While living in Chicago, I had the fortune to feast on the burgers of Au Cheval, named the best burger in America by Bon Appetit magazine in 2012 and a regular on other national best burger lists. Let me tell you, it’s not hyperbole.
So I’m confident that I know good burgers. I also know burgers that are not worth my time. I lived right across the street from a popular burger emporium and literally would not even cross the street for convenience after giving them a few chances.
Being new in town, and trying to save money since I’m a starving writer, (I actually eat pretty well) I thought I would check out Charlotte establishments that have burger specials so you can get in on the deal. I picked out four spots and tried four burgers. My preference is medium rare, as I think they taste best that way. I enjoy taking a bite and seeing the juices flow. They all came with fries so I will comment on them, but remember, this is the Charlotte Bargain Burger Showdown — cue the dramatic music — so I won’t forget what’s most important.
My first stop was at Comet Grill on Park Road, which offers a Saturday special. My wife opted for the All American burger and I went with the Steakhouse burger. Her $8 burger was $5 and my 10-buck choice ran me $8.
My burger came out medium to my dismay. It was a good burger for the money, equipped with Swiss cheese, a Portobello mushroom, grilled red onion and special sauce, along with lettuce and tomato. Still, something seemed missing. Salt, perhaps?
My wife thought her burger tasted good, and she liked the award-winning fries better than I did. They had a good potato taste, but I thought they were soggy and would have preferred a crisper tater. That’s why I’m the critic and she’s not.
My next stop was the Oak Steakhouse located in SouthPark. We went for the Oak Burger special for $8, served in the bar area from 4:30-7 p.m. daily. It’s normally $16, so it’s a good deal for a half-pound house-blend burger topped with grilled sweet onions and white cheddar on a brioche bun with lettuce and tomato.
The burger was cooked perfectly medium rare, but again, something was missing. I thought it could use some seasoning, so I sprinkled on some Himalayan salt and it helped. My wife didn’t like the texture of the meat. She cut her sandwich in half — saying it was too big to fit in her mouth.
The truffle fries were good from the first bite and didn’t need ketchup. The atmosphere in the bar was nice, and for $8, you can’t go wrong with that choice.
Reid’s Fine Foods was next on the list. They have multiple locations around town and it’s known as a great place to pick up foods not found in the bigger grocery chains. I had heard about the Tuesday burger special at lunch and dinner and thought I would give it a try.
At Reid’s, you order at the food counter, go to the register and pay, then hand the receipt to the person at the cooking area and wait for your name to be called. It’s only spot on this list that doesn’t provide table service.
Reid’s features a steakburger of house-ground filet, sirloin and ribeye for $8.99, almost half off the usual $15. My burger came with sharp cheddar cheese along with lettuce and tomato served on an artisan bun. I opted for the caramelized onions over the raw red onion that comes standard. The burger had a nice appearance on the outside, but was cooked medium rather than medium rare.
You can tell the meat is of good quality, but maybe too good for a burger. More fat content makes a juicier burger. After my first bite, I thought it could use more seasoning. As I continued eating, I only became more convinced of this. Are you starting to notice a pattern here? Each burger down the list was lacking seasoning. The one rule they always say on Top Chef is, “Make sure your food is properly seasoned before putting it out.”
The truffle fries were of the shoestring variety, with the proper amount of truffle seasoning. They were good. The burger is worth the price on Tuesday, but it’s not going to rock your world — or taste buds.
The last stop on my trek was Dogwood Southern Table and Bar in SouthPark. They feature their burger special Monday through Saturday in the bar area from 5-6:30 p.m. for $5. It normally runs $14, so that’s definitely a deal.
I sat at the bar and was greeted by a young man named Taylor. He was very nice and welcoming, and we bonded over sports talk. The burger came in short order and featured grass-fed beef, tomato jam, caramelized onions, arugula and gruyere cheese. I took a bite … wait for it … and it was mercifully seasoned just right and tasted great. It wasn’t cooked perfectly medium rare. I thought it was a bit toward medium, but it tasted good and isn’t that what matters?
The fries were not truffle. They were good, but I probably liked the fries better at Oak and Reid’s. They were very crisp; maybe a little too crisp for my liking.
Taylor mentioned to me that not a lot of people knew about the burger special, though he thought business was starting to pick up for it. It deserves a much bigger picker, and is the winner of the Bargain Burger Beatdown. I would go with Oak as my second favorite, and while I’m having a hard time choosing between Reid’s and Comet, I think the burger was better at Comet, so I have it coming in third with Reid’s coming up the rear despite having better fries.
If I missed your favorite, let me know. While I enjoy giving you my opinion, I appreciate your help with places I should check out, as I’m the newbie here.
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