Thursday, July 14, 2011

Max Burger, West Hartford; Max Taste at a Max Price

Our Burger Quest begins at the premier burger restaurant in the Hartford area, Max Burger.  Max Burger is part of the Max chain of restaurants.  Max Burger offers high quality food, excellent service, great décor and wonderful ambience.  All of this comes at a price.  Albeit, a Maximum one! 

The restaurant is located in West Hartford center.  It used to be the home for Simmer and Azul. I never ate at Simmer, but I once spent a rocking time at Azul.  We arrived just after five on a Tuesday evening.  We actually found a space in their parking lot.  Yes, they have their own parking lot. 

The place is starting to fill up, but we are whisked to our table.  The décor is very comfortable.  Black wainscoting with cream-colored walls.  Chocolate leather chairs.  Chocolate leather banquettes with exposed nail heads.  Masculine, but not overbearing. 

The very attentive waitress gives us the drinks menu.  I was parched so I ordered a Harpoon UFO, my summer jam.  Sal, not known for her drinking prowess, orders water, but I talk her into something a little more exotic.  “Hmmmm,” she says as she peruses the menu.  She asks the waitress,  “How is the Hole in One?” The waitress replies, “Very good!”  Well how bad can Stoli Strawberry, lemonade and iced tea be?  It turns out to be very good indeed.  So good that Sal pounds this down.  So good that my wife, who hardly drinks says to me that we could make this at home.  So good that we plan to hit the package store on the way home and stock up on some Stoli Strawberry. 

The meat used at Max Burger is Niman Ranch Certified Angus Beef.  The Niman Ranch is a network of almost seven hundred ranchers nationwide.  They all follow a strict protocol of raising cattle that includes, no antibiotics, no added hormones, all vegetarian feed, and humanely raised.  Their housing and grazing areas are strictly monitored to ensure a stress free environment for the cattle.  All of this is very expensive.  I went to their website and priced out some steaks.  Eight 7oz. tenderloin filets (Filet Mignon) sell for $249.95.  Something less expensive?  Eight 12 oz. New York Strip Steaks retail for $189.95.  Ouch!

Sal and I take a look at the menu choices.  In addition to the hamburgers, they have seafood, ribs, meatloaf, chicken and even a veggie burger.  Really?  A veggie burger?  Sal zeroes in on the Miss Daisy.  An 8 oz. patty topped with Brie, apple wood bacon, apple honey Dijonase mustard, lettuce, tomato on toasted brioche.  I order the Inside Out.  An 8 oz. patty stuffed with Gorgonzola cheese, apple wood bacon, grilled onion, and arugula placed on an artisan roll.  We order some onion rings for an appetizer.  I choose the regular fries, Sal goes for the sweet potato fries.  They also had truffle spuds for an extra $1.50.  Maybe next time.

We sit and chat as we wait for our meal.  People watching is always fun.  Sal directs my attention to the loud baby with a ridiculous headband.  Her parents beam with pride.  The table next to us is celebrating someone’s retirement. A very large guy, who can barely fit in the booth, is perusing the menu.  I hope he orders the veggie burger!   Sal is slowly getting tipsy on the Hole in One.  Her face lights up and she begins to talk backwards.  I think it’s time she switches to water. 

The onion rings arrive.  They are fresh cut o-rings in a tempura batter.  Hot out of the fryer.  Very light and crisp.  Absolutely perfect. A nice dipping sauce accompanies them.  We demolish them in good order.    One sign of a good restaurant is the pacing of the courses.  Nothing gets me angrier than being in the middle of one course and the next one shows up.  It’s not relaxing and it shows a lack of management skills.  The Max Group did not get to where they are today with shoddy service.  The waitress clears the deck, asks if we want any more drinks and leaves. 

A few minutes later and a few more sips of my Harpoon UFO, the waitress brings our dinner.  The presentation is amazing. The burgers were whisked to our table right off the grill.  The fries are piping hot.  They are presented in a very slick stainless steel cup lined with butcher paper.  Nice touch.  The waitress must have told the cook staff that we would be sharing our burgers because they had been cut in half so that we each got half of the other’s burger. Another nice touch!

The first bite of the Inside Out burger is heaven.  It is absolutely delicious.   The burger is perfectly cooked.  The sharp bite of the Gorgonzola plays beautifully with the savory meat and the crispy bacon.  The roll is fresh and the onion adds a very nice crunch.  The Miss Daisy has a great meaty taste.  I love the brioche bun.  The apple honey Dijonaise is awesome—sweet with some mustard heat.  Sal says, “It’s less greasy than a Five Guys burger.”  My fries are cooked perfectly.  Sal loves her sweet potato fries too.  We take our time savoring the meal.  Sal, who usually will leave me a few bites, demolishes her burger.  I’m stunned--she never does that.

The food is superb, the service excellent, the ambience exceptional. Now the bill.  Two beers, one cocktail, two burgers, an appetizer and a coffee--$55.  That’s a lot of food, but that’s a lot of money for a burger too.  The Miss Daisy was $14, and the Inside Out, $13.  I’m torn.  I think that Five Guys wins on taste and value, but Max Burger takes it for total dining experience.  We’ll call it a draw, for now.

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