There was no secret here; the name said it all.
Burger Bar, the new fast-casual restaurant in the Hampton Inn and Suites on West Jefferson Boulevard, is a place for burgers, alcoholic beverages and not much else. And there is nothing wrong with that.
There are chicken tenders, french fries and milkshakes on the menu, but it is really about grabbing a burger and maybe having a drink before or after a show at the Embassy, an event at Grand Wayne Center or a ballgame.
It is small inside with just four tables that each seat four, two small corner booths and five community tables. There is also an order window facing the outdoor patio that has just a couple of tall counters where diners can eat, and the smell of searing beef wafts out those windows, enticing passers-by.
For that hub of entertainment options and for folks staying in any hotel downtown who may be out exploring on foot, it is a perfect fit. But if you are heading downtown just to try the place, it is far from optimal. Parking is a challenge, as it always is downtown, and Burger Bar's cozy confines make finding a seat dicey during peak hours.
Was the food worth the effort if you are a local? Not really.
I liked most of what I was served, but in a time when finding a good burger in Fort Wayne is as easy as finding fallen leaves in your yard, the troubles outweighed the rewards.
Burger Bar's burgers lived up to my expectations. The rather thin, seared patties were perfectly seasoned, juicy and had that hearty beef flavor I wanted. The menu variations were simple – singles and doubles with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions and barbecue sauce as topping options. The most exciting and exotic finds were the featured burgers of the month.
In September, it was the Swiss-Swiss Baby that had Swiss cheese, of course, deep-fried mushrooms and a garlic aioli. This month – in true Halloween fashion – there is a Muenster Mash garnished with Muenster cheese, guacamole, french fries, jalapeño kettle chips and sriracha mayo.
The Muenster Mash was a busy endeavor, but it was easily the best burger I had there. The kettle chips were key as they gave each bite a pronounced crunch. The guacamole had a nice citrus lime kick, the cheese melted beautifully like Muenster always does and even with the jalapeño chips and sriracha in the mayonnaise, it was not all that spicy.
The September burger made me think of Vanilla Ice, which was not really a good thing per se, and fell short of being memorable for anything than the name. The Swiss and garlic kick from the aioli worked nicely together and it was executed well, but the mushrooms, which were what I was looking forward to most, were small and not prevalent enough to stand out.
There was also nothing wrong with a simplistic approach. The double cheeseburger with all the toppings was flawless, but I really liked the double hamburger better because the flavor of the beef really stood out when not slathered with cheese. Adding the house-rubbed peppercorn bacon was well worth the extra $1.50.
The chicken tenders were decent. I would never opt for chicken at a place with Burger as part of its moniker, but these strips – which are also used for the chicken sandwiches – were very crisp and their breading had a strong mix of herbs and spices to make them better than the norm.
The thinly cut french fries were just fine. I would probably get an order every time I dined there as long as I had someone to share them with because a basket is more than enough to share.
The cheese fries weren't much of an upgrade as the little container of cheese sauce cooled and firmed up too quickly.
The standard milkshakes at Burger Bar were decent, but the featured shakes I tried were mixed. The horchata shake was spot on with a heavy spike of cinnamon and the right creamy sweetened rice flavor. The caramel apple shake was cloyingly sweet, and its flavor was the kind that comes from artificial syrup instead of real apples.
The only cocktail I tried, a prickly pear margarita, was up to snuff so I wouldn't hesitate to try another, and that also means I am really intrigued by the boozy shakes that are being touted as coming soon.
It wasn't the flavor of the Veggie Freak that hurt it, it was the texture – or lack thereof. This nicely seared patty made from quinoa, sweet potatoes and black beans had a pronounced sweetness but also had some zip from the pepperjack cheese melted over it. The slaw on top worked well as it was crunchy and its creamy base melded with the guacamole on top to create a sauce of sorts.
The patty was very soft, and its creamy middle combined with the somewhat soggy bun – caused by the moisture from the slaw and guacamole – made it unpleasant on the palate. Actually, the potato buns the restaurant uses fell apart somewhat on all of the burgers even though they had been toasted.
Given its simple setup, most of the service is done at the register and then guests are left to tend to themselves. A buzzer is given to each party so customers know when their orders are ready and when they have to go fetch them.
Seems like having the employees who are standing at the end of the order counter holding the neatly arranged trays of food simply walk a few steps from it to actually serve the food would not be that difficult. Nobody checked on me after the food was picked up, either, to make sure I was happy.
And even though it is small, the inside of Burger Bar was attractive with sleek stainless-steel tops on the community tables, wooden tables and chairs and a funky Fort Wayne-themed mural along the back wall.
Restaurant: Burger Bar
Address: 223 W. Jefferson Blvd.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Beer, cocktails
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Burgers (single $4.75, $5.25 with cheese; double $6.75, $7.75 with cheese), fries ($2.75; $3.25 with cheese), chicken tenders ($4.25 for 3; $6.75 for 5; $5.75 sandwich), shakes ($3.50; $4.50 monthly feature), Veggie Freak ($5.25)
Rating breakdown: Food: ★★ (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)
Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at email@example.com; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.
Out of a possible five