Yeah yeah, I know I said I wasn't going to get to Crave (29th and Pine Lake Road) any time soon. I was wrong. My father and I hit up the new burger joint at lunch today. I want to share some initial impressions.
First off, Crave looks sharp. They've clearly thought a lot about branding. The logo, imagery, and interior are obviously the result of lots of work on somebody's behalf. I particularly like the very deliberate linking of Crave with Hollenbeck Farms. The overall vibe is one of an upscale, locally-sourced dining experience.
But while Crave looks sharp, it doesn't sound so good. The stark interior echoes -oes -oes -oes. I know that kind of thing is hip these days -- Crave has taken some cues from neighboring Chipotle, for example -- but I don't want a headache with my hamburger. Some sort of sound dampener would be nice.
The menu is pretty basic. They sell hamburgers. There is a salad on the menu but let's stop being silly. Prices range from $6 for basic hamburger to $7.50 for some of the fancier varieties. Some standard burger toppings (tomatoes, onions and the like) are free to add. Kids meal options are a hotdog bucket and a grilled cheese bucket, each of which includes fries or fruit and a drink for $5.
Service has some kinks to work out. You order at a counter, take a number, and then somebody brings out your food. Our burgers took about 15 minutes today. That's obviously too slow for a restaurant like this on a normal day, but let's cut them some slack since they just opened. I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they'll get that down to five minutes or so. Why five minutes? Because I've arbitrarily decided that's how long I'm willing to wait for a burger at this sort of restaurant.
My father ordered the stuffed pepper jack burger ($7.50) and a side of sweet potato fries ($2.50). I went for the black and blue burger ($7.50) with waffle fries ($1.50). The fries come with dipping sauce.
My dad enjoyed his burger. He noted that he wouldn't have minded if it were spicier. He's a sucker for sweet potato fries so he was fine there as long as they didn't screw up the frying time.
I had the black and blue burger. I'm pretty torn about what to say here. Let's start with the good. It was a very tasty burger. The meat was very juicy and quite tasty. The bun, from Le Quartier, was very nice in a simple, understated sort of way. The lettuce was fresh and green. And the pepperjack cheese had a pleasant flavor.
But wait ... pepperjack cheese on a black and blue burger? Yeah, about that...
See, I liked my burger. It was a very tasty burger. It just wasn't a black and blue burger. A black and blue burger requires three things: a hamburger patty, black pepper, and blue cheese -- real blue cheese, the crumbly stuff, not that creamy goop that masquerades as blue cheese. Other components are possible -- bacon being a very notable acceptable addition -- but you have to get those three things right. On my burger black pepper was not a major component. And the blue cheese? There were two big problems. The first is that it was a sauce rather than crumbles. The second is that I'm not even convinced that what was on my burger even WAS blue cheese. It sure tasted and looked an awful lot like the ranch dipping sauce I was using for my waffle fries. If there's any crime worse than using creamy quasi-blue cheese instead of blue cheese crumbles, it's pretending that ranch is blue cheese! Now, I'm not actually going to go so far as to make that accusation. My eyes and taste buds have lied to me before. But what was on my plate didn't walk like a blue cheese duck or quack like a blue cheese duck, so I don't think it was a blue cheese duck.
My waffle fries were delicious. They were fried relatively soft (but not undone), just the way I like them. The seasoning was tasty and not over-applied. And I love the fact that you can choose from a list of sauces to join your fries.
All in all, Crave makes tasty, if pricey, burgers. They have some refinement work to do, but given the neighborhood and their neighbors I think they fill an appropriate niche. Hollenbeck Farms has got themselves a great new way to market their products.