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The Great East Greenwich Scientific Cheeseburger Study

Alan Weiss makes the ultimate cheeseburger crawl.


My wife and I dine out seven nights a week. She's a home economist by training, and can cook for the Third Armored Division, but not for two people. We visit the top restaurants in Rhode Island, Boston, New York, and elsewhere, even globally.

Since she is recovering from knee surgery, and I'm not capable of feeding myself, I decided to launch a scientific study of the best cheeseburgers in the greater East Greenwich area (so I've included neighboring Warwick which shares six boundaries with us and is just hard to get away from).

Criteria:

  1. The restaurant has to be within 10 minutes of my home, with me remaining generally at the speed limit. I live on Brisas Circle, 60 seconds up First Avenue from Main Street.
  2. The restaurant much have a minimum of an 8-ounce burger prior to cooking, or we're simply talking tapas.

The science:

I chose seven establishments which I thought qualified. That made a full week of dining with closely-related results. I ordered the exact same meal only at the bar in each place: a medium-rare burger with American cheese, a slice of raw onion, and well-done fries. I had no appetizer which might have affected my palate, and the odds were not good at getting the identical wine each time, so I began with a Maker's Mark Manhattan, up, which (almost) everyone did have and made the judging atmosphere much easier.

Note that all the prices for burgers were within a dollar or so of each other, and biggest difference was the charge for my Manhattan!

Categories:

• Ambiance

• Service

• Cooking and Taste

• Time to Deliver

• Price

• Intangibles

I took a photo of the meal when it was delivered. I asked permission of each bartender to include his or her photo.

First Restaurant: Fat Belly's Pub, 241 Main St., East Greenwich

Date and Time: March 15, 5:10 pm

Bartender: Jess (declined photo)

• Ambiance: Nice bar, plenty of TVs showing sports, much "softer" than it looks, family place, worst word I heard shouted, about work by a 40-something guy, was "friggin."

• Service: Excellent. Very attentive, Jess spent time with everyone very personably, yet never neglected anything or kept anyone waiting. A real pro, proficient yet charming. Proactive in asking about drinks and needs.

• Cooking and Taste: As you can see from the photo, there was no raw onion provided, which either Jess or the kitchen missed, and Jess certainly missed on delivery. The burger was cooked perfectly, juicy, red in the center, warm but not hot, very tasty. The fries were good, but not as well done as I thought they'd be. All the condiments were already in front of me, including malt vinegar.

• Time to Deliver: Under 10 minutes.

• Price with Tax before Gratuity: $16

• Intangibles: Comfortable and friendly, somewhat loud, but a cool place. Paper napkins don't work well with juicy burgers.

Second Restaurant: 1149, 1149 Division St., East Greenwich

 Date and Time: March 16, 6 p.m.

Bartender: Julie (in photo with Pia)

• Ambiance: Outstanding bar, 30s-60s, some older guys in pickup mode, and a 40ish couple gazing into each other's eyes in what had to be an affair. Not terribly loud, ubiquitous TVs showing games but no one seemed to pay any attention to them.

• Service: Excellent. Julie asked me about a drink within a minute of my taking a seat, and at least four people were working the bar. The Manhattan was created in front of me and was top notch, featuring two cherries. Julie knew the area restaurant scene very well.

• Cooking and Taste: This is a 10-ounce burger, a battleship of a burger, and it was cooked to perfection. The bun was big, but not so much to overwhelm this huge piece of meat which didn't seem to lose any weight in the cooking. Extremely juicy, and the linen napkins helped. The fries are thin and were well done and delicious, served in a miniature deep-fry basket.

• Time to Deliver: Under 10 minutes.

• Price with Tax before Gratuity: $24

• Intangibles: Valet parking on the weekends. Huge lot. Comfortable and friendly, large place. Big dinner menu.

Third Restaurant: Caprice, 455 Main St., East Greenwich

 Date and Time: March 17, 5 pm

Bartender: Roberta (in photo)

• Ambiance: Large bar, a Mediterranean restaurant that one might not associate with burgers, but the food here is excellent and perhaps the most underrated in the area. One TV usually turned to the news, very high-end liquor — for example, they carry Jean Marc XO at my request, the best vodka I've ever tasted.

• Service: Roberta offered a drink before I had even planted myself on the bar stool. Good Manhattan, rapidly created. My order was placed immediately.

• Cooking and Taste: The burger arrived with fries served in the same basket as used at 1149. The burger is very juicy, 8 ounces, perfectly cooked. The fries had a wonderful flavor and I though they had some kind of spice on them, but I was told that wasn't the case.

• Time to Deliver: About 15 minutes.

• Price with Tax before Gratuity: $20

• Intangibles: Valet parking on weekend. Linen napkins. Very friendly staff — you're greeted warmly by the hostess and any other employees who see you. The chef and owner greet you if they have the time. The only bar that served water without my asking for it.

Fourth Restaurant: Outback, 1000 Division Rd., East Greenwich

Date and Time: March 18, 5 pm

Bartender: Will (declined photo)

 • Ambiance: The front door is opened for you, large bar with TVs showing March Madness. Family-oriented chain. Will was the only bartender on duty.

• Service: I was asked about a drink as soon as I sat down, and my order was taken once the drink was poured. Will was careful to define "medium rare," which is something they always do at Outback. The Manhattan was average and the smallest pour of any restaurant, an inch below the glass rim.

• Cooking and Taste: By far the biggest surprise, the burger came medium, which Will admitted once he saw it, despite the careful checking about a red center and so on. There was no raw onion slice, but a few desultory chopped onions on the bottom. I was not told that I couldn't get a slice. They used a seeded bun, which was nice, but couldn't offset the poor burger. The fries were well done, but very nondescript, closer to MacDonald's than anyplace else. Correct me if I'm wrong, but if you claim to be a steak outfit, you should have an excellent burger cooked perfectly every time.

• Time to Deliver: 15 minutes.

• Price with Tax before Gratuity: $20

• Intangibles: Everyone is carefully trained, but the result doesn't work. The place was not busy yet the food was not prepared properly and was mediocre — in a steak restaurant! They had no malt vinegar, so Will gave me oil and vinegar, as you'd put on a salad. Will offered to replace my burger or provide a dessert on the house. I declined, in the name of pure science. The other restaurants are locally owned, and this chain's local management is simply not paying attention.

Fifth Restaurant: Meritage, 5454 Post Rd., East Greenwich

Date and Time: March 19, 6 p.m.

Bartender: Joe (in photo)

• Ambiance: Large bar and lounge area seating about 40 people, two TVs which no one seems to watch. There are clearly "regulars" here, and people from early 30s to those using canes to maneuver. Large parking lot is always filled, but that's usually the bar crowd, and it's usually easy to get a seat in the dining room.

• Service: Joe offered a drink within a minute. The Manhattan was the largest pour of any of the restaurants. (They serve Margaritas here that require a personal trainer to lift.) Joe asked if I wanted red or white onions on the burger, a first!

• Cooking and Taste: An 8-ounce burger cooked perfectly, with a generous helping of large, white onion slices. The fries were well done, and very long, superb. The roll was the right size for the burger, not too large but very fresh.

• Time to Deliver: 15 minutes

• Price with Tax before Gratuity: $20

• Intangibles: The hostesses here are always friendly and apparently must be a size 1 to get the job. Two bartenders worked the bar excellently, proactively offering refills. Very diverse, friendly crowd. Noise level is fairly low, so you can converse without shouting. Only place with two Bentleys out front (one mine).

Sixth Restaurant: The Grill on Main, 50 Main St., East Greenwich

Date and Time: March 20, 5 pm

Bartender: Lindsay (in photo)

• Ambiance: The bar area is intimate, with one side elevated looking toward the restaurant. Four ignored TVs. The windows on the street can be fully opened, allowing for the great weather on this evening to reach inside. Unfortunately, the restaurant is painted the worst shade of green imaginable, and the place needs drastic refurbishing. But the bar is nice, and attracts a wide assortment of people. A LOT of people eat at the bar.

• Service: Lindsay made my Manhattan immediately, and it was excellent. My burger order followed.

• Cooking and Taste: This is another 8-ounce burger on the menu, but it seems to have shrunk in cooking more than any of the others. Despite that, it was cooked nicely and was juicy and flavorful. The fries were cooked as ordered but were average.

• Time to Deliver: 15 minutes

• Price with Tax before Gratuity: $21

• Intangibles: There are always 3 or 4 bartenders working and they are consistently pleasant and talkative. They inquire about your food and drink and you never have to wait long for anything. There is only street parking here, but I've never found that to be a problem, since the lot of the closed Post Office Restaurant across the street is available.

Seventh Restaurant: Ward's Publick House, 3854 Post Rd, Warwick

Date and Time: March 21, 5 pm

Bartender: Jeanette (in photo)

• Ambiance: Ward's is the most colorful, idiosyncratic of all the restaurants, since it's an Irish pub. The bar dominates the room. There is Irish music once a week. The owner is almost always seated at the far end of the bar, and on the next bar stool there is always a large penguin, I would think a Great Auk. (He's in one of the photos done up for St. Patrick's Day.) Very informal, heavy on the beer, I settled for Woodford Reserve since they were out of Maker's Mark.

• Service: As I walked in the door, Jeanette was about to pour my drink and order my usual stuffies, until I stopped her. She had seen me drive into the lot. Everyone here is super friendly, and the place is reminiscent of Cheers.

• Cooking and Taste: This is an 8-ounce burger that is cooked exactly as ordered, very juicy, with crunchy onion and fries done so that they are crispy.

Time to Deliver: 15 minutes

• Price with Tax before Gratuity: $20

• Intangibles: Large parking lot. Paper napkins, but they give you several. They use a smaller than average glass for the drink, though when I had a second after my test, it was in a larger glass! This was the only "real bar" of the test, in that the restaurant seating is built around the bar and not vice versa. (By the way: Ward's has the best "stuffies" in Rhode Island, bar none. They have been consistently outstanding for the many years we've been dining there.)

Analysis:

With the exception of The Outback, you can't really go wrong. 1149 has the largest burger and it's outstanding, but all the others were very good. The service was excellent at all the establishments. I don't consider 15 minutes to be a long wait. Bear in mind that I deliberately dined early to avoid crowds. These days, paying $25 (with tip) for a good burger, fries, and premium drink is pretty good.

We're blessed in Rhode Island to have so many fine restaurants. If anyone wants to sponsor my scientific study of lobster and prime rib, please let me know.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Mary MacIntosh March 25, 2012 at 06:34 PM
You should go over and check out the Rock House next. The bar food is excellent. Noisy though with a mixed crowd. Go early enough before the bands start to set up.
Alan Weiss, PhD March 25, 2012 at 08:59 PM
What is the Rock House??
Lisa March 25, 2012 at 11:29 PM
Thanks for the great reviews. Very helpful for a new Rhode Islander, like me. (2 yrs)
Martha Reynolds March 26, 2012 at 12:30 AM
Whole lotta red meat there, Alan! Good reviews.
PM JONES June 22, 2012 at 04:02 PM
Interesting to hear your view on the acoustics at Fat Belly's. I've visited 3 times - once w/in a month of their opening, 6 months later and again @ a year later. Each time I ordered a burger with avocado and bacon. Each time it perfectly prepared and utterly delicious. And each time we ended up leaving as soon as possible because the noisy atmosphere was excruciating and unacceptable. We also dined early to avoid crowds, but to no avail. Management: Please spend to some time and energy on minimizing the atrocious noise factor. I'm sure we're not the only ones who avoid your otherwise excellent venue for the same reason. Cheers & good luck!
PM JONES June 22, 2012 at 04:03 PM
PS - Echo: What & where is the Rock House?
Elizabeth McNamara (Editor) June 22, 2012 at 04:26 PM
PM JONES, I didn't know either but it seems to be a restaurant with live music and it's in the Centre of New England (where BJ's is) off New London Turnpike.

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