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.