<< Front page News April 9, 2004

Burgermeister gets Reviewed

Restaurant reviewing in Oberlin is tricky business. There are so few options that any new addition is an inherently welcome one.

There are still so many niches left unoccupied that to berate a new place is almost not an option. This is a tough reality for a reviewer. Normally my standards are rigorous to the point of self-mockery. But context cannot be eschewed here. Not every restaurant has to be hip or innovative.

Every restaurant should, however, serve good food and now I’m going to come right out and say it: The food at Burgermeister isn’t good. But it is cheap and comfortable, and perhaps most importantly, its location makes it poised to be as much a part of the town’s culture as the college’s.

A recent weeknight found the dining room sparsely populated and casually lit. The staff is dedicated, relaxed and very attentive, although something about the atmosphere, or maybe just the servers’ attire, kept making us feel like we were at an event sponsored by campus catering.

Our hearts were buoyant with hope and anticipation as we sat down to our three appetizers. I guess we ordered the wrong ones. Two out of the five mozzarella sticks were hollow tubes of unseasoned batter. The fried calamari wasn’t much better—demoralizing little frozen rubber bands that are an embarrassing mess to eat.

We put the absolute low point of our Burgermeister experience behind us once we’d had a go round with the smoked oysters, which my friend Page aptly compared to “chewy boogers”—and this is a woman who loves her mollusks.

If you really need to have smoked oysters, you can buy them in tins at IGA—that way you won’t have to eat yours languishing like swamp slugs in a stagnant pool of olive oil. At this point in the meal we were obliged to start a “are you going to hurl dude?” index. Before the appetizer dishes were cleared away this question came up twice.

Despite the veritable onslaught of disappointment that was our first course, the burgers held their own, relatively speaking. The meat, ciabatta bun, and dressing are all fresh, but not quite as impressive as what you can get at the Feve.

The French fries were a bit of a rough patch, especially for Brian, to whom the majority of the “are you going to hurl dude?” queries were directed.

They were wide and flat like steak fries, described by one member of our dining party as “BigMcLargeHuge” for their bluntness and lack of complexity. Their blatant prepackaged frozenness was totally busted. More mealy than soggy, they simply did not supply that crunchy-starchiness that, say, Tater Tots so reliably provide.

The most satisfied person at the table ordered the 8 oz center cut salmon, served with Cajun pasta (what makes Cajun pasta seem like a good idea?) and steamed frozen vegetables. Taken altogether, it was a pretty good dinner for 10 bucks.

Every entrée could use some garnish or a little extra sprinkle of something—the chicken marsala is as monochromatic as an overcast Ohio sky. One possibly prohibitive setback is that Burgermeister doesn’t have a liquor license. It would give the ordinariness of the experience more legitimacy if you could order a beer with your burger.

“In terms of niches in town, forget the burgers,” concluded Jessie as we finished our meal over some tasty tiramisu. The burgers at the Feve are better by a long shot. But the Burgermeister is low-impact; you can take your parents there and avoid the Feve’s loud music and spotty service. If I were five years old, it would be the kind of place I wanted my parents to take me every week. And they probably would have, because it’s inexpensive and there’s enough variety on the menu to satisfy more than one type of appetite.

Unfortunately, we didn’t make it for Burgermeister’s breakfast. I have a good feeling, though—breakfast doesn’t need to be fancy, and the price here, again, is right.

We’ve really been hurting for a new breakfast place, since the lines at the Black River get out of control by 10 a.m. on weekends. Here’s a place to go for breakfast the morning after spending the night with someone where you won’t have to contend with the prying eyes of half your seminar waiting in line and thinking, “Did those two get it on last night?”

After a Burgermeister dinner, you’re probably going to have that lethargic, starchy feeling of having just gorged yourself on something a little too mushy. But sometimes that can be comforting. As we loitered a bit in the twilight out front, Brian, having taken the worst hits of the meal, shrugged and pretty much summed it up. “I’m not passing blame. I just feel like I overate.”


The Review News Service: News, weather, sports and more, in your ObieMail every Sunday and Wednesday night. (Click here to subscribe.)