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!

Better Late Than Never – Butcher & Bull

A few months ago, when Butcher & Bull opened their doors, they had a media preview night and while I try to always get to those, I had a prior commitment that night and couldn’t make the event at the Marriott in downtown Winston-Salem. But, thanks to Chef Richard Miller and Meagan Byrne at Bolt PR, Stephanie and I finally got my tasting, so we made it a date night.

Arugula Salad

The decor is more straight-lined and gray than I expected but it was modern and welcoming. I thought it looked great in there. While there were some “standard” restaurant fixtures, they remodeled the restaurant into a destination. We liked it a lot, especially the focus on the “bull” aspect. But, other than what to expect whilst eating there, you didn’t come here for interior design lessons. You came here for the food. Let’s do that!

Bison Carpaccio

Chef Richard started us off with a salad. Yeah, a salad. This was the “Arugula Salad” and had baby kale, toasted almonds, shaved fennel, beets, feta and a brown butter miso vinaigrette. I generally do not eat beets as I feel they taste like I’m eating dirt. But, I ate every bite of this salad. I tried to get all of the feta, all of the miso dressing, the almonds, everything. To me, it had a lovely nutty/earthy quality that was very appealing and mixed with the umami miso, the peppery arugula and toasted almonds made this a savory-like salad. I really enjoyed it. Stephanie did as well. It went well with her red wine and my salty gose.

That’s when the fun really started. You know when I say fun that usually means meat! And, since this is a twist on the modern steakhouse, you’d expect meat. How about Bison Carpaccio? Very thinly sliced extra rare bison topped with a quail egg, “Everything Bagel” seasoning, more arugula and Manchego cheese. It also included caper berries which I’ve never had before. I have had, and love, capers but never one of these beauties. The bison was so thinly sliced that they wilted around the fork as I placed it on Stephanie’s and my plates. So, delicate, so tender and so delicious. Mixing the cheese and quail egg around it was tangy and semi-sweet all at the same time.

Smoked Shrimp Cocktail

Next was the Shrimp Cocktail. Boring, right? Not!!! It comes out on a plate with a glass cover and you can barely see what is inside the glass dome because it is so smokey. Cold smoke, actually. When Chef Richard removed the dome, the aroma of the smoke attacked the senses and it was amazing. These shrimps were anything but. They were rather large, drizzled with preserved lemon and sitting on a housemade cocktail sauce mixture of not ketchup like many generic cocktail sauces can be but a tomato jam with horseradish mixed in. And, if you’ve ever read my reviews before you know that Stephanie and I are both fans of pea shoots. The crunchy, earthy greens were the perfect topping for this dish. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and smoked. There was much rejoicing.

Spanish Octopus

Then came the Spanish Octopus. I love octopus. When we have sushi, I like “extra” octopus. It can be chewy, yes, but I really enjoy it. So, this came to us with crisp-yet-tender cauliflower, chorizo bits, a creamy sauce and a tangy chimichurri sauce. The octopus itself was not tough. Its texture was somewhere between a scallop and shrimp. Not mushy and not chewy. It was just right. All the flavors made a delicious plate of goodness. I had to point out the chorizo bits to my girl as she was skipping them, mistaking them for pieces of the cauliflower and octopus. Delicious.

Wagyu Shoulder Tenders

The “real meat” was on its way, next. The Wagyu Shoulder Tenders had their turn. Chunks of pure perfection. They were all done medium rare and had a crusty outer layer that was perfectly seasoned. Very earthy, salty, peppery and was like a hug for the shoulder. You could see the juices between the fibers of the meat and that made it even more appealing. Like most of Butcher & Bull’s steaks (from what I can tell), they come with blistered cherry tomatoes. These things were on the verge of popping but, man… the flavor burst when you bit into it was amazing. Because I was savoring the taste of the beef, I was neglecting the tomatoes but put a bulb on one of the last pieces of this I had and it was a party in my mouth. Acidic. Juicy. Tangy. Savory. Divine. Should I keep coming up with descriptors?

The Bone-In Dry-Aged Ribeye was the last of the big stuff. Although, Chef did ask if we

Bone-In Dry-Aged Ribeye

wanted more meat. I assured him that we had had our fill after this plate. Again, prepared medium-rare, If you’ll remember back when Chef Richard was on our podcast he talked about the dry-aged beef. Dry-aging allows for more flavor and tenderness to permeate through the meat. This plate arrived with a huge bone with the meat morsels already cut for us, more for presentation, I believe. Chef explained that usually it comes intact but he cut it up for us. So tender and being a ribeye, there was a good bit of fat on it. But, as we know, fat equals flavor. It wasn’t so much fat you couldn’t eat it. It was enough fat to make the flavors burst, plus the seasoning on it was making it even better.

Cheesecake

Finally, after we had had enough of heavenly meat, we were treated to the no-frills Cheesecake. It was “plain” (a misnomer, of course), nary a compote to be found, on a graham cracker crust and served with house-whipped cream. It was anything but plain, but it had no “toppings.” And, it didn’t need any. Truth is, we ate the cheesecake with only a bit of time paying any kind of attention to the whipped cream, and even that was delicious. I just didn’t think the cheesecake needed anything but its own volition to make my palate happy. And it did just that.

Chef Richard Miller

There’s a reason why Chef Richard Miller won the NC Competition Dining championship a few years back. That reason is that he’s that darned good. He has great culinary ideas and the culinary skills to back those ideas up. That, and he has an amazing team that he can depend on. The flavors were lightyears beyond ordinary. They were adventurous, experimental, subtle, bursting, everything rolled up in one. A true culinary delight. This is a premier location in this city and if you haven’t tried it, or you haven’t booked your own dinner there, you are doing yourself a disservice. It isn’t often that I attend a tasting where every plate is on par with the one before it. Usually, there are fluctuations, but not this time. Trust me.

Visit their website. Give them a call at 336-722-5232. Use Open Table or any other reservation apps. Just get over there. Sooner than later. Butcher & Bull is located in the Marriott downtown, 425 N. Cherry Street.

Thank you, Chef Richard, Butcher & Bull, Meagan Byrne, Bolt PR, for a most fantastic meal and evening.

It’s Burger Season!!

I have teased a Top 5 Burger list for a while and have at least three solids for the first three, but one of those is under renovation from a fire. So, perhaps I’ve been waiting to do the “definitive” list because of that. But, truly, the reason is I don’t know if I’ve had the best burger in WSNC. There are a lot of burgers here.

Today, Tuesday, May 28, is National Burger Day. And, while I can call every single day Burger Day, for the majority of people, I think between Memorial Day and Labor Day, both the unofficial start and end of Summer respectively, that between those dates it is “Burger Season,”

I’m going to start a three-month journey into WSNC “burgerdom.” I’m going to get recommendations from our listeners and readers and from today through Monday, September 2 which isn’t only Labor Day this year, but Stephanie’s and my 5th Wedding Anniversary, I will then compile my Top 5, maybe Top 10 Burger List.

So, again, I’m going to need your help, both my podcast listeners and blog readers. Tell me your favorite burger in town.

There are some caveats, though. Instead of generalizing it and say “fast food burgers” I’m going to give a specific list. I say that because there are a few non-traditional fast food joints that I do frequent, the biggest being Zesto Burgers & Ice Cream. Incidentally, that’s what I have said is my top burger. But, because I haven’t tried all the others, I don’t know.

So, here’s where I will not eat and won’t accept a recommendation about: McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Hardees, Five Guys, Cook Out, Steak-N-Shake, Sonic or Red Robin. I also won’t accept “You should try mine!” This is for everyone, it’s public and should not be private parties. There may be a time when I put something like that together, maybe a TMWATT Burger Cookoff or something. But, not for this.

Also, you can recommend specialty burgers like the “Smoke Batch” at Burger/Small Batch or “Bootlegger’s Bourbon Burger” from Cin Cin Burger Bar or whatever. I may make a special category for those, but, the main focus will be a Cheeseburger (single or double) with mayo, mustard, pickles, onion and tomato. That’s my standard and what I go for when I go for burgers. But, if there’s something that I just absolutely NEED to try, tell me and I’ll work it in.

If you’re not sure how a burger falls in my caveat, ask, it may or may not qualify. I will take recommendations for food trucks if burgers are their specialty. Also, if it’s in Kernersville, Clemmons, North WSNC, heck, even as far as Yadkinville, I’ll take the recommendations. They’re most likely eligible. Does your favorite BBQ or hot stand do burgers and you just have to have them? Then let’s talk!

Now, I have to be smart about this. I can’t just go crazy having burgers every day. Stephanie made me promise that if I do this that we have to watch everything else that I eat, so I have to have a lot of plants and green things. I may see if Sha’Retha at Happie Food can help me with that. I will not go vegan, or really even vegetarian but I can make better choices.

Eating all these burgers will rack up some expenses, so if you are a restaurateur that wants to donate your burger for the project, I would greatly appreciate that. Also, if anyone is interested in introducing me to a burger and picking up the tab, I’m probably not going to turn that down.

I’m also in the market for sponsors for this, as well. I don’t need to make tons of money, but I would like to cover my expenses and gas. Even if you’re not in the food biz, I can work out some advertising on one or more of the podcasts or me doing blog posts or public appearances for or at your businesses. I’d greatly appreciate anything that you can help with, and I will be promoting a lot of people here. I actually think a non-burger restaurant or business would be a great sponsor, that way it’s not looked at like bribing me.

So there you have it. Send me recommendations to tim@themanwhoatethetown, on our Instagram or Facebook platforms. I really want the public’s input on this. I think we need a definitive list. Not just for me but for the town I eat.

Buie’s Market to Open in Buena Vista Early Summer

Buie’s Market Location in Buena Vista ©Buie’s Market

Construction is underway on Buie’s Market, which is expected to open in early summer adjacent to Diamondback Grill at the corner of Avalon Road and Spring Garden Road (749 Avalon Road).  Buie’s Market will serve Buena Vista and surrounding areas.  Named in honor of the legendary Buie’s Pharmacy, which occupied the space decades ago, Buie’s Market will offer a variety of fresh, packaged and prepared foods.

Majority owners of Buie’s Market are Stacy Doss and Kristin Holcomb.  Buie’s Market will occupy approximately 3,000 square feet and will have eight full- and part-time employees.  Cassandra Bryant, a former member of the management team at Trader Joe’s, will serve as the manager of Buie’s Market.

Buie’s owners Stacy Doss (l) and Kristen Holcomb (r) (©Buie’s)

Buie’s Market will offer a selection of brewed coffee; craft beers and wines; non-alcoholic beverages; cheeses and dairy items; and an assortment of dry goods as well as canned and packaged local and regional staples. The market also will offer pastries, desserts and breads and a variety of fresh and frozen products including beef, pork, chicken, bison, fish and produce.  Prepared foods to go will include selections from familiar local vendors.

“Our focus will be on local products and fresh produce and meats,” co-owner Kristin Holcomb said.  “We believe that Buie’s Market will rapidly become a community destination as a place to come for coffee, beer and wine with friends or to take home ‘grab and go’ delicious prepared foods.”

“We considered a number of names for the business but kept coming back to Buie’s Market because the name is so well known among neighborhood residents,” co-owner Stacy Doss added.  “Wayne Buie, who operated a pharmacy on the same site for many years, enthusiastically gave us permission to use his family’s name, and we greatly thank him for his support.”

 

For updates on the opening and what the market will be offering visit: facebook.com/buiesmarket or watch this blog or listen to our podcast!

A Blogger Tasting at Zesto Burgers & Ice Cream

This week I organized a blogger/food writer tasting at Zesto Burgers & Ice Cream at 2600 New Walkertown Road in Winston-Salem. Algenon Cash and his team knocked it out of the park as they do every time I eat there. But, this time it was to sample just about everything on the menu. And, when we left, there was not one of us who needed to eat the rest of the day. In fact, Stephanie, Trey and I didn’t.

BLT

The three of us were joined by my co-host Ray Morgan, Tim Clodfelter from the Winston-Salem Journal, Carroll Leggett, Nikki Miller-Ka and Ja’Net Adams. Once the food started coming, it seemed like it never stopped coming. So, I’m going to recap what we ate but know that as the day went on, I got a little food fatigue and may be vague in my descriptions. Also, we may have tasted a few things in a different order than the other writers, so if you read their accounts it’s not in any real order, here.

Let’s get to it!

Let’s start with the BLT. Who doesn’t love a BLT? All buns and bread sold and served at Zesto are now from Martin’s Bread out of Pennsylvania. Trey and I use Martin’s buns when we make “Beeman Burgers.” The butter bread from Martin’s is what this is on. It replaced the old “Texas Toast” that it used to be on and adds another dimension to the sandwich alongside the hardwood smoked bacon with lettuce, tomato, and chipotle mayo. Great stuff.

The Chuckwagon

Shrimp Po’Boy

Up next was the spicy veggie burger, which is a black bean burger and, surprisingly I liked it. Usually, my burger needs to be some kind of sacrificial animal but I could have one of these and be happy, only if there was no meat to be seen. But, Stephanie, who loves and pushes veggies on me thought it was good. The general consensus at the table was that it was good, but some said it may be too spicy for those not into spicier foods. I liked it.

The Chuckwagon was next which is basically chopped beef with onion and spices, battered in buttermilk with lettuce, tomato, and chipotle mayo. Stephanie gets this a lot and she’s a fan. It’s not in my top of what we had, but that just shows that Zesto has something for everyone’s tastes. I know a few others who think this may be their favorite item on the menu.

Carolina Cheesesteak

Some of the more exotic sandwiches on the menu was the shrimp po’boy and I understand it’s not really exotic but for a “burger joint” it is. Lightly battered and fried popcorn shrimp, in a healthy portion, on a hoagie roll with lettuce, pickles, and chipotle mayo. This may or may not be on Martin’s bread but it was very good. I had it late in the afternoon so I don’t know that I got the full effect because I was being the “full effect.” A great visual sandwich, too

Chicken Philly

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Algenon and Jasmine brought out a few baskets of fries with the first round of samples, so that added to the fullness. They also brought out an order of their crispy and their charred wings. The sauces available for the wings are “Buffalo,” the spicy honey, BBQ and one more, that I didn’t catch. I had one of the crispy wings and they nailed it. Later they also brought sweet potato fries topped with a house-made seasoning which I know consists of maple sugar. I’m not a fan of sweet potatoes or sweet potato fries so I passed, but everyone else seemed to enjoy them.

I never realized how much I love Philly Cheesesteaks but lately, I’ve been finding cheesesteaks that are really up my alley. We were served two different styles, the “Carolina” cheesesteak and a chicken Philly. Zesto’s is just the right size, not too large that you feel bloated afterward and not to small that you feel you don’t get what you paid for. The steak was juicy and the mushrooms, peppers, and onions were just right with the creaminess of the provolone. That really goes for the chicken Philly, too. In fact, as much as I never choose chicken over beef, for this sandwich, I choose chicken. It was really good!

Chicken Tenders

A hot dog is a hot dog and I will say that while there isn’t anything that jumps out and grabs you about the Zesto hot dogs, they are certainly a solid hot dog. It is everything you want it to be and the toppings are fresh. I have one about once every two weeks or so, much to Stephanie’s chagrin. I just like them.

Chicken sandwich with BBQ sauce

One of the biggest surprises for many of us at the table was the chicken tenders. I know when I think of chicken tenders, there is always some flattened, over-breaded sliver of chicken, usually overly fried and tasting of last week’s cooking oil. This, especially from other restaurants or bars. Tenders at Zesto do not fit any of those descriptions… at all. They are chunks of real chicken that are perfectly fried and you taste the chicken and not the over-done breading (because there is none of that). You can get dipping sauces, as well.

Chubby Decker

Next, we tried The Classic Chicken. 100% natural, fresh, and marinated chicken breast served charred, grilled, or crispy with lettuce, pickles, and mayo and, of course, on those fantastic Martin’s potato buns. We also tried the sweet bbq chicken (sauced) and the spicy honey chicken. I really enjoyed the flavor of the bbq and I have the spicy honey often, too. I enjoy that spicy honey sauce on the pork chop sandwich, too. We didn’t try that, but I like it. You can’t go wrong with the sauced chicken sandwiches.

Patty Melt

The next item I was no stranger to. In fact, I have one at least once a week. This is the Chubby Decker, double cheeseburger and it is so good. I have called it, and I reiterate, my #1 burger in town. Is it the best in town? I don’t know, because that’s subjective, but I know it’s the one I enjoy eating the most. I usually get mine without lettuce and add a little onion.  I get this so much that Joe (behind the counter) doesn’t even ask how I want it, he just rings it up. I’m there a lot, can you tell? Anyway, I stand by this burger. We also had a pimento and bacon burger, as well.

We got to sample the patty melt. The other side of the table got to try it earlier when we were still getting ramped up. We had one made specifically for us at our table and by the time we had it, it was past our stop time. Zesto makes theirs with a beef patty, top it with steak, grilled onions and American cheese on two pieces of the delicious butter bread from Martin’s, nice and grilled and the meat was juicy. I will definitely have another of these when I can enjoy it more.

Ribs

The topper to everything was the ribs. Yes, I said ribs. Zesto’s sauce is slathered on and they’re grilled to where the meat just falls off the bone. Ray said he has ribs all over town and he’d put these up against anyones in town. That’s saying something because there are a lot of places that do it well. I really enjoyed eating them. Tangy and acidic, as they should be, the meat literally can be pulled directly off the bone. I think we were all surprised how good these things were. It was certainly a treat and they came at the end, so even as stuffed as everyone was, we still made room for the ribs.

One thing that Zesto strives to do is make it possible for you to come in and get a meal for $10 or less per person. If you get add-ons, that will be an increase, but for the most part, meals (fries and a drink) come in right around $10. The ribs are a little bit more, but c’mon, they’re ribs.

Soft-serve ice cream, milkshakes, malteds, cones, cups and “concretes” which is soft-serve milkshakes with your choice of premium toppings and blended at high speed to produce a tasty concrete.

Zesto Burgers & Ice Cream is a fantastic little fast casual restaurant. Yes, it’s fast food but it’s not traditional fast food which is why I don’t mind eating it, sometimes more than once a week. What can I say? I love this place. I think you’ll love it, too. Ray and I will be talking about our experiences on the next podcast. We will go into more details about the food than even here, I’m sure. Again, I am telling you, you really need to go try out Zesto Burgers.