Restaurant News & Reviews

Bunk's makes some good burgers

Bunk's calls its burgers "gourmet." On paper, that is true. The myriad toppings sound crazy good, and they are, for the most part. But the location — a smart counter operation within the longtime college haunt Two Keys Tavern — suggests pub grub rather than food carefully conceived for the haute palate.

You will find evidence of this informal style in the skinny "hand-cut" herb- seasoned fries ($2.25), lukewarm and limp, that are heavily dusted with dried parsley, thyme and rosemary. Or the onion "petals" ($2.25), in reality rings that can be greasy with batter chipping off. (After the onion rings I had a few weeks ago at Malone's, these looked sad indeed.)

In addition, the menu can be deceiving. For instance, there is a chili billed as "house-made," but it tastes otherwise. I asked about that and was told it comes from a can and is amended, rather than made, in-house.

All that said, Bunk's is worth your time for two reasons.

One is its play list, which on this visit was a time warp to the '60s and '70s.

The other is the "Baby Bunks" option, a salute to freedom of choice and portion control. For $6.99, you can sample three burgers in miniature rather than committing to a single regular-size one. You get perhaps four bites from each of these babies — just the right amount. Which means that in one meal, two people can easily try six of the seven choices and pick their favorites.

So settle in with some Magic Hat beer, because service can be extremely slow — almost 30 minutes on a Tuesday night — and watch television, talk to people, enjoy the brews. It's what you are supposed to do in a casual bar anyway.

The good, medium-rare patties are worth the wait.

There is nothing "gourmet" about the Classic, topped with American cheese, iceberg lettuce and tomato, red onion and pickle slices with Bunk's sauce. The Tuck Special, with chili, french fries, green onions and cheese sauce, sounds more special than it is.

But things improve as you go down the menu.

I loved the Oldham's Kentucky Smokehouse burger, with cheddar cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, fried onion petals (better as a condiment) and a tangy barbecue sauce purportedly made with bourbon. Kudos also to "D.," whoever he or she is, who conceived the Blue and White burger, with balsamic-flavored sautéed onions, creamy blue cheese and a punchy horseradish sauce, all topped with more applewood bacon.

Then there are a couple of exotics.

Hawaiian-style pizzas and burgers always seem odd to me, but the Bunk's version somehow worked, probably because the nutty flavor and aroma of Swiss cheese accompanied by smoky ham gave balance to bits of sweet grilled pineapple, teriyaki sauce and red onion. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we find more extreme heat in the "Spoony," with jalapeño rings, pepper jack cheese, hot sauce and chipotle mayonnaise.

I appreciate that Bunk's doesn't fear the power of chili peppers, not only on the Spoony burger but also in its use of sriracha, the powerful jalapeño-and-garlic sauce that began as a stand-alone condiment but has found its way into soups, salsas and, at Bunk's, a dipping sauce.

So it is impossible to disconnect Bunk's from its home in Two Keys, but that might be a good thing. It's no harm to get your groove on, especially when a full meal for one person, including a well-chosen beer on tap plus tip, averages $10.

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