1.03.2012

The Taste of Potential

I did something cool this week. Besides watch the Royal Wedding while eating crumpets and wearing a crown-design t-shirt from A Touch of Grace, of course. I met up with fellow foodie blogger Dan McKinney from Tasting Binghamton to try out new Binghamton eatery Burger Mondays. That name is not hotlinked, by the way, because the restaurant doesn’t have a Website, which as you know, is a negative in my book. But we’ll let that slide.

Burger Mondays is in downtown Binghamton, in the space previously occupied by DC Dunsters and ZaZu. The décor is predominated by exposed brick, black tablecloths and cream banquettes, with little else to distract. This upscale burger emporium is helmed by Matt Jones, of Number 5/bacon steak fame, and has already kicked up a firestorm of pro and con controversy on the interwebs. Both Yelp and Urban Spoon have numerous reviews by cranky foodphiles and perky patrons alike, debating everything from the carafe’d water to the cost of the burgers. Dan, too, had already sampled the wares here, and was eager to get my reading on Burger Monday’s food.
 

Burger Mondays interior

We started out with milkshakes, the presence of which I want to say up front that I support wholeheartedly. If you’re specializing in a menu of burgers and fries, you need great shakes. I ordered the chocolate, while Dan chose a root beer float/milkshake hybrid. Both offerings had great flavor – my chocolate version was rich and deep – but I was disappointed in the consistency. To me, a fabulous shake is a thick one. My spoon should be able to stand up in the middle, and the glass should be frosting up from the inside out. Burger Mondays’ are quite thin, more of a drink than an ice cream treat. Again, tasty, but not quite on the money for that traditional burger-and-a-shake feel.

Dan chose the Thai beef soup, on special, as an appetizer. I didn’t try it, but it smelled good. An appetizer special was ‘bacon steak tacos,’ so you know I was getting those. These were mini corn tortillas with braised/roasted pork belly and a potent fruit salsa on top. The salsa was the star of this dish – a punch of grilled pineapple, mango and chilies that kind of blew out my taste buds for the rest of the ingredients. There was white cheese on the bottom, but I couldn’t identify it through the explosion of citrusy heat. I loved these, though, with their savory pulled-pork-like flavor complimented by the shock of heat and tartness. I gobbled up two of them and left the third for Dan. I’ll let him tell you what he thought.


Ole!

For the sake of a baseline, I chose the classic burger; a bacon cheeseburger offered with an aoli, a side of house-made fries and house-made pickle spears. I was all jazzed up about the homemade pickle, but the spear I received didn’t live up to my expectations – it was a barely pickled cucumber, no more. I am not a mayonnaise fan to begin with, and then it always really bothers me when restaurants flavor up jarred mayo and call it aoli – which is actually a homemade, garlicky, mayonnaise-adjacent concoction that is delicious and unlike gloppy jarred mayo entirely – so I opted for that on the side and didn’t end up even trying it. The burger was tasty – definitely juicy, crowned with lots of sharp, white cheddar cheese on a substantial, toasted roll. It was very hearty, with the medium-thickness burger patty, bacon, generous cheese and bun, but that’s not to say it was particularly beefy, nor did the bacon pack its own punch. The whole shebang was pretty balanced, with none of the players taking the lead. This is not a bad thing; however I do personally like an aggressively beef-centric burger. My hunch is that, with food costs soaring as they are now, the leadership at Burger Mondays is having a tough time sourcing high-end product and still keeping the margins decent and the prices in check. I suspect higher quality meat would elevate this burger to something truly excellent, as all the technique was there, it was just the flavors that were a bit lacking.



Instant classic?

The fries were a source of debate for Dan and me. I didn’t absolutely love them, but I didn’t dislike them, either. Dan, I think, is falling down alongside the dislike region a bit more. Again, the technique was there – these were absolutely hand-cut and double fried, as good French fries should be. However, they are cut too thin to have solid potato flavor, and too thick to be entirely crispy matchstick potatoes. They kind of have an identity crisis that leaves them in a middle ground where you mostly taste the oil they were fried in. Not my favorite.

One other idiosyncrasy at Burger Mondays, which also was noted in some of the Yelp and Urban Spoon reviews, was that our waitress didn’t ask how we wanted our burgers cooked. Now, I would get this if we were in a diner or fast-food joint where the burgers are pre-made little discs straight from the freezer. But presumably, Matt is back there hand-forming these babies. So why can’t I order it medium, or medium-well, or whatever my fancy? I mean, the fact that the burger was cooked through didn’t impede its juiciness or anything, but in an establishment staking its claim based on a gourmet burger experience, I think that’s an important factor, and I simply don’t understand the absence of the choice.

Basically, I think what you’re tasting at Burger Mondays is potential. It’s new, just having opened about a month ago, and the feeling I’m getting is that Matt is back there training his people with fervor that just isn’t quite permeating the entire staff as yet. This guy was the head chef at Number 5, for pity’s sake – he knows his way around a kitchen, and clearly has a passion for food if he’s trotting a bacon steak recipe around in his back pocket to every restaurant he graces. But there are some issues at Burger Mondays that are undeniable, and I’m going to wait a bit before going back. Dan and I agreed to award a 6.5 on the BHS scale, with room for improvement that I know is achievable. Plus, if the economy would right itself, I think a lot of restaurants would have an easier time sourcing better ingredients, which would in turn improve the end product. If nothing else, Burger Mondays is offering a new locale for dining and adults beverages in Binghamton, which is always a good thing. And without further adieu, I’m kicking it over to Dan himself, who’s sharing his capsule review below. Please visit Tasting Binghamton after you read this post to get his entire take on Burger Mondays as well – share the love!

Dan from Tasting Binghamton says:
I’ve visited Burger Mondays on three separate occasions to date, and each time been a little underwhelmed by some aspect of the experience. The first time, the burger I tried, the Classic, was unevenly cooked—pink in some spots and well-done in others. It was a decent burger, flavor-wise, but nothing that left me too excited about coming back.
On visit #2, I tried Chef Matt Jones’ namesake, a double-stacked burger called The Jonesy. Featuring pork and beef patties, chili pepper salad, pancetta, asiago cheese, and a Worcestershire reduction, it didn’t quite come together as a cohesive burger for me, with the spicy pepper salad proving to be a too-dominant flavor. The patties were bland and small, and the toasted bun had a tough, chewy consistency that I did not care for. On that visit, I did try out the Mondays Original milkshake, a tasty peanut butter/chocolate/caramel/banana/pretzel concoction, and the Guinness Chili, a hearty, thick chili that I found to be pretty excellent. I left feeling that the burgers were indeed the least successful component of the Burger Mondays menu.



Thai beef soup


My most recent visit with Shelby was definitely the best of my three experiences. I started with a Thai Beef soup. This featured various vegetables (sliced carrots/potatoes/onions) with beef in a spicy broth. It was a pretty good start to the meal. The burger I tried this time, the Southern BBQ burger, came next. This burger was a ground pork patty with cole slaw, grilled onions, and a house-made BBQ sauce, and it was nice and juicy with a good combination of flavors. It wasn’t a perfect meal (the French fries don’t do too much for me, I found the service was a little sloppy in the attention-to-detail department, and like Shelby, I wish that the burger patty flavor was a little more dominant rather than relying on the toppings to carry the load), but it was definitely a step in the right direction.

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· Southern BBQ burgerOverall, I think Burger Mondays is a restaurant with great potential, but they aren’t quite there yet. It’s my belief that if the restaurant has “Burger” in the name and if they are going to charge the prices they do, the burgers and fries should be out of this world. At this point, they simply aren’t. I don’t know if the issue is just general inconsistency due to being a new restaurant, ingredient quality, or something else, but my three visits have proven that the restaurant is not yet where they need to be to be considered among the best in town. Don’t get me wrong, Burger Mondays is definitely a place worth checking out. It’s a comfortable space, a fine addition to Downtown Binghamton, and the food is at least good. My hope is that they will continue to improve, and if my most recent visit is any indication, they are well on their way to doing so. On the Tasting Binghamton letter-grade scale, I award Burger Mondays a B for the time being.

Thanks for joining Dan and me on our cross-blogging adventure, Big Hungries. I’m heading North this weekend for a Mother’s Day brunch with the fam, and will share that experience with you next week, so stop on back. My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!

Burger Mondays Bar&Grille on Urbanspoon

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