The Moment You’ve All Been Waiting For

In May, I announced that I was embarking on a quest for the “best burger in Winston-Salem.” I declared it the “Summer of Burgers” and said I was looking for my top 10 burgers in town and would formulate a list from there. My wife and my doctor both grimaced when I said I was going to do this and I had to make promises as to the practice.

So, let’s review. I could only have three burgers a week with some green/healthier things in between. Toward the end of the summer, I had to have a few more to get the ones in that I needed to get in. I went to places that my readers, listeners and friends recommended. I tried to get every recommendation in but I didn’t achieve that, either by lack of funds available or just timing. A few of the burgers on the tour was sponsored by said listeners, readers and friends.

So, before I go any further, I want to thank those who did sponsor burgers for me. Daniel Butner, owner of Carrabba’s and our sponsor on this blog and podcast sponsored the Blarney Burger at Finnigan’s Wake and the burger at King’s Crab Shack. “Street Team” member, Steven McDowall sponsored the Boone Doggies trip and Thunder Road Grill burger. Steven Gallo sponsored the Krankie’s burger. My pal Jeff Davids sponsored both the Small Batch “Morning After” burger and Zesto’s “Chubby Decker” burger. Jason Cobb and Yamas! Mediterranean Street Food donated $50 for gas on the “tour.” Brandon Cassidy of Food Freaks, Chef Travis Myers of Willows Bistro, Chef David Swing of Sir Winston, Chef Antwan Hairston of Mac & Nelli’s, and my friend Dawn McDaniel with Bad Daddy’s did sponsor their own burgers. None of the sponsorship consideration influenced the correlating establishment’s standing in this list. No advantage was given for me not having to pay for them. That being said, thank you all so very much for your help and consideration in this very fun and delicious project.

Now, let’s get to the “housekeeping” stuff. I didn’t get to everyone. I just couldn’t. There is a burger in almost every restaurant, it seems. In some, those are the focus and in others, it’s just a menu placeholder. I tried to get to the ones that people were the most adamant about. I think I got most of them but just couldn’t get to all of them.

To be on this list the burgers had to be on the menu or at least mostly available. Specialty “off-menu” items or things that were made just to “wow” me are much appreciated but I couldn’t count that here. The biggest of these was Chef Travis’ first entry at Willows. Had I accepted that burger, it would have probably been top 3, but it was made for me, special, and not available all the time. Chef Swing at Sir Winston had a “special” burger that couldn’t be counted, as well, but it was darn good. In all, I had 34 burgers from 30 restaurants.

I kept a “journal” of the burgers that I had. It was a spreadsheet that I kept track of the name of the establishment, the name of the burger (if applicable), the amount of seasoning, the “doneness,” the juiciness of the burger, the type of bun and my thoughts on the burger itself.

I thought about breaking it down into “diner burgers” and “gourmet burgers.” Some have said it would be unfair to put a diner burger against a gourmet burger. I don’t see that as the case. I think it’s more unfair to impose some kind of “affirmative action” on burgers. Categorization is more of a problem than letting the burgers stand on their own, in my opinion. And that brings me to what I see as an important aspect of this list. This is my list. It’s not meant as a “readers’ choice” or a popularity contest. I respect the lists made in local publications but I feel it is just a popularity contest more than a true top list. I can’t compete with those lists and I don’t want to. I did take recommendations from others to get a broader knowledge of what is available to us. Burgers I either didn’t know or wouldn’t expect showed up and I am a better burger eater because of it. There were a lot of fantastic burgers on this list and some of your favorites will not make the top list. That doesn’t mean that those burgers that do not show up on the top list aren’t worth having. That’s not what this is about.

And it comes down to this, the list is about how I felt while eating these burgers. I love burgers and this list is representative of much joy.

So, to quote Marty DiBergi, “But hey, enough of my yakkin’; whaddya say? Let’s boogie!”

10. Small Batch

My pal, Jeff Davids sponsored this burger, which was us having a good lunch together in a place where burgers were prominent. I chose the “Morning After” burger. Yes, it’s a gourmet burger and was what I was in the mood for that day. This burger was a big patty with a fried egg, bacon, fries, pepper jack cheese and grilled onions on what I believe is a brioche bun. In addition to “Done” for doneness and “Very Good” for flavor/seasoning, my notes state: “Some of the juiciness comes from the egg, but still a very flavorful burger. Once you bite into it, you aren’t putting it down until it’s done because of that egg and the mess, but also because it’s a darned good burger.”

The Morning After from Small Batch

9. Maxburger

This was a late entry and I didn’t know much about it because it is kind of down in the boondocks (Old Salisbury/Hickory Tree Rd area). This was also my first “Juicy Lucy” even though I had heard that term a good bit. I had it with both Pepper Jack and American cheese, onion, tomato and while I usually leave off the lettuce on burgers, I forgot to order it that way, and really on a “diner burger,” that’s not a problem. I think it adds to the flavor. This was on a brioche bun.  It was a fantastic diner burger at that. Under the doneness and flavor/seasoning categories, both were listed as “perfect.” And, as the name states, it was juicy. Notes: “A really great burger which I had no expectations of. A surprise. The cheeses and fixings made this a delicious entry.”

Juicy Lucy from Maxburger

8. West End Cafe

Full disclosure, when I had the first burger from WEC just before the start of the burger tour, I was set to let that be the first one but it was a little disappointing. I talked with John, the GM of WEC and he said they had been having a bit of trouble with their grill. I told him that I was going to give him a “mulligan.” This was the only mulligan on this tour and only because I had it before the “tour” started. Now, also in full disclosure, I gave John a heads up that I was coming and he gave me recommendations, as I welcomed from all establishments (after all it is their entry). I paid for the burger and it wasn’t comped. Now, this was certainly a different burger. This was, for all intents and purposes, a burger and a half. This burger was a Hamburger Grinder with habanero jack/provolone cheeses, spinach, 1000 island and pickles. I forgot to add onions, but they weren’t needed. The cheesy/1000 island combo is one thing that made this burger a winner. It was a bit messy but delicious. “Perfect” for the doneness, and “very good” for the seasoning, the majority of the flavor came from the accouterments. Per John, “the most underrated sandwich on the menu.” Per me: “Basically 1.5 burgers, great flavors and great unique sandwich.”

Hamburger Grinder from West End Cafe

7. Cin-Cin Burger Bar

Another full disclosure moment: Cin Cin is owned by the Michael family who also owns Yamas! who did sponsor me in gas. Again, that has nothing to do with this burger’s merit which is what this is about. I had the “Speakeasy Deluxe” burger which is their “classic” burger. This is a gourmet burger that tastes like a diner burger. There is a great underlying onion flavor that I enjoy in diner burgers, this I counted in the “flavor/seasoning.” It was a very juicy burger, too. I do kind of wish that restaurants would get away from the brioche bun as the end-all-be-all of gourmet burgers, though. My notes: “A gourmet burger that tasted like a diner burger, onions-on-the-grill quality. A very good burger.”

The Speakeasy Deluxe from Cin-Cin

6. Canteen Market & Bistro

I will be honest and say that I had little expectations for this burger. I can’t explain why, either. This is a “Smashburger” with American cheese, grilled onions, tomato and 1000 Island on a bun. The burger was perfectly cooked and seasoned. The grilled onions made it more like a diner burger and I love that. The burger wasn’t a thing of aesthetic beauty but it was delicious. “Perfect” in both doneness and seasoning. My notes: “A fantastic burger. Pricey but the flavors were top notch with the grilled onions.” My only knock on Canteen isn’t a knock because I try to stay clear of opining on the prices of restaurants’ wares. That’s their business but my business what I pay. It was more than I’d expect to pay for a burger usually, but the flavors made it worth it.

“Smashburger” from Canteen Market & Bistro

 

SO! That’s 10-6. Now, for the Top 5 Burgers of Winston-Salem (ish).

5. Food Freaks of NC Food Truck

Brandon Cassidy sponsored this burger, but again, there was no bearing on the outcome for that. This was the only “actual” food truck that I got to, although there were a few that were on my “to do” list. This was also the first “official” burger of the tour on May 29. As I said in the Instagram post, “This is perhaps the messiest thing I’ve ever eaten but goodness! This is phenomenal.” It is the Wild Mexi burger which is andouille sausage stuffed into a double burger with jalapeno peppers, Muenster cheese and topped with a Sriracha chili mayo on Martin’s potato bun. This burger is huge and if you put it down, it would be all over everything. So, I recommend keeping a roll of paper towels near and don’t put it down until you’ve downed it. The flavors in this burger burst in your mouth and it’s juicy as all get out. Perfect in doneness. My notes (being my first entry): “What a burger should be.”

Wild Mexi from Food Freaks of NC

4. Zito Pizzeria and Grill

The biggest “didn’t see that coming” moment on this tour was when I ate the burger at Zito. It came as a recommendation and I was like, okay, let’s give it a shot. I had only eaten at Zito once and that was right after they re-opened. That was a pizza-kind of day. I sat down and looked over the menu. I decided I wanted a double burger and got it with cheese, onion, mayo and tomato. The flavors in this burger were amazing. It was juicy, seasoned perfectly and worthy of the #4 spot on my list. Doneness and flavor/seasoning was “perfect.” My notes: “Was pleasantly surprised at how good this burger was. Better once it cooled off a bit. Lots of flavor with no fluff.”

Double Cheeseburger from Zito Pizzeria and Grill

3. Social. Southern Kitchen & Cocktails

A beautiful chunk of filet, NY strip, ribeye and ground beef ground together into a delicious patty of perfection. “All that wonderful beef with mayo, American cheese, housemade pickled onions and housemade pickle chips on a brioche bun. Woot… and BAM!” I said on Instagram. The pickled onions were amazing. The pickle chips were also unlike I’ve had anywhere else. This could have easily been #1 on the list. “Perfect” in flavor and doneness. My notes: “A darn fine burger. Great seasoning and temperature. Made with filet, strip, ribeye and ground beef.” It is in a location far from where I usually go, but it was worth that “drive.”

Burger from Social. Southern Kitchen

2. Zesto Burgers & Ice Cream

Of course, this had to be on the top 10 list, right? You were probably looking for it earlier, huh? Well, there is undoubtedly no burger that gets as much public love from me than that of the “Chubby Decker” from Zesto. There is something about having this double burger with its 8-minute char, the mayo, ketchup, onion, tomato and melty American cheese that puts me in a great mood. It makes me happy. I love eating at Zesto, too. Algenon and his staff make it a great place to eat a delicious, always flavorful and juicy burger. Zesto is much more than its burgers but for this, the burger reigns supreme. At least at the #2 spot.

The Chubby Decker from Zesto Burgers & Ice Cream

And, then there’s #1…

1. Boone Doggies

If you notice throughout my writing of this post, I have mentioned Winston-Salem (ish) a time or two. Boone Doggies is not in Winston-Salem. Luckily for us all, it’s also not in Boone. It located in Yadkinville. Named for the fact that Drew Ausley, who started the Boone Doggies food truck graduated from Appalachian State University in, you guessed it, Boone. The truck focused on hot dogs, mainly. But, the time came to do something different and he opened a restaurant. The location is a true “greasy spoon”-type building and the dining room can get quite crowded. All that being said, you are completely remiss if you don’t make the drive there to have the burgers from this heavenly place. So, about the burger. Steven McDowall alerted me to this restaurant and took me there, and sponsored the tasting. It was an overall win-win for me. I was honored to taste not one. Not two. But three different burgers from Drew and company. I will say that these burgers were probably the best burgers I’ve ever tasted. Ever. First, we had the “Grandfather” which is their classic burger, named after Grandfather Mountain (a Boone reference). It’s a double burger with chopped onion, tomatoes, mayo and American cheese. Next was “The Rock” (another Boone reference): mayo, grilled onions they char in their homemade bbq sauce, bacon, and cheddar cheese. They even char the patty in the bbq sauce for a little something extra! Was it ever. The third is “The Peacock,” named after a chancellor at ASU that Drew had. It’s made with Papa Ausley’s homemade pimento, perfect bacon, tomato and mayo! Seared (and smashed) on the flattop and placed on a buttered toasted bun. I couldn’t pick a favorite of the three but why should I? I got to have all three at the same time. Thank you, Drew and thank you, Steven!

“The Grandfather” from Boone Doggies

“The Peacock” by Boone Doggies

“The Rock” from Boone Doggies

 

 

 

So, here you have it. MY Top 10 Burgers of WSNC (ish). I want to thank all the restaurants for their contributions to the tour and even if they didn’t make the top 10, they all are worth a try. You can’t know how incredibly hard it was to leave anything off this top list. Except for about three places, any of these could have made this list. Thank you to Mac & Nelli’s, Willows Bistro, Campus Gas, Sir Winston, North Point Grill, PB’s Takeout, King’s Crab Shack, Crafted, Earl’s, Allen’s Dairy Treats, Quiet Pint, Trade Street Diner, Mooney’s, Bad Daddy’s, Thunder Road Grill, Krankies, Mozelle’s, the Katharine and New Yorker Pizza Pasta and Wings for your burgers. My apologies to Burger Supreme, Jeffrey Adams, Athena Taverna, Hot Dog City and Sweet Potatoes for not getting to you.

It was a long-yet-short summer. It was a great burger summer. It was great eating great burgers with great friends. Let’s just say it was all great. I know some of yours didn’t make the list. I know some of you don’t agree with this list. But, that’s okay. Convince me otherwise. Tell me about your top list. Tell me the ones you like I left off. Tell me why you don’t agree with the list. I love the conversation and I love the interaction.

Now, I’m off to finding the next “tour” to take. What’re your recommendations on that?

As always, thank you for reading and thank you for listening!

Bon appetit!

The Man Who Ate the Town Podcast Episode 127

©Fam Brownlee

In Episode #127 proudly recorded at The Lab at Industry Hill:

Tim and Ray talk about:

  • Tim announces his Top 10 Burgers in WSNC (ish)! Will your favorite make the cut?
  • Chef Pam Cager opens 3 Layer Cakery tomorrow, October 1 on Liberty Street.
  • Carrabba’s and Daniel Butner involved in a lot of cool things around town and Daniel being a “steward of the community.”
  • Tim will be judging a chili/stew cookoff at The Big Sip, presented by Piedmont Local Magazine/336 Events, this Saturday, on October 5. More details including purchasing tix here.
  • Hot Dog Tasting Trolley Tour is rescheduled for this Saturday, October 5. You can purchase discounted tix using the code “Man5” on this link.
  • Food holidays and history.

Don’t forget our sponsors:

Carrabba’s Italian Grill Healthy, grilled meats, wood-fired pizzas, fresh ingredients, and phenomenal wine dinners. That’s just some of the offerings of Carrabba’s and Daniel Butner, the local proprietario, is salt of the earth and a pillar of good in the community. Go taste the goodness that is Carrabba’s and see why Tim and Ray are always talking it up!

Washington Perk & Provision Company. Better than a convenience store but not quite a grocery store, in the heart of Washington Park and Downtown WSNC.

The Humble Bee Shoppe is challenging your perception of scratch made and leaving you with an experience you couldn’t possibly forget! With inventive flavor combos and a sense of artistry, The Humble Bee Shoppe isn’t your average bakery.

The Man Who Ate the Town is part of The Less Desirables Network. Give it a listen on iTunes, Stitcher, Podcast Addict and TuneIn, basically anywhere you can listen to podcasts. Or you can listen here (at the bottom of the post).

Bon Appetit!

The Man Who Ate the Town Podcast Episode 63

In Episode #63, proudly recorded at Test Pattern Studios:

  • Wise Man Brewing and Willows Bistro Beer Dinner coming Feb 25.
  • Tim and Kelly talk about Downtown Restaurant Week coming Feb 19-25 and some of the special menus of participating restaurants.
  • Intown Donutz is now open.
  • Waldo’s Wings to take over Skippy’s Hot Dogs.
  • Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday fall on the same day for first time since 1945. What do you or do you not give up for Valentine’s Day?
  • Food Holidays

Don’t forget our sponsors:

Washington Perk & Provision Company. Better than a convenience store but not quite a grocery store, in the heart of Washington Park and Downtown WSNC.

The Humble Bee Shoppe is challenging your perception of scratch made and leaving you with an experience you couldn’t possibly forget! With inventive flavor combos and a sense of artistry, The Humble Bee Shoppe isn’t your average bakery.

The Man Who Ate the Town is part of The Less Desirables Network. Give it a listen on iTunes, Stitcher, Podcast Addict and TuneIn, basically anywhere you can listen to podcasts. Or you can listen here (at the bottom of the post).

Bon Appetit!

Cheers! Cin Cin Burger Bar is Quite Beefy

On Saturday, Stephanie and I had the pleasure of hanging out with my friend Paul Jones and his son, Parker. Parker, it seems was in the mood for a burger and Paul suggested Cin Cin Burger Bar.

Stephanie and I had tried to go to Cin Cin twice before. But, after driving around the very tight parking lot twice each time, we couldn’t find parking and we are just not ready to park away and walk there, no matter how much that neighborhood is picking up. So, we ended up going somewhere else. This time, though, we were able to find one pretty quickly. Paul was running a little late and I went in to get us on the list. I told them five people total as I didn’t know if Paul’s wife was coming or not. They were ready to seat us right away. Paul, then sent back that there was only going to be four of us, and I told them that. Well, that changed things. We were moved from “ready to seat” status to an hour wait.

No Beer – No Work: Fontina and mozzarella cheese, lettuce, tomato, fries, slaw and honey chipotle mayo on sourdough

Luckily, it was a lovely evening and the weather was really nice, so we sat outside waiting for our seating assignment. Paul and Parker came and we had good conversation talking about life and other things. We were finally seated and we got settled in. The decor of the place is bright and light and runs off a very subtle but defined “speakeasy” theme. They fit a lot of people in that dining room. If you ever ate at the Twin City Diner, the building’s previous tenant, then this is a big departure from that. Twin City Diner sat a good amount of people but this seems to be even more. Plus, there is outdoor seating on the large patio with ample seating out there, too. They were using it this night and it was still packed out.

Our server was Brian (Bryan) and he was both very nice and very helpful. He was knowledgeable about the menu, the ingredients and how to find what someone may want based on their preferences. Paul and I ordered our beer (Hop Cocoa from Wicked Weed) and after he returned with those brews, Brian was ready to take our food order.

Parker is a simple order-kind of guy. He ordered a plain burger with fries. Paul ordered the special Red Dragon Bison Burger with onion rings. Stephanie ordered the No Beer – No Work burger with eggplant fries. I ordered the Bootlegger’s Bourbon Burger with Creamy Gorgonzola Fries.  I will say that these burgers were quite beefy and huge. The pictures I included will not provide an accurate descriptor for how large or good they looked. There was no way of maneuvering the light to capture the burger in its full glory. Now, I understand the listing of them doesn’t describe anything. I’ll elaborate.

Bootleggers Bourbon Burger: Bourbon molasses glazed with caramelized onions, bacon and pimento cheese

The Red Dragon Bison Burger is Red Dragon Cheese, caramelized onions and mushrooms, roasted garlic aioli, shredded lettuce and tomato. Red Dragon Cheese is like a sharp cheddar but with brown ale and mustard seeds to give it a little kick, not too spicy, from what Paul said. The No Beer – No Work burger is fontina and mozzarella cheese, lettuce, tomato, fries, slaw and honey chipotle mayo on sourdough. It is a mountain of a sandwich and it is funny that the smallest of us all is the one who had it. The Bootlegger’s Bourbon Burger is Bourbon molasses glazed with caramelized onions, bacon and pimento cheese. Yes, believe it or not, I left the caramelized onions on the burger. It was quite juicy and the onions didn’t overpower, nor was it prominent in the flavor. You could tell they were there, but it was not too strong. Juicy burger, it was. Bourbon-inspired but the burger was able to “speak” for itself; it was near perfect.

If the specialty burgers (called “Speakeasy Burgers”) are not your speed, you can always build your own burger. The list is extensive and so are the possibilities to have your very own burger. Other items on the menu include sandwiches like ahi tuna wraps, chicken and cream cheese melts, Reubens, Philly Cheesesteaks. Entrees include a cherry chipotle salmon, South Side Ribeye, chicken and waffles, bourbon meatloaf and Coco Chanel Filet. Eight different salads that, if the burgers are any indication, are huge. There are appetizers and small plates to whet the appetite or just have a small portioned meal. Of course, since Cin Cin Burger Bar is owned by the same folk that own Waldo’s Wings, then they will definitely have those on the menu.

One thing that the servers (I knew a few of them) said that we should try, but we did not, are the adult milkshakes. There are several to choose between ranging from bourbon and butterscotch schnapps (YiaYia’s Secret) to an alcoholic s’mores drink (Kumbayah My S’mores). There are plenty more for your brainfreeze headaches to endure. You can find more of their menu – I have not even scratched the surface of it, here – by clicking on the “Menu” tab to the left of this page.

I want to talk just a second more about the staff. While I do think that an hour wait, okay, a 45-minute wait, is way too long for a cheeseburger, the helpfulness of our server, Brian, the kitchen and their very juicy and very tasty burgers, and the ambiance were worth the wait. I don’t know that I’d wait that long again, but to try it and get in, along with the company made the night a great night out. Brian even dissuaded us from trying a “side” that Paul and I were going to order. He said we wouldn’t like it and that Mama Zoe (the owner) was going to take it off the menu. I asked if I could at least give it a taste – I had to know, after all – and he brought back a little ramekin and, while I thought the side was decent, I wouldn’t have wanted a full size side of it. I appreciate him setting us straight. I’m not going to say which side it is because I want you to try things, not shy from them.

Cin Cin has a great “speakeasy” cocktail list, too. They have classic drinks that range historically from 1823 (Pimm’s Cup #7) up to 1920 (several including Giggle Water, the Bees Knees and the Mary Pickford). They have quite a few of their own craft creation cocktails and a decent draft beer list and a craft bottle list. They also have the standard “beer” (Bud Light, et al) for people that cannot handle or do not want real beer. And their wine list is not shabby, at all.

Overall, my assessment of Cin Cin Burger Bar is that it is a great burger joint. I can’t speak for anything else, yet, but I will be going back; most likely during the week and possibly during lunch. When I go back, I will report my findings, as you know I will. I recommend trying to get there early as the line will form and get backed up fairly quickly and there is no reservations or call-ahead seating; it is first-come-first-serve. This was at 6:30pm, yes a Saturday, but still early in the evening. I hope you get Brian (it still could be Bryan) because he is pretty smooth. I had heard conflicting reviews about Cin Cin but I am going to give my assessment that it is quite a great burger.

You can find Cin Cin Burger Bar at 1425 W 1st Street in Winston-Salem. Again, look up their menu via our menu directory on this page.

Happy eating, slàinte!

The Man Who Ate the Town Podcast Episode #12

In Episode #12, proudly recorded from Test Pattern Studios:14729108_1238294449545449_5019197621883913965_n

Don’t forget my sponsor, Washington Perk & Provision Company. Better than a convenience store but not quite a grocery store, in the heart of Washington Park and Downtown WSNC.

The Man Who Ate the Town is part of The Less Desirables Network. Give it a listen on iTunes, Stitcher, Podcast Addict and TuneIn, basically anywhere you can listen to podcasts. Or you can listen here (at the bottom of the post).

Slàinte!

The Man Who Ate the Town Podcast Episode #10

In Episode #10, proudly recorded from Test Pattern Studios:1crafted

  • Food holidays and history 10/3 – 10/9.
  • Finnigan’s Wake 10th Year Anniversary.
  • Quanto Basta West.
  • Crafted on Liberty.
  • Twin City Hive goes back to their roots.
  • New openings of restaurants, bars or breweries in and around town.

Don’t forget my sponsor, Washington Perk & Provision Company. Better than a convenience store but not quite a grocery store, in the heart of Washington Park and Downtown WSNC.

The Man Who Ate the Town is part of The Less Desirables Network. Give it a listen on iTunes, Stitcher, Podcast Addict and TuneIn, basically anywhere you can listen to podcasts. Or you can listen here (at the bottom of the post).

Slàinte!