Of course we love our mom & pops, and our favorite burger joints around the country are pretty much all independently owned, but there are certain times in life—overnight layovers, hungover Sunday mornings, all-day shopping trips at the outlets—that the only options around are the chains. Chain Reaction is here to help you decide when to go for the burger, and when you're better off sticking with the chicken fingers.
1122 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Portland OR 97214 (map); 503-230-0479; 39 locations in Oregon and Washington listed at burgerville.com
The Schtick: Handful of fast food-style burgers, all with local ingredients
The Burger: High on sustainability and low on flavor
Want Fries with That? Not unless you're planning to shove them into the burger to jack up the salt content
Setting: Nondescript classic American drive-thru atmosphere; think of your neighborhood Burger King and you've got it
Prices: Varies by location, Tillamook Cheeseburger averages $3 to $4
Portlanders sure are proud of their Burgerville, and in some respects that's justifiable. As the slogan goes, it strives to serve food that's "fresh, local, and sustainable" as often as possible. That means that most sides are seasonal (eg. you'll find onion rings on the menu only when the onion harvest is in), the beef's from Oregon ranches, and almost all the packaging is compostable. But while Burgerville may serve the eco-friendliest fast-food burger, it's a far cry from the tastiest.
I've eaten at various Burgervilles probably a dozen times over the years, and one thing that's stuck with me is just how inoffensive the food is. It seems scientifically crafted to be palatable to as many tongues as possible, which means you won't find any big, bold flavors here, even when they're using top-shelf ingredients. The aforementioned onion rings are made with thick slices of Walla Walla sweets, but every time I've ordered them they've been astoundingly bland. I understand that Burgerville is attempting to serve a healthier alternative to the McDonald's and Burger Kings of the world, but their cooking methods leave the food begging for some good old-fashioned grease.
What's true of the onion rings is true of the burger, and in this instance, the Tillamook Cheeseburger. The quarter-pound patty from Country Natural Beef is your typical fast-food gray, but is crying out for some seasoning. A little salt and pepper would go a long way here between the moment the patty hits the griddle and when it's slid onto the bun. Don't expect the cheese to pick up any of the slack; this is a mild cheddar that is completely undetectable. (Rant Alert: The use of mild cheddar on cheeseburgers needs to stop. If you must use cheddar, then use the sharpest variety you can find. Otherwise the consumer's just getting charged for calories they can't even taste.)
Bite into the Tillamook Cheeseburger and the strongest flavor that comes through is the ketchup and mayo combo slathered over the bottom bun, followed closely by the pickles. There's also lettuce and tomato wedged in there to make you feel less guilty about eating this thing, but they're merely there for texture. Every now and then you'll get a hint of the beef, particularly around the rim of the burger, where the meat is less encumbered by bun and veggies.
Fries are really hit and miss here, but generally I've found them to be anemic and undercooked. While the soft, mushy texture of the fries is off-putting, at least they're well-salted. If you do feel compelled to order them, stick a few into the burger to provide some much-needed sodium.
Criticisms on Burgerville's lack of daring aside, this isn't a bad burger, but merely a boring one. The picky eaters and those with few taste buds will find it right up their alley, but anyone seeking something memorable will need to look elsewhere. Seeing as how that's hardly its target demographic, I don't expect Burgerville will be making any radical changes to its food anytime soon, but at least it's doing its part for the environment.
About the author: Adam Lindsley is a Seattle-based novelist and the author of the pizza blog, This Is Pizza. As a contributor for both Slice and A Hamburger Today, he is contractually obligated to say he loves pizza and burgers in equal amounts. Which is to say he is a polygamist.