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Reviews of burgers at chain restaurants.

Chain Reaction: Famous Dave's

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[Photographs: Lacey Muszynski]

Famous Dave's

5077 South 27th Street, Greenfield WI 53221 (map); 414-727-1940; 191 locations across the US and one in Canada; view all locations at famousdaves.com
The Schtick: Smoked meats and southern-inspired food geared at families and groups. Each table has six sauces and a roll of paper towels
The Burger: Smoked brisket burgers mix brisket into the ground beef. It's not bad but might make you wonder why you didn't just order a less expensive brisket sandwich
Want Fries With That? Thumbs up for the crisp potato wedge fries, or try one of numerous other sides
Price: Devil's Spit burger, $10.99; Ultimate burger, $11.99; BBQ Nachos (small), $5.99; side of mac and cheese, $2.29

I love Famous Dave's Devil's Spit BBQ sauce. It's my preferred sauce from the grocery store whenever I have any type of barbecue at home. It's one of the few commercially-made sauces I've found that actually has a good bit of heat to it. Not so much that it's a hot sauce, but enough that it's hotter than a typical barbecue sauce.

When I heard Famous Dave's promoting their new Brisket Burgers I was intrigued. And when I saw that one was named the Devil's Spit Burger, I was excited. But when I tried the new Devil's Spit Brisket burger, I was mostly just confused.

The problem really stems from something Famous Dave's anticipated, and tried to solve: Why would you order a burger at a barbecue place? I guess there are probably some people who don't enjoy their barbecue. I suspect that Texans, for instance, would not dare set foot in a Famous Dave's if it wasn't for their nephew choosing it for their 10th birthday party. In that case, a burger might be welcomed.

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"And who doesn't love barbecue sauce, right? And smoked brisket? Fantastic, we'll just throw some into the burger!" is what I imagine the focus group to have said. This is where I start getting confused, though: When you add so much smoked meat and sauce to a burger, at what point does it stop being a burger? Why wouldn't I just order a brisket sandwich?

Frankly, the brisket sandwich would have been more enjoyable than the two burgers I tried. The one saving grace was the great charbroiled flavor, like from a backyard grill. But if you had blindfolded me, I would have never guessed there was ground beef somewhere in there.

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There's smoked brisket chunks—HUGE chunks in some cases—mixed in with the ground beef. This is great for flavor but little else. The combination of ground and shredded meats together makes for a slightly odd texture. While I ordered the burgers with "some pink"—the way my server asked—the ground beef was way overcooked. That dried out the brisket, too. A travesty to even mediocre smoked meat.

The Devil's Spit burger ($10.99) didn't have all that much Devil's Spit on it. I still ended up squirting a puddle on my tray for dipping. The pepperjack cheese wasn't all that peppery, but at least there was a lot of it. "Hell Fire" pickles were not hellish or fiery in the least; they tasted like sweet pickles.

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Pulled pork topped the Ultimate burger ($11.99), and in combination with the brisket in the patty, it made me ask once again, why order the burger at all? The good thing about this burger was that the pulled pork distracted you even more from the overcooked ground beef. Everything else on the burger—cheese, bacon—just got lost.

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Burgers come with a choice of side, so I went for the Famous Fries. I actually quite like these. They're kind of a mildly seasoned potato wedge, but with a nice crunchy coating on them. Perfect for sopping up Devil's Spit. Definitely skip the mac and cheese unless you like mushy pasta in bland, congealed sauce.

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For an app, I tried the BBQ Nachos ($5.99). House-smoked cheddar, Wilbur beans, and Famous chili all intrigued me, as did the pulled pork. Too bad the cheese was of the bland sauce variety, the beans were thin and runny, and there was no chili to be found. I believe that there were a few shreds of the smoked cheddar, but they weren't even melted and couldn't be discerned. The best part was by far the pork, but it definitely doesn't make these worth getting again.

It's not that I wouldn't go to Famous Dave's again; I've been there a bunch of times and will probably go back. But I'll stick to barbecue and tried-and-true sides, like fries and cornbread muffins. Unless you really can't decide between a burger or barbecue, I suggest doing the same.

About the author: Lacey Muszynski is an editor, freelance writer and restaurant reviewer from Milwaukee, WI. When she's not burgerblogging on AHT, she might be updating her food blog, making fun of the Food Network, or wondering what her art degree has to do with all of this. Her idols growing up included Martin Yan, Chairman Kaga, and whoever was on Great Chefs, Great Cities that day.

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