891 Camino de la Reina, San Diego CA 92108 (map); 619-299-2270; hundreds of locations worldwide listed at fuddruckers.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Bland exotic burgers that are low in fat and flavor
Want Fries With That? Can't say for sure. The thick-cut fries looked tasty, but after sampling three disappointing burgers, I just wanted to get out of there
Price:Wild boar burger with cheese, $9.74; elk burger with cheese, $9.74; buffalo burger with cheese, $8.74
Notes: If you want to try a regular burger for free, join the mailing list and you'll get a coupon on your birthday.
Texas-based fast casual burger chain Fuddruckers recently released the fourth addition to their Exotics menu: a wild boar burger. Other options in the Exotics line include elk, buffalo, and ostrich. The restaurant totes the exotic meats as "often lean and always tasty".
The concept at Fuddruckers is a little different than most burger shops. Patties are cooked to order, with optional upgrades like bacon, grilled onions, avocado, and various cheeses. Burgers are served open-face, and diners dress them to their liking at the toppings bar with an array of condiments (nothing too interesting, but all of the basics like ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce, and mayo are present, plus fresh toppings and two types of nacho cheese sauce).
I tried three burgers from the "Exotics" line: elk, wild boar, and buffalo, (sadly, the ostrich burger was no longer available). In order to best taste each patty, I opted for a simple slice of cheese on each using the varieties suggested by a promotional poster, requested they be cooked medium, and kept the toppings simple: just the standard lettuce, tomato, and pickles.
One by one, each of the burgers was a let-down in terms of flavor. The elk burger was similar to beef, but with a mild gamey taste. It was cooked to order with a nice pink center, but after a few bites, the gaminess was a turn-off (totally personal preference—your experience may vary).
The wild boar burger was slightly sweet, and reminded me of a cross between a chicken burger and a breakfast sausage. It was the moistest patty of all, but was missing the advertised smoky flavor. The flavor of the meat was so mild that the juice that escaped from the patty tasted like warm, slightly salty water.
The buffalo burger was the worst of the bunch. It was overcooked, dense, dry, and completely tasteless. The cheese slices on all of the burgers (with the possible exception of the pepper jack on the wild boar) did nothing to enhance taste—instead, they melted into a bubbly film that was all but forgotten.
Overall, the Exotics menu was a disappointment. The meat may have been exotic, but the taste was uniformly bland. Even before the patties were cooked, they didn't stand a chance to be flavorful. All of them were ground within an inch of their lives, making them spongy, with the consistency of meatloaf. They were also devoid of seasoning. The final blow was dealt by the cooking method. Judging by the look of the patties, they made little to no contact with the cooking surface, which resulted in no crust or texture. In fact, these supposedly "grilled" burgers tasted like they'd been steamed.
The only possible way to save these burgers would have been to use every topping upgrade and condiment on offer. Adding bacon, grilled onions, and mushrooms as well as lots of different items from the condiments bar would have made them much tastier, but when a so-called "exotic" patty is bland and no improvement over a basic hamburger, from a flavor perspective, it has failed.
What these burgers have going for them is they're somewhat healthy. All of the exotics have an estimated 5 to 6 grams of fat, approximately 90 percent less than a 1/2-pound Fuddruckers hamburger, which is reported to have 56 grams of fat (note: nutritional data from livestrong.com and fatsecret.com—Fuddruckers does not publish nutritional data). Still, I don't know about you, but I'm pretty committed to the notion that a hamburger's first priority is to taste good.
I can only hope the burgers I tasted represented an "off day" for Fuddruckers. I can't imagine that a company with over 260 locations worldwide (and presumably a rigorous testing process for new menu items) would release three uniformly disappointing burgers like the ones I tried.