The Random Restaurant Tour–LIV

In Texas, for many people at least, Whataburger has a reputation of almost mythical proportions. The zealous dedication of these fans to the brand and its food offerings is so extraordinary that, in extreme cases, Whataburger fans have constructed impressive Christmas trees from the franchise’s discarded fast-food packaging, with its trademark bright orange color.

Any fast-food emporium that can inspire that kind of slavish devotion from American consumers must have something going for it, right? So yesterday, as I paid my first-ever visit to a Whataburger, I felt a surge of high expectations, anticipating an extraordinary burger experience. What I found was a pretty good burger, but an overall dining experience that fell a bit short of the hype.

I ordered a double Whataburger, fries, and a diet Coke. The normal Whataburger comes with mustard, onions, tomato, lettuce, and grilled onions chopped into little squares. Interestingly, cheese isn’t part of the standard order; you have to ask for it specially. I didn’t know that, but I did know that I didn’t want the lettuce, tomato, and pickles. Through this combination of intent and ignorance, I ended up with a cheeseless double Whataburger with onions and mustard.. It’s probably the first cheeseless burger I’ve had in a half century, so that alone made the experience memorable.

The Whataburger was pretty good. The mustard is a nice touch, as are the onions, and the meat was of good quality. Getting a burger without cheese is like getting a cake without icing, in my view, but if you go that route you definitely taste the meat more distinctly–so obviously you want to make sure the meat is tasty. Whataburger offers a nice spicy jalapeno ketchup, part of a tray of topping offerings that they bring to your table, like the waiter at a nice restaurant bringing an array of different tea options to tea drinkers. I tried the spicy ketchup, and it had a decent kick to it. All of these elements were positives for me.

The bun, though, was nothing to write home about, and the burger wasn’t served piping hot. That’s an issue, because heat is a key element of a good burger. The biggest disappointment, though, was the fries. When I saw they were of the shoestring variety I was encouraged, but alas! They were dried out and lukewarm, and tasted like they had spent an an excessive amount of time under one of those blazing food heat lamps. In short, it seemed that the fries part of the meal equation had been sadly neglected.

One of our party said that we had caught Whataburger on an off day, and we should try it for lunch another time at another location. I would do that, and be sure to order cheese on the burger this time. But on this occasion, at least, the experience failed to live up to the advance publicity.

At The Crest

IMG_6441Yesterday Dr. Science and I decided to grab lunch at The Crest Gastropub, newly opened near the corner of Livingston and Parsons, catty corner to Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

The Crest is seen by many people in the neighborhood as a key component of the effort to revive the Parsons Avenue corridor.  It’s also a place with an interesting air of legend surrounding it.  For decades, the Crest Tavern was a legendary saloon in the Clintonville area, and more recently it was purchased, refurbished, and turned into a well-regarded foodie destination.  I’ve never been there in either of its incarnations.  Now the proprietors have opened a new location, and Parsons Avenue boosters are hoping it thrives.

IMG_6437If my visit yesterday is any indication, I’d say the Crest will do just fine, thank you very much.  The new location is roomy and attractive, with a central bar/counter area, a cluster of high-tops where Dr. Science and I landed, and more conventional tables sprinkled just about everywhere.  It’s got high ceilings, a bright feeling, and a cool piece of artwork on one wall that looks like a recreation of tree bark with bits of moss on it.  I’d guess that the ambiance will appeal to most diners.

I think they’ll find the food pretty appealing, too.  The Crest has a large menu with lots of enticing options, and according to our friendly server it’s known for its salads.  I recoiled in horror from that suggestion and went instead for the Americana burger, which is two hamburger patties, cheese, bacon, and onion straws.  The quality of burger offerings tell you a lot about a place, and this was a juicy slice of culinary excellence.  I’d recommend that you add some of the Crest’s own special recipe hot sauce, which really gave the burger a nice kick.

One note:  the Crest isn’t cheap.  The Americana burger comes in at $16 and thereby continues the trend toward burger-entree price convergence that you see at many more upscale restaurants.  At many places, burgers have long since crossed the $10 threshold, marched relentlessly upward in price, and broken through the $15.00 barrier.  I love burgers, and I’m willing to shell out $16.00 for a really good double-patty effort once in a while, but at some point — I’m not sure just where right now — I’m going to draw the line.

I’ll happily go back to The Crest Gastropub, though.  If you visit, be sure to pick up one of the cool, free buttons they are offering, with a lamb and Ohio flag logo that celebrates the proprietors’ Lebanese heritage.