Mon 16 Feb 2009
There are few celebrity chefs who can compete with Bobby Flay for sheer star power. Whether he’s taking on a challenger on Iron Chef America, coming to town to challenge a local favorite in a Throwdown or simply serving upscale southwestern-influenced dishes at his restaurants across the country, he tends to command attention.
So when my family told us about his newest (and nearby) venture, Bobby’s Burger Palace, we were eager to check it out. After all, Flay had won his ‘burger’ throwdown, and the menu suggested an approach to burgers that was reminiscent of Spike Mendelsohn’s Good Stuff Eatery. With extended family in tow, we made a pilgrimage to check out the Burger Palace only a week or so after it first opened in Monmouth.
We arrived at the Monmouth Mall and made our way around to the Palace, one of several freestanding restaurants situated around the mall itself. I know, I know…we’re not really doing anything to combat Jersey stereotypes here, but what can you do? We walked up to the door in the freezing cold of the evening – and found ourselves facing a line that snaked out the door.
But we would not be deterred. We had been promised hot, juicy burgers with creative toppings and accompaniments, and damnit it we were going to have them!
More pictures of the space and our impressions of how well the host of Boy Meets Grill handles the heat after the jump.
A lesser family might have balked at a wait in the bitter chill, allowing themselves to be seduced by the sirens’ song of Chili’s, Ruby Tuesday’s, or TGI Friday’s (all conveniently arrayed nearby). But we perservered, and at last we found ourselves on the way to the counter. Once inside, we learned the reason for the line: Bobby’s tries to adhere to a strict policy of no seat-saving. By requiring you to wait until you’ve placed your order to find seating, they aim to pace turnover so as to have seats available just as they’re needed.
As you might guess, it’s not a perfect system. Those who prefer to linger over their meals, savoring instead of bolting their burgers, tend to throw things off a bit. So do those who believe the ‘no seat saving’ policy couldn’t possibly apply to them. And large groups are pretty much S.O.L. – far better to split up into smaller contingents to improve the odds of sitting near someone you know.
When it’s your turn to order, you’ve got plenty of options. Do you go with the Palace Classic (lettuce, tomato, onion and American cheese) or the Bobby Blue Burger, which features blue cheese and bacon? Better yet, do you go for a little road trip with Flay and check out one of the iconic burgers he designed with various American cities in mind? Philadelphia is represented by a burger whose toppings (grilled onions, provolone, peppers) would be right at home on a cheesesteak. The Buffalo burger’s hot sauce and blue cheese should come as no surprise. And the Miami is served pressed, topped with ham, swiss cheese, pickles and mustard – the makings of a classic Cubano sandwich.
To go with the burgers, you can opt for fries, sweet potato fries (pictured) or beer battered onion rings. And to wash it all down? How about a five dollar shake? Bobby’s offers ten different flavors, ranging from classics (black and white, coffee) to the more Flay-like (blueberry-pomegranate, pistachio).
One of the joys of going out with such a large group is the ability to try a wide range of items. The fries and the onion rings were okay but unremarkable, even when dipped in a chipotle (surprise!) ketchup offered in the dining room. Only the sweet potato fries, which were light and crisp and complemented nicely by the horseradish honey mustard that accompanied them, were worth the extra calories. Those milkshakes, on the other hand, drew positive reviews all around.
And the burgers? Served alongside deli-style half-sour pickles, they looked like a million bucks. Good char from the grill, ample toppings, a nice sesame-seed bun that didn’t seem poised to fall apart. If you opted to have your burger ‘crunchified’ (don’t even think about using that – they’ve trademarked it), it also comes with a handful of potato chips inside the bun.
Unfortunately, the burgers we had on our visit did not live up to the promise of their appearance. Despite being ordered medium-rare, they came out closer to medium-well, and were a bit on the dry side. The beef still tasted good, but it just didn’t blow us away. Other little things took away from the overall burger experience: despite serving those great pickles with the burgers, the Miami was topped with standard dill slices; the chips on the crunchified burgers were definitely not made in house.
Overall, we had a positive experience…but the hiccups made it hard to justify a special trip just for this (especially when we’re spoiled with so many great burger options in DC). At the moment, it seems like Bobby would be in for a real fight if someone were to show up and challenge him to a Burger Throwdown.
That being said, Bobby’s Burger Palace is likely to be a huge hit for Flay and I hope he’ll continue to refine the concept as he expands it. There’s a lot of potential here, and it’s a great way for Flay to remind people that he’s about more than just chipotle peppers and squeeze-bottle sauces. If you’re in the area – or if you’re a huge Bobby Flay fan – check it out for yourself and let us know what you think.