Restaurant News & Reviews

Playing it fast and loose

NICHOLASVILLE — When I see ­gourmet and burger advertised as one, it usually gets a snicker or two out of me. That's an ­oxymoron. Hamburger, as we know it today, was created from scraps of meat or ­trimmings, usually beef, and ground up to make it saleable. With that in mind, I visited Red Robin Gourmet Burgers & Spirits, a national chain restaurant that made its first foray into Central Kentucky last year with a store in northern Jessamine County's ­Brannon ­Crossing shopping center. I was there to test its highly touted ”gourmet ­burgers“ and other offerings.

It's been my experience that anything with gourmet in its name is just more ­expensive. The prices at Red Robin are higher than most burger places.

But it's a fun place with a colorful ­interior and exterior and a large staff that just won't quit. And God help you if you have a birthday. It seemed as if the entire wait staff descended on the table behind me to sing Red Robin's version of Happy Birthday.

Red Robin's menu is large, with ­appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, ­entrees and ­burgers. On the first trip, my companion and I split the artichoke and ­spinach dip ($7.99), a small gratin surrounded by toasted pita points. It was as good as it sounds, but ­expensive for the small amount. We also ­sampled the Towering Onion Rings ($7.99). The rings, which were frozen before they were fried, were stacked on a rod about 18 inches tall and served with a heavy ­chipotle sauce and cool ranch dressing. The ­presentation was spectacular, but they were just onion rings.

We also sampled the Whiskey River BBQ burger ($8.99) with unlimited fries. This was my first taste of a Red Robin hamburger. It was topped with Cheddar cheese, onion straws, lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise, but all we could taste was the barbecue sauce. I really wanted to taste the beef, so I went back for lunch. (The fries, like the onion rings, were of the frozen variety.)

When you order a burger at Red Robin, it comes with everything under the sun. To get a basic burger, I had to order the Red Robin gourmet cheeseburger ($8.49) and tell the server what to leave off. What I found was a patty of ­flavorless ground beef. And I'm not exactly sure how it was cooked. When ground beef is seared on the grill or on a griddle, the meat tightens and becomes browned or caramelized, which adds flavor. This, however, wasn't the case. The burger was too soft to have been seared on a grill or a skillet.

Other offerings were sampled on these ­dining excursions. The carnitas fajitas ($11.99) consisted of ”pulled“ pork slices served with guacamole, salsa, sour cream and warm tortillas. The pork tasted flat, and the guacamole and salsa tasted like the kind found at a warehouse shopping club.

We also sampled the BLTA croissant ($9.79), which was much like a club ­sandwich. Roast turkey, bacon, cheese, sliced avocado, tomato, lettuce and mayonnaise were served on a large ­croissant. This was the hit —and it wasn't even ”gourmet.“

Desserts at Red Robin can be large, so we split the mountain high mudd pie ($5.99). It was basically a vanilla ice cream pie topped with caramel sauce and chocolate syrup and then topped with a huge mound of chocolate ice cream, topped with whipped cream and chopped peanuts. It was too much for a party of four.

Two separate dinners for two were about $48 each, with tax but not tip. Lunch for one was $13.23.