Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Death by Bad Chain Cheeseburger II - I'll Gladly Pay You Tuesday for a Hamburger Today

So I find myself in Crossgates, just after Christmas, dealing with the crowds and with a hungry 8 year old in tow. This kid is in love with Dave & Buster's. Playing the games there is one of her favorite treats. We don't take her often, mainly because of the expense. One can easily spend a small fortune in a very short time on the games there. Those guys have a racket going for sure. And they prey on suckers like me, who attempt to score points with his little girl from time to time by lavishing her with enough game time, to earn enough tickets to bring home a large-ish stuffed animal. An afternoon at Dave & Buster's will usually elicit a "You're the best Dad ever!" from the mouth of that beautiful little girl, and what Dad can resist that?

This is a ritual now that we've created. Little girl and I eat lunch at Dave & Buster's, then we hit the game room. But with most kids still on Christmas vacation, the joint was packed, and there was a long line of families waiting for tables. So off through the mall we head in search of a not-so-packed restaurant in hopes of eating lunch before it turns into dinner.

For the sake of convenience, and because it didn't look busy, I settled on Ruby Tuesday.

If you've never set foot in a Ruby Tuesday, their raison d'ĂȘtre is the salad bar, which the marketing department has christened a "garden bar", a throwback to the 70's obviously, when salad bars were all the rage. But today it sets them apart, as the salad bar has gone the way of the rotary dial telephone.

But excepting the all you can eat salad bar, they are the usual, inexpensive, full service, casual dining chain. And if you closed your eyes, you could easily transport yourself to Applebee's, Chili's, TGI Friday's or any other that serves typical, mediocre American fare.

To my delight (but not to my surprise), when I opened the menu, my eyes gleefully focussed on a half page devoted to burgers. And similar to Applebee's they've attempted to up the ante, and sell a higher quality burger to compete with the influx of better burger chains sweeping the nation.

This bit of marketing caught my eye, and hit a nerve with me:

USDA Prime Burger:
The best of the best, they're handcrafted from fresh, never frozen USDA Prime beef - only 2% of all beef is graded Prime.

Why in the world would someone grind up prime beef? Prime beef is "prime" because the fat is well marbled throughout the cut. That marbling makes for a sumptuous steak. But if you grind it up there's really no point is there? When grinding up beef it doesn't matter if the fat is marbled or not. Hell, just take a lean cut, and grind up extra fat and mix it in. Same difference.

This is more marketing than anything else. And it attempts to dupe an unsuspecting public that is ignorant of the purpose of grading steaks prime, or choice.

Ruby Tuesday also sells a "classic" burger made of choice beef, for a couple of dollars less. So if you order the prime burger, you're paying for the privilege of falling victim to their marketing schtick. Because ground choice, and ground prime are essentially similar, assuming they have the same fat content.

I of course had to play the stooge, and order the pricey prime burger.


And it is pricey. It does come with fries, but still, it's a whopping $11 for a not terribly large single patty cheeseburger. For comparison, Whole Foods is charging just $8 for a slightly larger, grass fed, humanely raised burger, sans fries.

I almost fell off my chair when I bit into the thing.

IT'S GOOD!

Not great mind you, but I really enjoyed it. Tender, juicy, with some char, and the beef was flavorful and well seasoned. The bun is thin, and squishy, which is exactly how I like it. The veggies were decent enough. The cheese well melted and gooey. It came with mayo (Yes!) oddly on the side, and at first I sneered because I had to put it on the burger myself, but then, after I slathered a copious amount on the burger, I had plenty of mayo left over to dip the fries. Fries with mayo. Bonus! I also liked that the patty wasn't perfectly round. It's obvious they're taking a handful of fresh beef and smashing it onto a flat top. That's a biggie on my list of burger musts.

So there you have it. Unlike my experience at Applebee's, and marketing slight of hand aside, Ruby Tuesday makes a surprisingly good—albeit pricey—burger. If you find yourself dragged to Crossgates Mall, and want a burger, you could do a lot worse than Ruby Tuesday. I'd even go out on a limb and suggest that you might actually enjoy eating it, and not mind so much that you're in the mall.

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