So Burger 21 has been open for 4 or 5 months now in Latham and we finally decided to stop in for a try the other day. It’s at 622 New Loudon Rd (west side of Route 9 in the new block of businesses next to the departing Hoffmans Playland) in Latham. I’m not really seeing reviews out there except for the usual ‘do you trust these?’ ones on the big sites like Yelp.
There were a lot of deja-vu moments between Burger 21 and Smashburger before taking a bite. Definitely more ‘specialty’ choices than Smashburger, and more burger options, but the mix-and-match options (this burger on that combo) and emphasis on shakes was similar. Less interesting sides at Burger 21. Quite a variety of burgers – beef, chicken, turkey, fish, veggie…holiday turducken, anyone? Crazy selection of dipping sauces, which was sort of awesome. Oh…and hot dogs. All in all, a bit less focused than Smashburger and way less focused than Five Guys, but that means more choices for people. Order at the register, grab your drink, and they bring your food to your table. Same deal as Smashburger. I was thinking about the Buffalo Chicken Burger, but figured burger 1 should be, you know, a burger. Black and bleu is a pretty standard choice for me when available, so it seemed like a good baseline to try. Bacon, blue cheese spread and crumbles, usual stuff. My wife swapped in a chicken burger on The Greek, which would otherwise be a veggie burger…feta spread, pickled cucumbers, etc. We shared a regular order of fries. Fountain drinks.
The one thing that had me worried about my choice was the toasted brioche bun. As you’ll know if you’ve seen other reviews, brioche buns are pretty much certain doom in fast food. However, look at my bun and the bun on The Greek. That one is supposed to be toasted wheat. They look the same to me. My bun tasted like a normal burger bun, certainly not the stale, awkward bun that usually comes when you get ‘brioche’. So that was good. Next good point: limited amount of shredded lettuce. Not a big fan of lettuce on my burger, but this was fine. Tomato was about as pitiful as expected this time of year. The bacon was…disappointing. Look again at that picture. The bacon looks pretty good, right? It was actually pretty crumbly and overcooked tasting. Like when you cook it just a little too long, so it’s not all blackened, but has lost that soft chewy deliciousness. Anyway, it was sort of a waste. Didn’t add much. The “blackened” burger was pretty nicely cooked and had a decent charred taste to it without tasting burned. I liked the thickness, closer to a casual chain burger than a fast food burger. Maybe not-quite Red Robin-ish? The blue cheese added a nice saltiness, but it wasn’t a super strong bite, I sort of wanted a bit more bite. Salt-wise I was satisfied, this particular choice should be salty, but it wasn’t over the top. Overall, a solid burger that I’d be happy to get again (but there are a number of others I want to try first).
The report on The Greek with a chicken burger was that it was fine. Not super amazing, no real complaints (except for the lame tomato). The “pickled cucumbers” were just that. Not ‘pickles’, they seemed to be more of a quick pickle – cucumber slices with a vinegar bath. I thought the ground chicken burger seemed well formed and held up, which isn’t a given with ground poultry. The fries, thin, were pretty reminiscent of Smashburger’s, except they come in a clump in a cup unlike Smashburger’s basket. I thought this was a much better idea as I think they stayed warmer than all spread out in a basket. Seasoned with a light hand, they were decent. More crispy shell than fluffy interior if that helps describe them. Since we didn’t really know what to expect we just got drinks after ordering, no ketchup or napkins or anything. When the super friendly and pleasant employee brought our food she offered to get these for us and did, saying they’d be happy to fetch anything else, including drink refills. All the employees seemed pretty chipper and helpful. I decided to see what else was going on with that sauce bar, though. Barbeque, apple cider (?), mayo, ketchup, honey mustard, ranch…etc. Toasted marshmallow sauce?? They say it’s great on the sweet potato fries. I got some of the Thai ketchup featuring ketchup with sweet chili sauce and eel sauce. They had me at sweet chili sauce. It was fantastic. The sweet chili was prominent, but didn’t totally subsume the ketchup. And, yes, I think the eel sauce was noticeable with a bit of *sigh, yes I’ll say it* umami. OK, so downside. Wow was it loud in there, even when not super busy. The soft ice cream machine was really loud all the time and the shake mixer was a whining scream every time it was used. I know they want this whole shake bar thing and want the shake mixer out in the open, but wow, loud. And there’s no reason the soft serve machine couldn’t be more enclosed to muffle the sound. Still and all, that’s a pretty minor complaint. One more minor item – the line-up and ordering area is a bit cramped and you basically have to grab a menu from a holder near the door to look at your options before you order. Tough for a new place. Heck, even at McDonalds people like to stand and stare up at the menu on the wall to decide and it’s not like the Big Mac is new. It’s a little awkward with all the new people looking at paper menus in the cramped entryway. I can definitely call this experience ‘burger 1’ because I’m sure we’ll be back. In fact I’m looking forward to it. My wife won’t eat anything at Five Guys (except the lame ‘grilled cheese’) and Smashburger’s salt issues need get fixed. Give them a try.