Cafe Reviews

Cold Beers & Cheeseburgers' Classic Fare Goes Awry

Say the word "cheeseburger" and most meat-eating Americans drool at the thought of a juicy, seasoned beef patty blanketed in melted cheese, accompanied by any number of condiments, and resting on a dreamy bun. Say the words "cold beer," and, well, now we're really talking.

The effect of these words on the human psyche hasn't been lost on the owners of North Scottsdale's newest suds-and-sandwiches joint, aptly named Cold Beers & Cheeseburgers. From the same folks who own Arcadia Tavern in Phoenix, the four-month-old upscale-casual eatery in Scottsdale Road's Grayhawk Plaza makes this most agreeable pairing its mainstay by offering signature burgers along with a massive selection of brews.

But serving up a cold one is the easy end of the equation — especially when the beer menu includes 43 bottles, 17 cans, and 16 drafts, all served in chilled mugs. Wine and specialty drinks are available, as well. And for drinking guests with a sweet tooth, there are adult shakes like the Irish Oreo, with vanilla vodka, and a Creamsicle, made with Bacardi Orange.

CB&C's sizable menu of American eats — including 13 burgers, as well as starters, sandwiches, and salads along with categories of sliders, jumbo Kosher dogs, and mac-and-cheese creations — makes for a lengthy read. And with its hit-and-miss dishes, diners may the find the cold beer a complement or simply a way to wash down a mediocre meal.

The signature burgers, as might be expected, are the place to begin — and they're a hefty lot.

They range from the 1000 Island Burger (with housemade sauce) to gourmet types like the Truffle and Bacon Bleu to real button-busters like the O-Lineman Burger (with grilled cheese sandwiches in place of the bun) and a one-pound-plus monster aptly named the Mammoth Double Burger.

Most of the creations feature half-pound patties stacked with toppings and condiments between fresh (and sometimes not-so-fresh) artisan buns, and each burger comes with a serrated knife stabbed through its center. The patty is well prepared, but the meat doesn't pack the same beefy flavor found at other gourmet burger joints, and seasoning is minimal. Instead, these burgers must rely on their supporting cast for a good show.

Getting the most bang for your burger buck (prices range from $10 to $18) means making the right selection. Or, as in the case of the BYOB (Build Your Own Burger), choosing the best ingredients.

Caramelized onions and a garlic aioli, in addition to pickles and Gruyère, make the CB&CB Burger a simple yet satisfying selection. The same goes for the 1000 Island Burger and its slice of provolone and slightly sweet and creamy homemade Thousand Island dressing. Also tasty and textured is the Pittsburger, topped by a slice of American cheese and flavorful grilled tomatoes that give it a sweet boost. A crowning of cole slaw and French fries provide a crunchy bite.

More inspirational in name than in taste were the Ring of Fire and Roadhouse burgers. The Ring of Fire's pepper jack cheese, chili-spiced onion ring, jalapeños, and spicy mayo sure sounded like a fiery concoction, but the combination smoldered, at best — and a too-tangy Buffalo sauce nearly extinguished the dying embers of heat.

Sadly, the Roadhouse burger, with Wisconsin cheddar, barbecue sauce, and diced onions, barely packed a punch, its thin and tomatoey topping (curiously called "hearty beef chili") the culprit.

For groups looking to pair their brews with sharable dishes, CB&C offers an array of appetizers, drummettes, and sliders that, like the burgers, can be difficult to navigate to avoid disappointment.

Crispy, nicely salted housemade chips are better as a side dish, not an appetizer, where they appear as Hell Fire Chips, tossed in the aforementioned overly tangy Buffalo sauce, which immediately renders them unpleasantly soggy. The chips also appear in the texturally uncomfortable baked Buffalo chicken dip, in which minced chicken swims in the Buffalo sauce and is topped with hardened crumbles of blue cheese. After just a couple of bites, the dip went untouched at my table.

Unlike the chips, golden tater tots make for a good side and a great appetizer. Smothered with fresh guacamole, roasted pepper cheese sauce, beef chili, and a scoop of sour cream, this plentiful platter, aptly named Tot-Chos, happily brings out one's inner white trash gourmand.

CB&C's pound of grilled chicken drummettes are tender and meaty, but the signature sauces' flavors — golden mustard, sweet-citrus teriyaki, and classic Buffalo — stay on the shy side. As it is in the burgers, the meat on the three shaved prime rib sliders was average, at best. The accompanying au jus was just as forgettable, but the spicy horseradish was strong enough to set one's eyes to tearing.

Jumbo kosher dogs and MMMMac-N-Cheese dishes are good ideas, but, unfortunately, they lack the execution to make them noteworthy. Like the burgers, the dogs are large and loaded with toppings. In the case of Tijuana Torpedo, the tasty grilled kosher dog was torpedoed by a leathery strip of bacon and bland tomato slices. Worse yet, thanks to a dry bun, the whole thing fell apart on the first bite.

The mac and cheese dishes fell short of my expectations of comforting, cheesy goodness. In the case of Buddha's Delight, with grilled chicken and broccoli, the sad-looking dish was little more than egg noodles and butter. Where was the three-cheese blend promised on the menu?

For those looking for something else besides a burger, there are several by-the-book sandwiches and salads. The grilled cheese with tomatoes on grilled sourdough is satisfying, its cheesy blend of American, Swiss, and provolone making the restaurant's mac and cheese dishes look all the more bland. And if the bacon on the Grayhawk Club isn't overcooked (a recurring problem at CB & C), then this sandwich of turkey, jack cheese, avocado, and tomatoes on grilled sourdough should do in a pinch. The Asian chicken salad, however, should be avoided. The curious handling of the salad's main ingredient — the chicken is more ground than shredded — makes for a texturally disagreeable experience, and limp tortilla strips and an overpowering thick peanut sauce make this dish one I would expect from the likes of Applebee's.

If the well-heeled locals and North Scottsdale families who frequent Cold Beers & Cheeseburgers are finding fault with some of the restaurant's fare, they don't appear to be complaining. The bright and comfortable room with its TVs, patio, and classic rock make for an inviting neighborhood hangout. Perhaps the novelty is succeeding in masking, at least for now, a menu of inconsistent food.

Until Cold Beers & Cheeseburgers improves its offerings or pares down its menu to focus on what really works, I'll be enjoying my cold one closer to home, and with a cheeseburger I can trust.

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Laura Hahnefeld
Contact: Laura Hahnefeld