Cafe Reviews

Rehab Burger Therapy: Two Sizes Fit All

Eating a gigantic burger feels a lot like a one-night stand: It's fun at first but leaves you full of regret.

Rehab Burger Therapy in Old Town Scottsdale does not believe in one-night stands — at least, not half the time. Each one of its 10-ounce Rehab burgers is available in a more manageable five-ounce option called a Relapse. And it's a very good idea. Especially since the Relapse delivers the same juicy and well-seasoned ground chuck, lightly toasted brioche bun, blanket of melted cheese, and the same number of toppings as its meatier and more demanding partner.

The idea was hatched in the minds of Ken Likewise, Denise Nelson, and Wiley Arnett. Having worked as executives of Oregano's for nearly 20 years (starting in 1994, when the pizza chain comprised just a single restaurant in Old Town), the three owners of Rehab Burger Therapy know a thing or two about how to make a restaurant successful. Like Oregano's, the concept here is decidedly approachable: a familiar, Margaritaville-like surf motif; a menu of American eats that never strays too far into the unusual; and a name just outrageous enough to be remembered. It's a formula that could easily slip into Like-Everyone-Else Land, but what makes Rehab stand out is that many of its dishes are dead-on satisfying. Which makes the months-old burger joint not a bad place to stop by if you happen to be in the neighborhood.

Since, thanks to Rehab chef Ken Likewise, the foundation of a good patty and bun (toasted brioche is the default, but there also is wheat or pretzel) are in place, and the meat is unfailingly grilled to diners' specifications, the decision at Rehab isn't whether to order a burger, but what to put on it.

In addition to a build-your-own option, there are eight gourmet creations, plus a daily special — usually something over the top like the "MacGnarly," the restaurant's version of the Big Mac. All start with what Rehab calls the "L.O.T. Treatment," which is another way of saying lettuce, onion, and tomatoes. The best of the bunch might be the Backyard BBQ Burger. Topped with lightly fried and chunky onion rings, Colby Jack cheese, and dripping with a lusciously sweet, spicy, and tangy signature sauce, it's done gratifyingly well and rightly comes with extra napkins. Hatch chile lovers will enjoy their patty under a roasted chile blanket along with gooey cheddar and a side of chipotle aioli that, given the burger's already good flavors, probably won't be necessary. And for Hatch lovers suffering from a previous evening of debauchery — or those who just appreciate a bit of breakfast on their burger (guilty as charged) — there's the Hangover. Piled high with a Hatch, melted Colby Jack cheese, crispy bacon strips, and a fried egg, the Hangover is, depending on your state of mind, a hearty way to begin the afternoon or a much-needed revival from the night before.

Sandwiches come as stacked as the burgers and are served on substantial buns or between thick slices of "Beach Toast." But unlike Rehab's signature item, finding the more noteworthy selections becomes a bit dicier.

There is a very good pescado borracho (drunk fish), thanks to meaty chunks of lightly beer-battered cod, tomatoes, and just the right amount of tartar sauce. I prefer mine with wedges of requested avocado and without the Colby Jack cheese. If the tortilla strips are not stale, the grilled chicken is better spiced up and tossed with a chipotle ranch dressing along with lettuce, peppers, onions, cotija and Colby Jack cheeses, tomato, and cilantro in a lively, festive salad called the Rodrigo da Vinci than as a snoozy sandwich. And although recommended by my servers as the best of the non-meat sandwiches, my Veggie Noogie arrived sans its "Special Sauce" and with a medley of mediocre grilled vegetables housed on a very dry whole wheat bun.

A choice of skin-on fries or mini sweet potato tots accompanies each burger and sandwich and, depending on the day, their preparation can be crispy and delicious or limp and greasy. Sometimes a nice, spicy ketchup is served with the fries, and sometimes an intensely sweet teriyaki sauce that tastes like the liquid version of pineapple Dum Dum Pops arrives with the tots. (Be warned: A little goes a long way.)

If you desire an appetizer pre-burger time, there is chili verde con pollo that, although I would have preferred it to be spicier, is respectable, especially thanks to warm and thick seasoned corn chips. But better are the Pig Wings. More unique than their fowl-minded neighbors, meaty chunks of pork with a crispy coating are served up "on a stick" (each with a single bone through the center) and generously coated with a wonderfully sweet and thick spicy peach barbecue sauce that tastes even better between swigs of an ice cold beer.

And Chef Likewise (or simply Ken, as the servers call him) not only has a knack for flavorful barbecue sauces, but the man knows his way around a pot of chili as well. His deliciously meaty and well-seasoned four-bean and beef creation with a long-lasting and even heat can be had atop fries or a gourmet burger, but I prefer it as the guilty pleasure called Chili con Fritos. In a large bowl, a splayed, snack-size bag of Fritos acts as a glossy placemat for spoonfuls of chili poured over the popular crunchy corn chips. Topped with melted shredded cheese, a few squirts of sour cream, and bits of tomatoes, this party-minded dish, listed in the sandwich and burger section, eats better as an appetizer with friends than as a single order. (They'd probably be stealing forkfuls of it from you, anyway.)

In half of the space formerly occupied by the stylish Bonfire Grill, Rehab's surf-minded setting is decidedly flip-flop casual. The colorful, island-like setting (which includes dining area, bar, and outdoor patio) is one we've experienced before: beach cruiser bikes hanging from the ceiling, surfboards lining the walls, and the approachable good-time music of artists like Don Henley and Dave Matthews playing through the speakers.

The staff is as laid-back and friendly as the scene, as well as being incredibly efficient. They're comfortable explaining the dishes and will excitedly tell you why some of them are their favorites; not only refill beverages, but bring cups full of extra ice to ensure they stay cold; and will explain that, currently, there are some not-on-the-menu Mexican-inspired items the owners are experimenting with, but wisely stop short of suggesting them.

And whether the jawbreakers replacing after-dinner mints or the hostess hula-hooping outside are simply impromptu fun or more pieces of a larger experiment to one day replicate the Rehab concept remains to be seen. For now, I'm crossing my fingers Rehab's same burger/two sizes idea catches on.

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Laura Hahnefeld
Contact: Laura Hahnefeld