I talk a lot about my disdain for Yelp! a lot. This is another case where Yelp! facilitates things going out of control and can be absolutely useless when looking for places to try.
According to what you would read on Yelp!, Burger Centric, located at 250 Delaware Ave in Albany, NY, is a place to find a defensive, racist owner who does everything from seating tables, to cooking the food, to serving the tables, and so on. There’s no consensus on Yelp! about the quality of the food, so let’s assume that means it’s inconsistent (that’s all you can do, right?).
I never, never trust any single person’s opinion when I am looking for new places to try, and you shouldn’t either. Ultimately, only you can decide what you like about a dining experience. You can gather data and see what people say to help you decide where to go, and I’m happy to help in that data gathering with “derryX Dines,” but my opinion should never be the be all end all of where you should go eat. I can only talk about what I find important in a dining experience; that may not be anyone else’s experience at all.
MetalFrog and I gathered on a gloomy Saturday afternoon to check out Burger Centric for ourselves. With such a diverse and extensive menu (too extensive?), which even includes a number of burger creations with exotic meats like bison, lamb, kangaroo, and goat balls, it has intrigued me for some time; I didn’t even care about Yelp!. I honestly don’t know too many places that serve a $10.99 Kobe beef burger in the area, and, even more, I don’t know many places that even serve Kobe burgers around here. This place even has grass fed burgers on the menu for under $10!
We were seated by the young man, Dave, who owns the restaurant. There was one table already seated in the restaurant, and there was a man with a young boy looking to place a takeout order. To say that MetalFrog and I were worried about the attention Dave would be able to pay to the food while doing all of this other stuff is an understatement. An African American family of four was also seated while we were browsing the menu.
As a starter, I ordered the vegetable pakoras, but not before asking whether they were made with cauliflower. When I asked what vegetables were included in the pakora, Dave couldn’t answer; his curt response was to ask me if I had any allergies. When I told him about my cauliflower “allergy,” he obliged to not use cauliflower in the pakoras. Dave’s cooking clearly has Pakistani and Indian influences, so I figured it would be a great thing to order.
The shape was certainly a surprise, but not so much after I realized there is a vegetarian pakora burger on the menu. The interior of most of the pakora were underdone, as you can see in the left most piece in the above image. It was a shame because the flavor was not bad.
I didn’t finish these; I couldn’t. I was more interested in the burger anyway. I ordered the Chef’s Kobe burger ($10.99), which came with fries and would be served with sauteed onion, tomatoes, garlic, ginger, and olive oil.
Mind you, Dave was busy running around the whole restaurant all on his own.
I always lift the lid to see what’s on top.
I was surprised and pleased to see that the components that make up the “chef’s touch” were cooked down into a chutney of sorts. The “Centric Sauce” was akin to a thousand island dressing (think Big Mac), and there was the customary lettuce, tomato (which I pulled off), and raw onion on top.
There were no utensils so I didn’t cut across the burger to check the temperature. But I snapped a picture after a few bites to show that it was cooked a little past medium (I ordered it medium – no big deal); apologies for the picture of half eaten food in advance.
This burger was delicious. It did have it’s issues. The bottom bun was very crispy, just under burnt. The Kobe patty, formed to the thickness of an everyday burger, was thin enough to lose all of the fatty goodness that’s a part of the Kobe experience upon cooking. The chef’s touch “chutney” was a terrific topper to the burger. It was like a much more interesting ketchup; there was a great bit of sweetness from the tomatoes, and a fragrant taste from the ginger. The burger was nicely seasoned and juicy. I was honestly amazed that a place in such a sketchy looking building, with such a mired reputation, where the person cooking the food also has to worry about everything in the front of the house makes such a great burger.
When we paid our bill, things calmed down enough for us to provide some feedback to Dave. I made the comment that it was delicious, but that a Kobe burger should be thicker. At first he reacted defensively and said something like, “if I make it thicker, I have to charge you double and you can’t afford that,” to which we all had a laugh because I told him he has no idea what I can afford. I further explained and told him that I’d be willing to pay extra for a thicker burger, and he mentioned that I specify this the next time I come. Fair enough.
This brings me to an observation that I have about the place. If things aren’t explicitly stated, I’m not going to know what to get or expect. Other than the price being a vague indicator, I had no idea the burger would be that thin. Adding something like a weight or even a measurement would help people appreciate what it is they’re ordering; it would certainly help to set the expectations at a reasonable level. Another example of this is presentation of drink options. Instead of listing them on the menu or on a card at the table (mind you, there were already four or five additional printouts under the glass cover on the table), we had to get up and look at the options on the bar to figure out what to drink. It’s not a huge deal at all; it’s just something that helps the customer. Making things as visual as possible is only going to help the clients enjoy their experience.
You’ll recall that I mentioned an African American family was dining while we were there. You know I don’t mention details about a dining experience unless I find them noteworthy. Dave gave their table the same attention as all of the others, and I didn’t notice him speak any differently to them as he did to us or any others who were there. Perhaps he realizes the reputation he has on Yelp! is a problem for business, or perhaps the claims on Yelp! are complete garbage; we will never know, and I don’t think it’s important.
On the way out, Dave asked for us to share some more information about our dining experience. I told him that the chef’s touch was a very unique and great thing for his burgers, and that I thought the burger was delicious overall. I was also up front with the fact that I write about my food adventures. We chatted about his background and the unfortunate circumstances that led to the restaurant becoming a one-man operation. After listening for a few minutes, I did my best to bring the conversation back to the food, and it was clear to me that he is very passionate about food and his business, and that’s to a fault.
One of the many complaints that people lodge against his business is his explosive behavior on Yelp! It’s very easy to get sucked into the online world of feedback, complaints, and compliments. By taking these things personally on the social media and by lashing back at the customers, it doesn’t reflect well on the business overall and can irreversibly damage a reputation. This is the reason why social media consultants will recommend a manager with no personal ties to the business to oversee the social media aspect of the business. Social media can make or break your business, and this is a clear example of the latter, as he is clearly struggling to keep his passion going. This guy isn’t even making enough money to maintain a staff, and that’s unfortunate, because my impression of the burgers was very good.
I mentioned to Dave that I’ve been thoroughly researching his restaurant on Yelp! and other places on the internet and affirmed to him none of what I read dictated how my experience would be and that my experience was very good overall. He appeared to be very receptive to this and was appreciative for our business. On the way out, after I reaffirmed that I would be back with even more friends next time, and asked him for his recommendation of what to order next time. As kind of a no-brainer response, he said he’d get “Dave’s Fave” (sauteed mushrooms, onions, peppers, cheeses), but that he would have it with bison meat. Sounds like a plan.
Since there are so many conflicting things to read about this place on the internet, I couldn’t guarantee that your experience there will be stellar. Hell, even from what I ordered, I got something that was inedible and something that was fantastic. However, if you’re looking for a burger experience that might be able to provide some variety, I would recommend stopping in. In general, the burgers in the capital region are formidable and relatively uninteresting; this place may just be able to offer a burger experience that is more interesting than most.