Friday, October 23, 2009

Max Burger, West Hartford, CT, October 2009

Food: A-
Service: B+

Joanne and Amy write:

Amy and I have been meaning to go to Max Burger since it opened. Fans of all the Max restaurants, and unabashed burger lovers, it really was a must try for us. We missed our opportunity to go for lunch this summer, but committed to a date and decided to go right after school, as late lunch/early dinner—daring to dine in that time Amy and I sometimes feel is The Dead Zone, when you can’t signal a server to save your life.

I had heard rave reviews from fellow burger buffs and had been on line a dozen times to view the menu (three the day we were going) but still had trouble deciding. In the end I chose to begin with a Max salad and build my own burger, modifying the 5-ounce Max Classic.

The Max salad was a simple, fresh and crisp start to my meal. Mixed greens, halved grape tomatoes, Bermuda onion, cucumbers and radishes were delivered cold, on a chilled plate, with blue cheese dressing on the side. The dressing was creamy without being overly thick, and tasted of blue cheese, but not overly pungent. There were chopped scallions in the dressing that gave a nice flavor as well.

I kept wavering between burger selections, but finally decided on the Alfred, an 8-ounce burger with Comte cheese, caramelized onions, and rosemary aioli served on an artisan roll. Since it was a larger burger, I chose not to get a starter. The burger was thick and juicy, with well-seasoned, tasty ground meat cooked to medium as requested. The creamy cheese melted into the burger and along with the onions gave it a nice sweetness that the herby aioli counterbalanced. Unfortunately, the roll was very light and airy, and while I think it would be great alongside a bowl of soup, it wasn’t sturdy enough to handle the burger and its juices; it fell apart on the first bite. I enjoyed the crisp, hand-cut fries with ketchup and with the garlic aioli that was served with them.

The menu lists allowable substitutions for $1.50. In addition, it lists toppings and cheeses available for $1.00. My classic burger came—as requested—with the addition of bacon, mayonnaise on the side, and arugula instead of lettuce. I declined on the Max sauce, which was described as a spicy, chipotle mayonnaise, but our server was kind enough to offer it on the side and, though both Amy and I thought it lacked the kick it should have, we found it just as tasty as the aioli for dipping the fries. My burger was cooked a perfect medium and the flavor did not disappoint. It was a combination of my favorite sandwich—bacon, arugula and tomato—and a burger and just what my taste buds expected it to be. I would have preferred hot bacon over room temperature and a better bun. Though more substantial than Amy’s artisan roll, the standard supermarket bun was a disappointment. A ciabatta roll would have elevated the burger from delicious to exceptional.

The Cabrini Malbec, an Argentinean red, was berry-forward and complimented the burger nicely. The $6 per glass price made it a good value as well. For dessert, we had to try the whoopie pies, which came two to an order and were perfectly sized for our almost-full stomachs. The cake wasn’t overly dry, just dry enough to hold up the frosting, which was creamy and sugary. Other nostalgic offerings on the dessert menu include milkshakes, brownies and hot fudge sundaes.

Despite the overkill on the cow motif (no pun intended) throughout the restaurant and what we would consider weak buns for such delicious burgers, we would both return. Neither of us tackled the Fatty Melt (a burger sandwiched between two grilled cheeses) and it calls from the menu like a challenge. Meanwhile, the special of the day was a scallop dish that, had we not been there specifically to sample their burgers, we would have been interested in trying. Our service was good but it took some time, and appearance of other patrons to be seated, before our server was more visible and available.

That being said, we might not travel long distances or make pilgrimages for their burgers, but Max Burger does pass the Max Restaurant Group test and makes its way onto our list of restaurants we’d recommend.

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