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[Photographs: above, Dennys; others, Damon Gambuto]

Denny's unveiled their limited-time Hobbit-themed menu last November...and, I just found out, stopped serving it this past Sunday. Oops. (What gives; the movie's still playing!) Although the menu was clearly a gimmicky movie tie-in that was more sizzle than steak, I visited Denny's to try the menu's Hobbit-inspired burger for a Reality Check. So, AHT'ers, behold: The Ring Burger ($8.49)

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From a creativity standpoint, there isn't much in this burger to ignite the senses, even if you are a Denny's devotee. They already have a bunch of constructed burgers on their regular menu, so a multi-topping burger offering is nothing new. That said, the particulars of The Ring Burger are actually sort of interesting. They put their standard patty on a cheddar bun and top it with abandon. It comes standard with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, pepper Jack cheese, bacon, sautéed mushrooms, and mayo. It shows up with—you guessed it—onion rings on top.

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I was surprised to find that there was a lot redeeming about this burger. To be sure, the standard chain restaurant complaints apply: overcooked and under-seasoned patty. But they managed to pack the meat loosely enough to avoid the hockey puck texture that's so often in evidence in these kinds of joints. The toppings came together nicely as well; the pepper Jack cheese was plenty melty and the mushrooms added a nice earthiness. The rest of the veggies were completely solid. The most interesting addition was the squishy cheddar bun. It had a nice texture that was just a tad more substantive than a traditional commercial bun without losing sponginess. While there wasn't much (if any) juice to speak of from the patty, the mayo replaced the missing fat.

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The fries aren't Ring Burger-specific, so you've probably tried them somewhere along the line. They're cut like steak fries with a bit of a krinkle. This technique is really clever—it allows for more surface area to crisp, which balances well with the creamy potato interior.

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I also tried the Radagast's Red Velvet Pancake Puppies ($2) because I have an unhealthy attraction to food coloring and pancakes. They're deep-fried pancake balls with little white chocolate chip centers. They're served with a side of syrup and cream cheese icing for dipping. This is straight-up State Fair food, enjoyable insofar as you are excited at the basic excess of the eating enterprise put before you. Apparently I was. I ate them all despite their under-cooked centers.

There may indeed exist one burger to rule them all, but I'm pretty certain that it's not Denny's Ring Burger. That said, this gimmicky burger-as-movie-tie-in is actually not that bad.

About the author: Damon is one of our roving burger reporters and food writers. When he's not eating more than is warranted or healthful (and then writing about it) he can be found writing and producing for television and film. You can contact him at seriouslydamon@gmail.com.

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