Burlington, Vermont: Burger Hell

21Mar10

If there is one thing that the city of Burlington seriously lacks it is a good and reliable burger. Of course, you can find a plethora of burgers on the menu of most restaurants and eateries in town, though what I’ve come to find is that none of these establishments are able to consistently step up to the plate and construct a burger worth remembering. I have recently determined it as my task at hand to find this mystical praiseworthy burger, my holy grail. Along the way I will not hesitate to convey the wretchedness of a bad burger, and without further adieu, my take on the Burlington burger scene.

Before I begin, it would probably be best for me to define my parameters for a “good burger” prior to decimating every bad one that I have consumed over the past couple of years:

First of all, when talking burgers, fast food is automatically excluded. It just doesn’t count. That also goes for places like Al’s French Fries, one of my favorite greasy spoons in the area, but quite frankly, they are just a notch above fast food. What I want in a burger is very simple, yet for some reason very hard to attain: quality beef, fresh vegetables (lettuce, tomato, and onion), a hearty bun, and good cheese. Additional fixings are certainly nice to have as an option, but really, the only thing that matters in a burger is the beef, those three simple vegetables, and the bun—all else pales in comparison.


Perhaps the biggest travesty of them all is The Nectar’s burger. Nectar’s is one of Burlington’s most well-known bars, and I suppose you could also qualify it as a “grill”. Nectar’s is probably most famous for their music scene, attracting both big and small acts to play on their stage, even gaining some national recognition for being the launching pad of the popular band Phish, as it was at Nectar’s where Phish first began playing shows back in the 80’s. When I first moved to Burlington, Nectar’s was of the most reliable places to get good bar food in town, though about two years ago they renovated their entire establishment, removing one of their two kitchens and drastically downsizing the other. Not only did they destroy their kitchens, but at the same time their whole menu changed as well, and their ingredients suffered. The Nectar’s burger was once a Burlington institution that always provided the same satisfaction whether it be at 12:00 PM or 2:00 AM. Now when ordering the Nectar’s burger you are too often served an overcooked, underwhelming, small burger accompanied by soft tomatoes, discolored lettuce, all on an oversized English Muffin—an utter abomination. It’s just disappointing to know what the Nectar’s burger once tasted like because the new and improved denigrated burger is a waste of $8.00. At least they still have gravy fries.

Kountry Kart Deli is another place where the burger is a common option. Personally, I don’t think KKD makes anything that is worthwhile (their only saving grace is that they stay open something like 22.5 hours a day) so these words should come by no great surprise, but nonetheless, people seem to like their burgers. Similar to the Nectar’s burger, KKD lacks virtually every component that makes a good burger, starting with the beef. For whatever reason, I have tried the KKD burger many times and undoubtedly, I am left continually unsatisfied. KKD makes “The Vermonter”, a 1/2 lb. patty, and “The Flatlander”, a 1/4 lb. patty, though whichever sandwich you choose, expect to be served something drier than a popcorn fart. Without about three packets of ketchup and two of mayo the thing is hard to get down. The burger itself is not their only problem though. KKD uses, on all of their sandwiches, perhaps the worst bread known to man. Frankly, they should be embarrassed for all of their bread products are disgraceful—nothing better than oversized hot dog rolls. Moreover, it doesn’t help that their accompanying vegetables make Nectars’ seem like a salad at the Four Seasons; mealy tomatoes, ugly lettuce, puny onions. Honestly, it’s making me angry just thinking about it. Both KKD burgers are utter failures in the burger world.

Rira, the cities local Irish pub, is perhaps a glimmer of light in the burger hell to which Burlingtonians dwell. The Rira burger is usually heights above both Nectar’s and KKD, but it too has its shortcomings. All of my stated “good burger requirements” are met at Rira, so for that they should be proud, and they even also feature a long list of unique accoutrements. Maybe even the best part about Rira is that Wednesday is half-priced burger day. All of these positives, though, simply don’t outweigh the fact that sometimes the Rira burger is not up to snuff. I have gotten great burgers from Rira, and I have gotten less-than-great burgers from Rira. It’s like a crapshoot, and for that reason only I can’t sing their praises. If they could find a way to get their kitchen staff consistent, then maybe this article never gets written. When they’re on, they’re on, but too often the Rira burger is nothing special—much better, in any case, than the two aforementioned holes in the wall.

Next we have the Vermont Pub & Brewery, also known as the Brew Pub. I haven’t had a Brew Pub burger in about a year and the fact that nothing in particular comes to mind when thinking about it sums up my opinion of it pretty succinctly. If it wasn’t good enough for me to remember anything specific, and it wasn’t bad enough for me to actively hate it, than I can conclude that it was just alright, and thus not worth ordering. For that matter, I can’t recall anything too great that I’ve had at the Brew Pub, and I don’t really see anything special about their beers either. If I’m in the mood for a good, locally brewed, small establishment beer I’m most certainly walking a block down the street to American Flatbread…I bet they would make an excellent burger.

Really, this list could go on and on, but it would just reiterate the same few points: bad, overcooked beef, weak vegetables, unsatisfactory roll. If you name me anywhere in Burlington that makes a burger I’ll find you an easy shortfall, it’s just fact. While Vermont procedures some damn good cheddar to go on the burger, Burlington seems yet to have figured out the burger part, in actuality, the most important part.

All of this leaves me to, perhaps, the coming of the burger messiah; a brand spanking new burger joint: Sky Burger. Sky Burger opened up a couple of weeks ago on the corner of lower Church Street in place of the defunct Tilley’s Café. I was walking down the street last week when I spotted it out of the corner of my eye; fancy silver lettering, nice paint job, Sky Burger? Armed with curiosity I crossed the street and walked into the establishment only to find a pretty solid set up. Sky Burger is a fairly large place with plenty of room, nice TV’s, and a really good looking bar. I’m not really sure who is going to choose to spend their evenings drinking at Sky Burger, but for whoever it is, it looks like they will be very comfortable.

After I entered Sky Burger I asked to see a menu just to check things out (I had just eaten and wasn’t terribly hungry), but considering I had gone out of my way to see what was up, and given my taste for burgers, I decided to order a 4 oz. “Baby Sky Burger” just as a snack. I waited for about 15 minutes, which was a nice sign indicating that they make everything fresh (since the place was empty), left Sky Burger—burger in hand—eating as I walked down the street. Now, granted, this was only the baby burger, but I have to say, it was good. My Baby burger had the greasy, beefy, goodness that a proper burger should exude, good bun, and fresh veggies! Is this the remedy I was looking for? Can Sky Burger satisfy my undying thirst for ground beef and cheese? The answer to these questions remains to be seen, but I sure as hell intend to find out soon by picking up the “Papa Burger” to see what Sky Burger is really all about. I’m feeling optimistic. More to come, stay tuned.

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6 Responses to “Burlington, Vermont: Burger Hell”

  1. 1 Jon Dom

    This is also in response to your update on Sky Burgers….

    I fortunately left Burlington before they opened up this joint so I can’t comment on that.

    As for Burgers at the other places, heres my roundup.

    Nectars = agree with your sentiments

    KKD = New better than to try that. My go to there is the Cajun Chicken Philly Sandwich. It has Cajun grilled chicken, cheese, and sauteed peppers/onions/mushrooms. You’re 100% correct that their sandwiches are dryer than Courtney Love’s vagina. That’s why you have to ask them for russian dressing on the sandwich, and get a side of it as well (cos half the time those idiots forget).

    Rira’s = I don’t think I even got a burger from there. It always seemed kinda douchey.

    Brew Pub = Some of the best, and worst burgers. They are really inconsistent. It is 100% Angus (I think natural, but who really fuckin knows) and pretty customizable. I have had a delicious medium rare that is juicy, and smokey, with cheddar, sauteed onions/peppers, on a toasted bun with Cat-Soup. Sometimes I would even through on the guac and forgo the Cat-soup.

    But other times, you ordered medium rare, and it came out like a hockey puck. That was the case on my birthday a couple of years back, and after waiting for 45 minutes for a fuckin burger, I asked the waitress when it would be ready and she snapped back, “It will be ready, when its ready.” Well thats what happens to 35 yr old bitches who after peaking as a practice girl in college, stayed in their college town and worked in the restaurant industry, and spent all of their money on Gordon’s Vodka, Parliaments, really bad coke (if they weren’t able to get it for free by giving an hand-job to a guy named Rooney in the back alley of Ken’s Pizza….been there, done that), and yeast infection cream.

    The Manor = So all of UVM food was done by Sodexo, the shit depository of prison food on college campuses, and surprisingly enough, prisons throughout the U.S. They had one dining hall on campus that was supposed to be “upscale” call the Manor. They had the best burger on campus, but you had to make it back to your toilet within 20 minutes.

    Reuben James = Once again, they had some of the best burgers in town some days, and other days it was a lump of shit that tasted like…uh…shit. It wasn’t high quality beef but if they weren’t slammed and one of the good cooks were working and not all pissed off, you can get a good burger and fries there for $5 – $6.

    At any rate, no really good or reliable burgers. You need to start the post on burritos as I am a tenth degree black belt in burlington Mexican diarrhea

  2. 2 Jon Dom

    Also,

    I worked as a cook and delivery driver in Burlington in a bunch of different places…

    Ken’s Pizza – Burger is disgusting. They took a shitty patty, put it on a metal caserole dish and put it into a pizza oven.

    One Flight Up – The airport restaurant. Bad beef, and we were always slammed so nothing was cooked really good, unless we made it for ourselves.

  3. 3 thefoodinsulter

    Dude, excellent response post.

    The fact that you worked at Ken’s Pizza AND the airport restaurant (among like 15 other Burlington establishments) are two hilarious feats.

    The Manor–The Manor was the best food you could get on campus, but thats akin to saying the cleanest bathroom in a jersey rest stop. Also, they didn’t take cat strach for tip so fuck that place.

    After spending many-a-Sunday getting drunk and watching football at RJ’s, I can’t imagine ordering anything else besides the wings, which were horrible by the way. I simply don’t beleive it.

  4. 4 whats4lunch

    While I love VPB’s burger (local beef), they do need to step up their roll game.

    Have you tried the August First brioche hamburger buns ? http://twitter.com/#!/augustfirst/status/20971530342

  5. 5 Jarad Howell

    BOOKIE BURGAR IS ALL I HAVE TO SAY! catch him on church street guy is a burger master

  6. 6 whats4lunch

    @Jarad Dave @ Bookies does do a nice fresh burger. I haven’t seen his cart out (yet).


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