topped with a flavorful ooze of Manchego cheese, mayo, and zinfandel-braised onions. Choose from among 16 additional toppings — goat cheese, barbecue sauce, wild mushrooms, and so on — to make any one of them Fancy & Complicated (my description, not theirs!).
Both burgers were properly cooked and juicy, although not quite as succulent as the Kobe burger, served on a buttery toasted bun with mayo, melted cheddar, and wild mushrooms.
The turkey burger was just as satisfying as its beefy cousins, with a mouthwatering patty that seemed all the more appealing with a generous amount of ripe avocado, mayo, Swiss, and an additional fried egg (honestly, what doesn't taste better with a fried egg?).
Clint's "Almost Famous" Vegetable Burger was another fine creation, and was much more substantial than the stereotypical veggie burger patty. Smoked mozzarella and tomato marmalade added layers of flavor to make this one of the more memorable dishes here. And while the seared ahi sandwich didn't quite grab me, the fish was clean-tasting and remained a lovely ruby color in the middle.
I could've had the ahi on a salad, but I'm glad I went with the sandwich; the roasted chicken salad was far from offensive, but it contained an annoying amount of iceberg mixed in with its "organic greens" and the chunks of meat didn't have the seductive qualities of good roasted chicken. It wasn't dry, but almost. Meanwhile, the simple BLT salad was appealing thanks to chewy pieces of Nueske's applewood-smoked bacon.
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Side dishes were limited to four kinds of fries, and here is where Zinburger could use more consistency. One visit's sweet potato fries, served with an unexpected yogurt dipping sauce, were lightly crisp and darn close to perfect. Another time, an order of "double truffle" fries (truffled shoestring fries with truffled aioli) arrived like a limp pile of noodles. Plain handcut fries were an improvement, while Parmesan-dusted zucchini fries needed just a bit more time to crisp up. Those last had the most appealing taste, though.
I'd say that any form of dessert here is redundant, given how huge those thick milkshakes are, but pie is on the menu, and there just aren't enough restaurants serving pie these days. (Don't they realize it's the next big thing?) A slice of banana cream pie landed on the table like an angel from sugar heaven, with a halo of whipped cream obscuring dense, cool yellow pudding.
This is diner food for the 21st century — and I don't even need shopping as an excuse to enjoy it.