Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A University Staple and a Really Good Burger: The Glenwood

A friend recently described the Glenwood as a "Tier 2" restaurant.  It is not quite a "Tier 1" restaurant, or the type of restaurant that is an absolute must if you are visiting town for only a weekend.  Rather, it is something just underneath that: a restaurant that you should really give a chance if you are going to spend any sort of time in a town.  While this rating system is still not quite patent-ready, I am thinking that the third Tier would have restaurants that are perfectly salvageable but not anything special, and the fourth would be made up of the real dogs, but I digress...

I can't say I disagreed with my friend's, 2nd tier, assessment.  The Glenwood has not been a place I would likely put on a can't-miss list, but I have taken plenty of visiting out-of-town friends and family there.  Between its campus location, attention to detail, and Tomato Cheese soup (more on this later), The Glenwood has earned its spot as a University and Eugene staple.  The food is great, the service is usually very good, and, as long as you avoid it on a Saturday or Sunday before 3:00, you can usually be in and out in about 25 minutes.

Still, I have never really considered the Glenwood a burger joint.  To me, the Glenwood is a breakfast place; it is the restaurant that I think about on a lazy sunday, when I consumed one (or twelve) too-many on Saturday (for the record: their Eggs Benedict are maybe the best in town).  I knew they had burgers, but have never before much had the inclination to order one.

Recently, however, I have been hearing more and more about the Glenwood's burgers; I have received more than one email recommendation from readers, and even some from personal eugene-foodie confidants.  That, combined with the Glenwood being close enough to my daily goings-on, made the Glenwood ripe for the EBB treatment.

To begin this review, I want to get something out of the way:  The Glenwood does not serve french-fries.  I think this is perhaps the reason I don't see the Glenwood as a burger-joint.  I knew they didn't have french-fries, but never really put any thought into it before today.  Upon ordering a burger you are given the choice of salad, home-fried potatoes, fresh fruit, cottage cheese, or soup.  Most people in my situation would, I assume, make a giant mistake when faced with this decision, and order the potatoes.  I am not saying the potatoes are bad, in fact I think they are relatively good, I even tasted some today so I could confirm this, but they are not the best option.

It is a little known fact that the Glenwood has one of the greatest soups in the whole wide world: tomato cheese.  Forgive me for not being impartial and bringing in past opinions to my review, but seriously folks, this soup is great.  It is not a complicated soup; in fact, some might consider it crude.  Simply, it is a no-frills tomato soup, with shredded cheese.

Something about the cheese makes it not melt completely, and the result is a wonderful, yet completely un-pretentious, masterpiece.  Just order it, okay?  I will leave it at that, because this is not the Eugene Soup Blog, as that would be stupid.

The burgers at the Glenwood are pretty amazing on paper.  Their beef comes from Oregon Natural Meats, a "locavore"-movement, Oregon-company that feeds all its cattle "upcycled" brewers grain (from local breweries), and dry ages all beef for no less than 21 days.  The stock burger-package at the Glenwood includes a 1/3 lb. patty, whole wheat bun, green leaf lettuce, tomato, pickle, and mayo.  And, at $6.50 - $8.50, they are priced really competitively.

As I have been out of the reviewing game for a couple of months, I decided to keep it simple and order a standard bacon-cheeseburger, or the "Willamette," comes with Tillamook Cheddar and "thick bacon," and goes for $7.75.

The burger is a good-looking creation, with fresh veggies, and a clean presentation.  It's no greasy spoon burger, but it also isn't an overdone fancy restaurant burger.  The bacon is, as promised, quite thick, and appeared to be cooked perfectly.

First-bite was my first indication that the Glenwood may have something pretty special with this burger.  I don't know if it some un-mentioned seasoning, or the aging process employed by Oregon Natural, but the flavor of the beef was up there with any burger I have had locally.  The bacon was indeed cooked perfectly, not too crispy and not too soft, and the veggies were in perfect proportion to the meat.  I even really liked the pickles, which are typically a "meh..." item for me.

The only issue I have is with the whole-wheat bun.  On one hand, I really like the idea of whole wheat bread; it is so much better for you than white bread, and in many instances the flavor works better with the particular dish.  On the other, I am sort of a Philistine when it comes to my burgers and I like the processed clean flavor of white bread.  The bun tasted fine, so I will give it a pass, but it is likely the greatest source of any hesitation I have about this burger.

All things said and done, the Glenwood has a really great burger; likely, it is one of the best in town.  I would have to go back to some of the restaurants I have previously reviewed to say for sure, but I suspect that the beef was better than any of my previous entries.  I'd say it's a little bit of a sleeper, and the Glenwood has too many things going on to really be considered a burger joint, especially with no fries, but this burger does nothing in my mind except put the Glenwood clearly in front of other local restaurants who are known specifically for their burgers (I'm looking at you Cornucopia).

Perhaps the Glenwood was already on some of your own "Tier 1" lists, and, as of today, it has pushed its way on to mine.

The Glenwood Restaurant
1340 Alder St.
Eugene, OR 97401

(541) 687-0355


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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Baseball Burger: PK Park

"Professional baseball is on the wane. Salaries must come down or the interest of the public must be increased in some way. If one or the other does not happen, bankruptcy stares every team in the face."   
-- Chicago White Stockings owner Albert Spalding, 1881
What is it about baseball that keeps us going series after series, and season after season?  Is it the possibility of catching a foul ball, or seeing a perfectly executed double-play?  Is it the sun on your neck, with a beer and some peanuts in hand, as you sing take me out to the ball game or heckle the other team's right fielder?

Baseball holds a particular soft spot in this blogger's heart.  America's past time is not my favorite sport to watch, nor is it my favorite to play, but something about a baseball game on a sunny afternoon can completely reset me, and make me feel miles away from responsibility.  It's something I enjoyed as a kid, and hasn't become any less fun as I got older.

Lord knows it is not the thrilling, edge-of-your-seat game play that is the staying factor.  Don't get me wrong, watching a close game into the late innings, or a pitcher who is really clicking can be as exciting as anything else in sports, but most of the time baseball is... well, it's boring.  I know all of you baseball lovers are gonna take umbrage to that last statement, but hey, this is my blog, and so I'm standing by it.  It's not the most exciting game around.

Probably the thing that really makes me always down to to catch a game is the promise of delicious baseball park food.  Look, I'm a simple man, and if you sit me down with a beer, a burger, and the sun on my back, you could probably even get me to sit through a live rendition of The English Patient set to the music of Air Supply.  

It was in this spirit that I went to the newly completed PK Park for my first Duck Baseball game Friday afternoon.  The field was finished just in time for the season to start, and I had likely waited too long to get there and catch a game.  The Ducks were set to play the Nevada Wolf Pack, who came into the series with a 10-6 record, blah, blah, blah...  

Did I mention that PK Park has a beer garden, or that they serve a burger that had already been described to me as "really good"?  

My first impression of PK was that it was incredibly well put together.  If this team isn't immediately going to be tops in the Pac-10, their stadium sure is.  I mean, its small, but absolutely beautiful.  The field is all turf, including the base-paths and the warning track; as far as I could tell, the only dirt in the whole place was on the pitchers mound.  

The menu is limited, and expensive.  Beers are going to cost you six bucks whether you get a plastic bottle Bud, or a glass bottle Widmer "micro" that is kindly poured into a plastic glass whether you want it that way or not.  

The burger, cleverly titled the "Fielder's Choice Hamburger," is a double-double that comes with cheddar, and caramelized onions.  It cost eight bucks, which really is not atrocious, but for a family trying to catch a cheap local baseball game my seem a bit pricey.  

You order your burger under one tent, where you receive your bun and package of Tim's Cascade potato chips, and then you get your patties and onions fresh off the grill at an adjacent tent.  It was different, but it seemed like a pretty good system, and there was almost no wait.  I am guessing if the place was packed, it might be a ten minute ordeal.

Upon first glance, the burger looked... good.  The onions were a nice twist, and there was plenty of beef; if I had to guess, I would say two 1/4 lb. patties.  

I was a bit surprised that they didn't give you lettuce, onion, tomato with your bun, but you could garnish to your hearts desire at the designated condiment station.  

I went with the stock package on this guy, because between the caramelized onions and the juicy grill patties there seemed like there was going to be plenty of flavor, and I am a less-is-more kind of fellow.  

As far as the eating part of the process goes, I have to say, the Fielder's Choice is on par with some of the better burgers I have reviewed to date.  It is really, really good.  

The beef was grilled superbly, the patties were the perfect thickness, and the caramelized onions were one of the better touches to a burger I have had recently.  

It started well, it finished well, and I didn't feel bad at all about the eight bucks I shelled out on it.  

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Friday, March 19, 2010

The Paris Hilton Burger: Hop Valley Brewing Co.

One of the things that our culture invariably appreciates is a story outlining a successful journey from humble roots.  Everyone loves the stories of Henry Ford, Ray Croc, and Oprah Winfrey: people who started from nothing, and wound up conquering the world.  Conversely, we tend to have disdain for the Paris Hiltons of the world: folks who had the good life handed to them, and just don’t seem to have any appreciation it.

It is in between those two models that our dream, the ‘American Dream,’ lays.  It is a model that includes sundry middle variables, and two constants at its extremities: a paupers starting line, and a white picket finish line. 

The cliché is present everywhere in our society: at the Oscars, in hip hop music, in some of our most celebrated films. 

We have the same expectation for our restaurants.  Whether it’s a big chain of restaurants, or a single well-established restaurant, we want to see a big picture in the lobby showing the dinky little first iteration of the chain, or the old unpolished building that the restaurant used to reside in.  It’s a credibility thing.  

Hop Valley Brewing is not that type of place; I hadn't even heard of it the first time I went in.  It is like aliens dropped the place off in the middle of the night, all shiny, with an extensive menu, giant selection of microbrews and four big ol’ fermenters. 

I have to admit, it doesn’t seem right to me.  It has no history, no background story detailing its ugly little shack where its college student owners brewed their first amber ale kit.  No doubt the owners have their own little humble beginning story, but as far as I know, Phil Knight anonymously funded the restaurant.  It lacks a feeling of authenticity. 

Those of you who have been to HV, know exactly what I'm talking about.  When you walk in to the main lobby, the place feels distinctly like a chain.  There is no dusty decorations that are sitting around simply because they have been around for years and years.  All the servers are in uniform, and the tables and chairs all look the same as the other tables and chairs: no chance this place is a small town start-up.

That said, I heard the restaurant had an awesome happy-hour burger, so I decided to check it out.

The entire happy hour menu at HV, which is available every weekday from 3 - 6, is actually pretty awesome, at least on paper.  None of the food is more than four bucks, and all the HV brews are $3.25.  

The happy hour burger is a 1/3 lb. burger with fries, and will cost you $3.95.  The beef was the thing that really intrigued me about the burger; they claim it is a house beef, "seasoned with bacon, smoked, & grilled to order."  

Did I mention that the burger comes with fries, and doesn't even cost 4 bucks?  Did anyone hear the part about beef "seasoned with bacon"?  What could go wrong?

Upon ordering the burger, the server asked me how I wanted it cooked, and I asked for medium-rare.  At this point she mentioned to me that because the burger was smoked, it typically comes out pink no matter how you order it.  I thought little  of the comment at the moment; first, I know smoked beef stays pink, and second... I didn't order it well done, so how was the fact going to affect me?  Well, when the burger came out, it became clear why she said something; my burger was well-done, and, of course still pink.  

So, what happened? Does the server mention the whole smoked-stays-pink thing to everyone, because she is going to just order it well-done, or does she mention it because no matter how she orders it the kitchen is going to cook it well-done?  

Either way, someone screwed up, but hey, did I mention the burger doesn't even cost 4 bucks?

even well done, the beef was tasty, the taste of bacon was subtle, but definitely there, and the smoking process makes the burger unique enough that it isn't just any other pub burger.  

The burger comes out with a steamy plate of handcut looking fries, that are according to the server not made in house, but still very tasty: the type of fries that you dip in ranch.  The bun is totally edible, but nothing special.  

The bottom line is that for the cost this burger is amazing.  At eight bucks, I might be disappointed, but for $3.95 who could be upset?  I give Hop Valley my recommendation, even though there is no backstory.  It is clear that they have worked very hard to make a vision come true, and can you really fault them for making it happen with enough money to do it all polished and shiny?  Hop Valley still has an uphill battle to go to make its restaurant feel like a well oiled machine, but in the meantime they have cheap eats, decent beer and a pretty building.   

Hop Valley Brewing
980 Kruse Lane
Springfield, OR 97477

(541) 744-3330


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Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Bad Burger: Billy Mac's Grill.

Well, it finally happened; I finally had a burger worth absolutely trashing in my humble little blog.

You see, the problem with blogging about burgers is that burgers are generally good. While no dish fit for the gods, it is really, really difficult to serve an awful burger.  Even the restaurants that are dirty and have trouble frying a decent chicken strip, typically are able to serve up a perfectly palatable burger.  Really, the sandwich lends itself to cheap ingredients and hasty cooking methods.

It makes it tough, burger after burger, to continue to come up with something interesting to say.  I find myself at times scrutinizing every burger to a completely unfair degree, and often writing less than stellar reviews of perfectly good hamburgers, that lack nothing besides a bit of  wow-factor.  The problem is exacerbated by the fact that I target places that allegedly have a decent burger for my reviews.

When all the burgers are so good, what is a burger blogger to do?

But alas, nothing will come of nothing, and it was only a matter of time before I stumbled across a truly terrible burger.  To be perfectly honest, once I realized what was happening I was so delighted, that I wasn't even upset about the hockey puck on cardboard sandwich in front of me.

That said, I have just the slightest bit of trepidation about bluntly trashing a local person's business venture.  I would like to say that Billy Mac's is clearly a successful restaurant in a great location; the service was awesome,  and the place was immaculately clean.  The other items that were ordered by my dining partners were, while not mind-blowing, perfectly edible, and even tasty.

Now, without further ado, the hamburger.

Billy Mac's is on on 19th in West Eugene, and you may never see it if you weren't looking for it.  It's cute enough place, and, like I said before, immaculately clean.  The decor is a loose mixture of outdoor and fishing memorabilia.  The menu consists of mostly American with a smattering of international dishes.

The burger is a 1/3 pounder, and comes with regular fixin's, a choice of sesame seed or whole wheat bun, and Mac's seasoned fries .  If you want cheese it's $.50, and bacon is a $1.50.  For the record, that makes it $9.50 for a bacon cheeseburger with fries; that's a lot of money, especially considering what was about to come out.

The very first thing I noticed was that the fry sauce came out in a disposable plastic ramekin.  At almost ten bucks this seems inexcusable.  Come on folks, you have a business in eugene... get some reusable dishes.

Next I took a look at the burger itself.  It looked off... a bit stiff perhaps... oh wait... what the hell?  I could tell before even touching it, that when I picked it up it would be completely rigid.  I am not sure how they did it, but the bun was stiff like a crouton.  The bacon was cooked to a crisp, and the beef was no better.  The truly amazing thing was that the server had asked me how I wanted the burger cooked; apparently medium-rare means cook the hell out of it at Billy Mac's.

At this point, I got a big smile on my face, as I looked at my friends who were eagerly awaiting the verdict.  I delightedly expressed my opinion: "It is awful!"  Having had the conversation about my blogging difficulties previously they did not need to inquire further about my ironic pleasure.

The french fries, listed on the menu as "Mac's Seasoned Fires," were the one high point of the meal.  They were perfectly seasoned and crispy.  I was so impressed that I asked the server just how they prepared their namesake "Mac's" fries, only to find out that they come out of a box: pretty tacky.

As I close up this entry, I would like to throw out a challenge to Billy Mac's owner/management, if you are reading.  As much as I enjoyed the opportunity to write my first really bad burger review, I would enjoy nothing more than to let you redeem yourselves.  If you think you can get your burger in shape, give me a holler, and I will promptly return to give you a second chance.


The Eugene Burger Blog

Billy Mac's Grill
605 W. 19th St.
Eugene, OR