Chain Reaction: Ruby Tuesday

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. This column is here to help you decide when to go for the burger, and when you're better off sticking with the chicken fingers.

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[Photographs: Erin Jackson]

Ruby Tuesday

1441 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte FL 33948 (map)
800 locations worldwide; full list at rubytuesday.com
The Schtick: Mega-chain that strives to make the "best handcrafted burgers anywhere"
The Burger: Definitely not the best burger anywhere, by a long shot
Want Fries With That? "Endless fries" come with the burger, but aren't worth the calories
Setting: Slightly more upscale than most chain restaurants, with slightly higher prices to match
Price: Classic Cheeseburger, $7.99

Ruby Tuesday strikes me as the epitome of a casual chain restaurant. With everything from "cranapple crepes" to salmon cakes on the menu (plus a dozen different burgers), it feels like the kind of place that does a bunch of different things, none of them particularly well.

In 2007, the chain launched a major re-branding effort which included removing "Bar and Grill" from the restaurant's name, changing the logo, and revamping the decor—including getting rid of the striped window awnings and assorted brick-a-brack inside, two elements that make comparisons to TGI Friday's inevitable. Ruby Tuesday's sleeker, more polished design makes it look exactly like what it is: a chain restaurant that despite being named after a Rolling Stones song, has no particular edge or personality.

The only element that made this restaurant different than any large-scale corporate owned eatery was the salad bar, which had some surprisingly good salad toppings, like sun-dried peppers and edamame. But I wasn't there to eat light—my focus was on Ruby Tuesday's Classic Cheeseburger, made from a half-pound of fresh, never frozen USDA Choice beef.

Unfortunately, the southern hospitality I experienced while dining at a Florida Ruby Tuesday's location didn't make up for one of the most disappointing burgers I've ever tasted.

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As soon as I split the burger in half for the "autopsy shot", I knew it was unlikely I'd finish it. Cutting into the beef released a slimy torrent of grease that drowned the tomato and lettuce, rendering them inedible. Juicy burgers are one thing—oily grease bombs are another.

The worst part about the burger was where there was fat, there was not a proportionate amount of flavor. The beef was wan and unquestionably bland, giving the burger the texture of beef, but definitely not the taste. In fact, the only ingredient that really shone was the thick slice of American cheese.

From a preparation standpoint, there were some major fumbles with this burger. One side of the patty was overcooked and had a thick layer of char, while the other side was spongy, with no char. It was also too finely ground and coarsely packed, with no discernable seasoning. The commercial wheat bun was toasted, but made no lasting impression. From every angle, this burger was a flop.

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At the right restaurant, endless fries would be a wonderful thing. If they're served fresh and hot, and are crisp and flavorful I definitely wouldn't be able to stop at one serving. Fortunately, there was no need to disable my willpower at Ruby Tuesday's: the fries were served cold and were so tasteless that I didn't even bother finishing the initial (baby-sized) portion.

I hope I caught Ruby Tuesday's on an off day. After a heavy and unsatisfying meal, where the highlight was bottomless glasses of iced tea, I can confidently say "goodbye" to Ruby Tuesday, knowing there's no way I'm going to "miss" it.

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