Some internet friends and I were joking about the “bottomless fries” offered at Red Robin restaurants. I’d joked about testing this offer. Tonight, my wife and I drove 30 minutes down the hill to Roseville, California, where the closest Red Robin is located. At the end of the evening, it was clear that you should always “eat local.”

Our standard

We live in semi-rural Placer County about 10 minutes west of Colfax, California. Colfax is a small, incorporated city. Picture Mayberry, but a little less quaint.

We visit Colfax fairly often, usually to get lunch or dinner at the Dine and Dash Cafe. The Dine and Dash offers good pub-style food, a good bar, and trivia or karaoke for true entertainment.

We often order one of their burger offerings and are always very satisfied. The burgers are made well and come with your choice of sides. They’re tasty and the portions are generous. This has become the standard against we measure other burger offerings.

A bacon cheeseburger from the Dine and Dash in Colfax California.

Temptations… temptations

I tweeted (I still tweet, I never “x”) about the bottomless fries at Red Robin. I wondered if the fries were truly “bottomless.”

Many followers confirmed that they were indeed bottomless. However, other followers recounted visits where refills of fries were not forthcoming. Being a curious fellow, I decided to investigate this claim.

The arrival

This afternoon, my wife decided that she didn’t want to make the quiche she’d planned, since she’d spent the afternoon cooking up a delicious pot of split-pea soup. She suggested eating dinner at Red Robin as I’d mentioned the possibility recently. I was one happy burger afficionado!

The restaurant we wanted to visit is located in Roseville, California, in a shopping center with several other chain restaurants including P.F. Chang’s, Olive Garden, Buca di Bepo, Wing Stop, and others.

We got there around 6 PM and encountered our first challenge: parking. With so many restaurants in one shopping center, cars were lined up two or three deep waiting for someone to leave. Eventually, we found parking next to the Verizon wireless store a few hundred yards away.

After entering, we were quickly seated in a booth in the bar area, and we got on with the business of perusing the menu. We quickly established that bottomless sides (not just fries) came with all the burger choices. I was excited!

A few minutes later, our server appeared and took our food and beverage order. So far so good.

The food arrives

The first indication of trouble came when the food arrived. With all the anticipation, I’d built an unrealistic expectation of the food. The burger looked good, but the fries were underwhelming on several fronts.

First, they weren’t fresh. It was clear that our fries had been sitting under a heat lamp before they were put on the plate with my burger. They weren’t piping hot.

Second, the number of steak fries themselves was notably small. There were literally 10-12 fries accompanying my burger. From a place that prides itself on bottomless sides, I’d expect a mound, not a paltry single layer of tepid fries.

A paltry portion of bottomless fries. This serving was larger than the portion that came with the burger.

There was slippage*

In addition to the fiasco with the fries, the burgers themselves were also problematic.

Let me be clear: my burger tasted fine. I’d ordered the Whiskey River BBQ burger with “some pink.”  This is one of their “signature” burgers and I recall enjoying it in 2008 at their location in Fresno, California.

How a burger is assembled is not a trivial matter. McDonald’s has sold BILLIONS of burgers. One often overlooked attribute of their burgers is that many of them are easy to eat . This makes enormous sense since so many of them are eaten in a moving vehicle. This ease in of eating, is in no small part due to the order in which their burgers are assembled. Their cheeseburger and quarter pounder burgers are stand outs in this regard.

By contrast, my burger this evening had several component interfaces that were not well thought out, resulting in slippage. As soon as I picked up my burger, the top and bottom half were going in opposite directions. I had to pay attention to my hand placement just to make sure my burger stayed together. My wife had the same problem with her Gourmet Cheeseburger. Hers managed to come completely apart as she was almost done.

Sure, it’s a small thing. But small things matter too.

Back to Colfax

My wife has decided she’s not going back to Red Robin. Between the messy burger and tightly metered fries, the experience was not altogether enjoyable.We will be visiting the Dine and Dash, or one of the other wonderful local burger joints, when the need for a burger is felt.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Always Eat Local.

The Classic Cheeseburger from Edelweiss 2 restaurant in Auburn, California. Possibly, the best burger I’ve had in my life.

*Slippage is a term I first heard used by Anthony Bourdain  explaining why so many sandwich places don’t use tomato slices.

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