Luxe Burger Bar
5 Memorial Blvd., Providence RI 02903 (map); luxeburgerbar.com
Short Order: Unimpressive burgers with flavorful toppings make for fine drinking partners
Want Fries with That? McDonald's-like fries come with the order, but don't miss adding on onion rings
Price: BYO Gold Label Beef, $7.99 includes cheese, toppings, fries; Cheddar Tater Tots, +99¢; Pepe, $11.59; Beer Battered Onion Rings, $5.99
Remember when you were a kid and you accidentally knocked over a lamp while zooming around the house in make-believe rapture? Your parents insisted that they weren't angry, but rather "disappointed." In some ways, disappointment was worse than anger since it was a bit more subtle and penetrating. Disappointed is exactly how I feel when a burger-centric restaurant falls short.
Luxe Burger Bar, situated in a maze-like downtown plaza, really wants to be Providence's shining star burger spot. Upon entering, one encounters a faux-Warhol of pastel colored hamburger prints that screams, "We're serious about burgers!" Every table is outfitted with pencils and a pad of lengthy Build-Your-Own-Burger sheets. The set up is flashy for sure, yet in my experience ostentation has gone hand in hand with mediocre results.
There is nothing particularly wrong with the burgers at Luxe Burger Bar. Rather, they're undistinguished. To get a feel for Luxe's basic execution, I built my own Gold Label Burger ($7.99 w/ fries) on a sesame bun with the standard toppings of American cheese, iceberg lettuce, tomato*, and pickles.
* The menu said "ripe." I hedged my bets and the results were even more disappointing than the average out of season tomato.
The burger arrived promptly and was cooked to medium-rare as requested, though the insides looked a bit bun-dominated. A first bite revealed that too much bun was the least of its worries. The third pound patties of coarse-ground, grain-fed beef lacked the heavy salting and flattop crust that help griddled patties shine. As a result, the patty got lost among the surprisingly fresh pickles, shredded lettuce, and buttery toasted commercial bun. When lettuce comes through more than beef, there is a major issue. I'd go so far as to claim that a single slider from Harry's (a restaurant part of the same Chow Fun Food Group) is leaps and bounds beefier than a Luxe patty.
Fortunately the Pepe ($11.59 w/ fries) brought some much-needed joy to the meal. No, the Gold Label patty did not shock and awe in its second appearance—it was just significantly more tolerable underneath more than half a dozen toppings. Excessively salty in a good way, the Pepe features surprisingly great pastrami (assertively spiced and sliced thin), pickled jalapeños, sautéed onions and mushrooms, a slather of American-Cheddar cheese sauce, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and chipotle mayo.
The patty was again cooked medium-rare, but it mattered little among so many full-flavored toppings. Though our halves quickly fell apart, my dining partner and I fully enjoyed taking the Pepe down. A wacky and messy burger such as this would be right at home next to a few cold pints, especially on $1 Draft Tuesdays.
In the realm of fried sides, moreover, Luxe needs no improvement. Their shoestring french fries eat like a less crispy take on the Golden Arches standard, though they're sufficiently salty and come with any burger.
A bit more novel, however, are the Cheddar Tater Tots (+ 99¢ on any order). I was expecting cheddar-topped cafeteria numbers, but instead I got a small dish of incredibly crispy croquettes that reminded friend of fried mac-and-cheese.
Finally, the Beer Battered Onion Rings ($5.99), though a bit pricey, are the can't-miss side. Crisp and slightly sour beer batter complements oversized hoops of sweet onion in these exemplary rings. Try to grab an order on Fridays from 2 to 6 p.m. when apps are half-off—you'll feel much better about the dollar-to-ring ratio.
So while Luxe Burger Bar might serve unimpressive burgers, it's a perfectly fine downtown spot for friends to share some drinks and greasy grub. Also, it's pretty hard to stay disappointed when your burger is dressed as elaborately as the Pepe and your beer only costs a buck.