A burger is a tremendously bold item to put on a menu. There are few items cooked so often by so many people on so many occasions. We've all had years of practice making them and have probably put down more than we'd like to admit. And a restaurant, at least to me, is a place that serves food that I (for whatever reason) am not able to readily reproduce at home (due to a better/rare ingredient, special knowledge, or raw skill). Placing a burger on a menu is an assertion that the chef knows how to make that item better than I can, better than my friends can, and better than my father can. That's a bold statement.

I'm not saying it can't be done. Far from it. There is a burger at Brewmasters (cherry marmalade and blue cheese -- shocking, I know) that is out of this world. It features two items that I do not keep on hand in my kitchen. But an exotic ingredient alone isn't enough. I nearly left half of a burger on the table at a particular establishment in the Cary area. They lacked execution.

So when I heard Ashley Christensen was opening a restaurant featuring a menu solely comprised of burgers, I was excited. The few times I've been to Poole's, the menu was imaginative & execution was spot on. It is one of the only places I so trust the staff that I will order plates chock-full of items I wouldn't normally consider palatable. I was optimistic that this would also be one hell of a dining experience. Sadly, the whole thing seemed quite underwhelming.

To take a quick tangent towards a less food-centric topic, I absolutely love the layout of the place. There's plenty of open floorspace to move around in. More seating might have been crammed in, but the flow would have been broken (or worse, it would have started to look like a cafeteria). In particular, the mega table in the middle where groups of varying sizes can sit is appealing. Fragmentation is going to happen, and a few seats will be lost. But that's better than constantly joining & separating 4-tops. And there are plenty of tables on the sides where more standard group sizes can sit. The whole seating philosophy seems very flexible.

And I actually like the style of service. Walk in. Put in your order & grab a number. The food will come out shortly. I felt less demanding of the wait staff (who were quite attentive). There's a low-key vibe to that which just works for me. If I saw somebody I knew at another table, I wouldn't feel weird at all getting up & joining them for a short bit (which in a more standard model, seems to throw the wait staff off a bit). Raleigh (and in particular downtown) is still a small town, so this is going to happen (and in fact, did). It's nice to have a place set up for that.

Now back to the food. In particular, the $9 "The Big House" burger. It was good. Moist, cheesy (though I did have a bite of a "The High & The Valley" which was a bit dry... I'm hoping that was a fluke). The flavors combined well. Was it transcendent? Not really. I mostly got "good, greasy cheeseburger" as the cheddar happens to be pretty powerful stuff. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, I'm just saying that I wouldn't be surprised if this came off a buddy's griddle pan he'd been using most of labor day to cook up burgers. And $9 can get you a few "practice burgers" at home. Oh, and if you're at home, you can actually cook a burger to whatever temperature you like, rather than being bound by (I would argue) overzealous health code regulations. I can't fault any restaurant for not being able to serve a medium-rare burger... I'm just saddened a bit (and I like my burgers a bit farther on the doneness scale). But I digress...

The fries were good. Very good. I might opt for slightly more pepper. And my fault for not choosing the malt vinegar aioli. The sweet chili sauce (good as it was, and as much as I love it) did not compliment the fries. But the fries themselves were everything I could have wanted. They had a dark golden brown exterior, were somewhat crunchy, light, but still maintained a definite potato characteristic. $4/half pound. Wait, what?

As much as I'd like to not go off the deep end on price, I'm headed that way for a bit. I get that you're probably not going there alone. But I do not need a $4 side. Split with another person & we're in the realm of reasonable. But that just seems like a weird price point. And splitting meal pieces among friends is always a little tough (especially when that price is too low to be made up by the standard, "well, I'll buy you a beer"). And then there's the fact that they're potatoes, possibly one of the cheapest food items out there (that keep forever). However, this particular restauranteur seems to know what she's doing. And if she would be better served by lowering that price, it's in chalk. That should be easy enough to change.

As a final note, I'd like to finish with what I hope to see: a rotating menu. The constant change is what makes Poole's so exciting and a place I don't feel bad about frequenting multiple times. I know I'm going to get something different. Chalk board menus make me hope that's going to happen & we haven't hit a new season since the opening. It's also possible the menu hasn't changed to give more people a chance to try multiple items off of the "opening menu." But I hope to see some new burgers. I'd like to see burgers that will really get me excited or thinking, "now I have NEVER thought to put that in/on a burger." I'm holding out hope that Ms. Christensen has a few tricks up her sleeve (she's certainly got the talent). Reserved optimism is my current take on Chuck's. Let's see what happens a month or two down the road.


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