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[Photographs: Robyn Lee]

No one goes to theme parks expecting to eat great food.* So why did I eat three burgers during a six-day theme park-centric vacation** in Orlando with my mom and brother earlier this month? Because I thought it may give me something to blog about. And it did. Sort of. The theme of this post: Do not eat burgers in theme parks.

I didn't expect to find good food in theme parks, of course. Admittedly, I didn't do any theme park food research before going on the trip; I just figured wherever my family chose to eat offered burgers, I should try the burger and potentially have something blog-worthy. And I technically do have something blog-worthy—brought on by burger-induced sadness.

I should note that as I had a sinus infection during my vacation, my sense of taste was lacking. But as Adam told me, "Robyn, if you don't write about those burgers you'll have eaten them for nothing." So here are some burger pet peeves, more related to texture than flavor, and not unique to theme parks, that stuck out during my trip. Feel free to chime in with your pet peeves too. Maybe the burger-making world can make some New Year's resolutions based on our dissatisfaction.***

* Unless, perhaps, you're a Harry Potter fan and go to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Islands of Adventure to drink butterbeer. I am. And I went. And I drank two cups. Yay.

** We hit Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, and Epcot. It was awesome.

*** Sorry for ending the year on a negative note. Next week we'll be posting our favorite burgers of 2010!

Too Much Bun

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Burger from Lombard's in Universal Studios.

When MilwaukeeBurgertVIP asked "And BUNS, seriously a bun is going to draw you away from a restaurant?" in Lacey's review of AJ Bombers, my internal response was, "Um, yeah?" Just as bread is a major component of a sandwich, buns are integral to the burger-eating experience. A bad bun—whether too large, too small, or has a poor texture or flavor—can ruin good fillings and make a burger not worth eating.

How often do you come across burgers with too much bun that overpowers the meat? No one's into that. I hope. Sometimes there's too little bread, which is another problem—the bread and meat should balance out—but to me, too much bread is more undesirable.

The theme park burgers I ate benefited greatly once I removed their top buns. They all used buns that were too large and bready. Two of the restaurants—Spice Mill in SeaWorld and Lombard's in Universal Studios—advertised that they used freshly baked rolls, but I think they would've been better off using squishy, white, commercial burger buns.

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The cheeseburger ($8.99) from Spice Mill in SeaWorld had the additional fault of the patty being too small for the bun. Bun overhang, do not want.

Crappy Toppings

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Fresh, vibrant toppings can elevate an average patty. Wan, discolored toppings can make make an otherwise good burger look like crap. The cheeseburger ($9.99) I got at Lombard's in Universal Studios wins the award for "worst iceberg lettuce I have ever seen at a sit-down restaurant"—haphazard chunks, ashen with weeniest traces of chlorophyll. (I know iceberg lettuce is not lush with green to begin with; this was a few levels below that.) When lettuce looks that bad, your burger is better off without it. If anyone asks, say you ran out of lettuce. Or all the lettuce was destroyed in a freak lettuce-destroying explosion. Accompanying a burger with such visually unappealing toppings just makes it obvious that no one cares.

I weep for you, lettuce corpse. You should've died in obscurity, not on my burger plate.

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Mythos in Islands of Adventure (Universal Studios' sister theme park) did a much better job with the toppings on their bacon cheeseburger ($10.95)—they actually looked and tasted fresh. But there was still too much bun and the overcooked patty tasted the same as the one from Lombard's (I'd guess they're using the same patties.)

Unmelted Cheese

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Residual heat may help melt the cheese a bit, but at Spice Mill I should've skipped the unmelted cheese and saved 30 cents.

Too Lightly Toasted Buns

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Some people prefer lightly toasted buns, but to me, if you're going to toast it at all, go all the way. Don't tease me with a few wispy streaks of brown. A light toasting may add a bit of flavor (although the flavor is hard to discern when the bun is too big), but it doesn't make much of an impact texture-wise. I'm just fooled into thinking, "Ooh, maybe this will be slightly crispy," and then I take a bite and steep in bun disappointment.

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Y U NO guy just can't get a grip on life.

Yeah, like that, although I hope I look less insane.

Okay, I'm done being whiny. I need to think about something positive now. ...Ah, actually, I do have something. If anyone's wondering what was the best theme park food I ate during my vacation, I'd go with the roasted beet and goat cheese salad at the Sunshine Seasons food court in The Land in Epcot. It hit the spot that was craving something vegetarian, fresh, and not terribly unhealthy. I'd recommend it if you're in Epcot.

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Single cheeseburger with everything from Steak 'n Shake.

Oh, and during my trip I went to Steak 'n Shake for the first time. I can't wax poetically about it in the style of Roger Ebert, but it was way better than the theme park burgers I tried and didn't suffer from any of the pet peeves I listed above. I can see why people love it—if there were a burger chain around where I live in New York City that offered simple burgers this cheap (about $4 for a burger and fries) and were open 24 hours a day, I'd go there.

For those of you who reached the end of this post (like, whoa), Happy New Year! Thanks for reading AHT—we wouldn't survive without you—and may 2011 bring you lots of burger happiness.

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