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.
Buffalo Wild Wings
Atlantic Center, 139 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11217 (map); 262-797-6600; nearly 700 locations across the country; full list at buffalowildwings.com
The Schtick: Sports bar focused on beer and wings
The Burger: Six choices rest on the laurels of their toppings; the beef isn't worth eating
Want Fries With That? They're probably the most appetizing part of the meal
Price: Big Jack Daddy Burger, $8.99; Screamin' Nacho Burger, $8.79
I love Buffalo Wild Wings—enough that I'm considering having my birthday party there. They have a great beer selection for a chain restaurant (I usually go for an Abita or an Arrogant Bastard), solid wings and sauces, and Naked Tenders for when I'm feeling marginally health-conscious; that's enough to make me a happy man. But how are the burgers? That's what we went to find out.
As you might expect from a sports bar, their burgers are big on the loaded-on toppings, like the Big Jack Daddy Burger, a thick patty with "hickory-smoked pulled pork, fried onion rings, cheddar jack cheese and signature Honey BBQ sauce." I wasn't very impressed; the meat in the patty was too finely ground, making for a strangely compact burger, and the bun was sweet, stale, and spongy. The BBQ sauce was very mild, and predictably sweet, given how sweet their other sauces are. The fried onion added a bit of crisp, though moistened by the BBQ sauce. The pulled pork was the best part: not too meaty, not too saucy, and definitely good on its own. Though the burger looked massive when it arrived, it's surprisingly easy to eat; half of it disappeared quickly. Still, I'd have preferred a pulled pork sandwich, sans burger.
Next up was the Screamin' Nacho Burger: "Two grilled slammer patties, Chipotle BBQ seasoning, corn tortilla chips, pepper jack cheese, jalapeños, pico-de gallo and a drizzle of southwestern ranch dressing." I liked the two-patty burger better: twice the surface area means twice the crisp around the outside of the burger, and less of the somewhat pasty interior. The jalapenos and tortilla chips gave it spice and crunch, but the thick cakey bun fell apart, leaving you with a messy pile of meat, sauce, and cheese.
A common theme emerged between these two: The burgers rest on the laurels of their toppings. Pulled pork could make anything better, and nachos are a fundamentally good thing, too. Frankly, order the Nachos and Pulled Pork directly, because the burgers aren't worth your time.
About the author: John M. Edwards, the fast-food bureau chief at Serious Eats, also writes about fast food and regional chains at fastfoodr.com. His day job relates to personal training and nutrition. (Seriously.) Follow him at @johnmedwards.