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.

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[Photographs: Todd Brock]

Dave & Buster's

2215 D&B Drive, Marietta, GA 30067 (Map); 770-951-5554
daveandbusters.com, 60+ locations in 27 states
The Schtick: Super-sports bar/adult playground with massive arcade
The Burger: Half-pound burgers are topped nicely, but have a weird soft texture that's seriously off-putting
Want Fries With That? Fries are crisp, well-seasoned, and served in huge quantities
Setting: D&B's feels upscale...unless you sit near the Million Dollar Midway
Price:Black & Bleu Burger, $9.99; South Philly Burger, $11.99

Dave & Buster's used to be a big night out for me. This is when I was 23 and virtual reality was the hot new thing. My local Dave & Buster's was one of the few places that had the big setup, where you'd wait in line to strap on a helmet/visor that showed you yourself as a blocky stack of pixels strolling (quite smoothly onscreen, but flailing wildly in real life) through a 3-D landscape of different-colored blocky stacks of pixels, trying to shoot the blocky stack of pixels who accompanied you.

Now Dave & Buster's feels like Chuck E. Cheese's for adults to me (or Vegas Lite). Total sensory overload, with every bell and whistle and flashing neon light designed to help vacuum money right out of your wallet while selling you on how much extreme fun you're having. A something-for-everyone vibe where they loop videos of well-dressed people high-fiving each other and getting impossibly giddy playing the grown-up equivalent of whack-a-mole, all designed to remind you to load more cash onto your Power Card for a long night on the Million Dollar Midway. It's a sports bar on steroids with an arcade on steroids. Yes, they serve food, but it's not a place you go for serious food. The chow is secondary to the high-tech gaming. Sadly, their burgers back that last notion up.

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It's a fairly large menu (back to that something-for-everyone philosophy) with steaks, ribs, pastas, tons of appetizers and snacks, sandwiches, and burgers. For beefeaters, there are four to choose from: a half-pound cheeseburger, a double cheeseburger, and the two I sampled this night. First up was the Black & Bleu ($9.99). Billed as "a half-pound of Angus beef seared with Cajun seasoning," it's also topped with melted blue cheese plus "frazzled and caramelized onions." Add bacon for 99¢, and that becomes the most prominent thing on the burger, as evidenced by that photo.

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It's the most prominent thing taste-wise, too. In a burger reviewing first for me, the initial impression that registered with my first bite was...soft. It was bizarre. The fluffy, almost-airy beef seemed to offer less resistance than the brioche bun it was nestled in, like vaguely-meat-flavored cotton candy. And while that's a genius idea for the state fair, a burger where the only real texture came from bacon (which was actually quite crisp and tasty) and frazzled onion (not usually my thing, but I'll take what I can get here) was just plain weird.

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But maybe, I hoped, it was just that one burger. The South Philly Burger ($11.99) showed more promise, at least in its plating, being served up in an impressive cast iron skillet. Wait. Make that a fake plastic prop skillet. Eww. My heart sank.

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Topped with thin-sliced steak "imported directly from Philly," it's also got peppers, onions, mushrooms, and melted white American cheese. The toppings here work, for the most part. Cheesy, peppery, decent crunch from the veggies—a little bite of Broad Street while the Eagles just happened to be playing on the big screen.

Meat-on-meat action always sounds more awesome than it ends up being, and true to form, the thin steak slices here got lost with the hamburger beef to create a taste that's just indistinguishably meaty meat. And just like the Black & Bleu, this patty had a barely-there quality to it that I still find mystifying. No seasoning to speak of, no real sear or crust, no texture of its own. The only redeeming factor to these burgers was the toppings on them, 'cos that's all I could taste.

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But again, I think most of the food at Dave & Buster's is meant to be shoveled in while watching a game with your buds or in between rounds of Pop-A-Shot and blasting zombies. The Bar Burgers & Wings Platter from the "Starters" portion of the menu lends itself to that approach better than the full-size burgers. A combo of four mini-cheeseburgers is paired with five Buffalo wings and a hefty order of seasoned fries. But while the full-size burgers struck me as soft and mushy, the minis were tough and rubbery in that hopelessly industrial way. The upshot here is that they're tucked into King's Hawaiian Rolls, which could turn week-old roadkill into a tasty tailgate snack.

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The fries are probably the best thing on the BB&W Platter. And D&B's isn't shy about loading you up—the full-size burgers come with over a half-pound of them on the side. They're crisp and seasoned beautifully. (Mine came in a cutesy-pie miniature fryer basket; between that and the fake skillet, that's a lot of prop cookware taking up kitchen space just for a little wink-wink-nudge-nudge presentation.) If you prefer sweet potato fries, they're a 79¢ upcharge, and worth someone at your table ordering for group sharing.

I'm not much of a video game guy anymore, so maybe I'm just not the Dave & Buster's demographic. But if you and your crew are looking for a place to hang after work or during the big game, you've certainly got plenty to choose from at D&B's: video and skill games for miles, pool tables, full bar, TVs everywhere, and even bowling alleys at some locations. And sure, they have glorified bar grub galore to go with however you choose to get your fun on. To me, the sea of flashing lights and the cacophony of beeps, bells, and buzzers of the Million Dollar Midway feels a little like a case of style over substance and flash over function. (Sorta like that faux cast iron skillet.) I'd call the burgers a perfect match. They look good, sound great, and have some fun elements, but if you're looking for high-scoring burger goodness, your enjoyment of the burgers at Dave & Buster's may be more virtual than reality.

About the Author: Todd Brock lives the glamorous life of a stay-at-home freelance writer in the suburbs of Atlanta. Besides being paid to eat cheeseburgers for AHT, pizzas for Slice, and desserts for Sweets, he's written and produced over 1,000 hours of television and penned Building Chicken Coops for Dummies. When he grows up, he wants to be either the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys or the drummer for The Gaslight Anthem. Or both.

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