Sadly, Burger Month has come to a close. We tried to pace ourselves, but we'll admit; in addition to the four we reviewed, we probably ate at least another couple of them each this month. Not more than that, though. Really. Variety is the spice of life and burgers will have to take a back seat for a while. To that end, our last review of the month takes place at a well-established, village favorite restaurant known for the size & variety of it's menu: Honey Bee Ham & Deli, in the Cochran's Crossing Village Center (Research Forest Drive and Gosling Road).
To recap, we've sampled a couple of all-American cheeseburgers at Taco USA, in the Grogan's Mill Village Center, and stopped in at our reigning favorite, JAX Burgers, Fries & Shakes, at their newest location on Spring Cypress Road (long time area residents might recall this was previously "Charlie's Hamburger Joint". A week earlier we took some friends along for a very enjoyable round of burgers at JP's Grill down the way on Sawdust Road.
Honey Bee Ham & Deli has been tucked away at the east end of the Cochran's Crossing Village Center for almost 20 years. Like many things that have occupied the same space for that long, an interesting amount of, shall we say, "nostalgia," has crept in, taking over nearly every available space.
Granted, we were there to critique food, not the décor, but it's easy to soak it all in while you're waiting for your meal to be arrive. And that's the silver lining on an otherwise less-than-pristine experience - each meal is prepared fresh, at the time of order.
We had initially set out to have our burgers at Honey Bee on Tuesday. Sadly, we were unaware that something about 'Tuesday Afternoon' brings swarms of Moody teenagers to hang out at Honeybee (see what I did there). On this particular Tuesday, their numbers were great, leaving very little available seating, indoors or out. It didn't help that we arrived around 6:15, either, as Honey Bee closes at 7:00 PM. We drove away, but called to inquire as to what the attraction was; the woman on the phone explained it had been happening for some length of time now; on Tuesdays, the kids come out in droves, she further explained that the crowd that night was larger than usual. 'Seems they (the kids) feel it's a good, safe place to be.' She claimed the rest of the week was generally crowd-free, so we opted to return on the following Wednesday.
I was almost a little sad that we were there only for the burgers. Honey Bee's menu covers multiple panes of an overhead, slotted-letter sign above the cashier, a bevy of handwritten signs pasted and glued on various vertical surfaces, in addition to five laminated, menu pages taped down to the counter. The (sometimes coloruful) hand drawn signs give the place a calm, friendly atmosphere, and the staff was attentive and courteous. Some of the more-enticing selections included a Jerk chicken sandwich, the Fajita grilled chicken salad, and the homemade soup of the day. The shift manager later explained there are even more dishes not on the menu, the barbecue baked potato for example, (was on one of those handwritten signs attached to the door of the drink cooler,) which she highly recommends.
In nearly every direction inside Honey Bee, you'll find some form of signage touting the claim "Voted Best Burger In Montgomery County." The thing is, none of those signs include when, or by whom. But with a claim like that, you'd like to think that the burgers are good, especially considering that there's actually only one burger on the menu. So I ordered the 1/3lb Burger Basket ($5 after 3:00 PM M-F), with mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato, and pickles. I also added Cheddar cheese ($0.40) and - of course - bacon ($1.00). The "basket" comes with a drink and a choice of sides, I went with the regular fries.
When our burgers were brought out about five or six minutes later, I immediately recognized the bread used for the bun, guessing (and later confirmed) Honey Bee procures their buns from the Houston-based Sheila Partin Bakery. I had chose the sweet wheat sourdough for my burger and would recommend it. Unlike most wheat buns in other restaurants, Sheila Partin's sweet wheat sourdough is neither dry nor flavorless. I was left underwhelmed, though, with my burger as a whole. Though purported to be 1/3 pound patty, it barely covers the bun. Not that I eat that much, but considering I was certain I was eating the same size bun as I'd just had the week before, the difference in overall size was readily apparent. The meat also had a really unique flavor to it; seasoning-wise, I only detected some salt and pepper. But the blend of beef itself seemed to have something else going on in there. The woman behind the counter told us Honey Bee blends and grinds their own beef each morning before laboriously hand-forming patties, but she couldn't share the secret recipe for the blend beyond saying it was "very low fat." Perhaps that was part of the problem; anyone who's ever mistakenly tried to grill some 93% lean ground beef instead of some 80/20% ground round knows there isn't enough fat to hold together those lean patties, resulting in a dry, often-flavorless, patty. That's what was going on here, the meat was on the dry side, and the "secret" blend added an odd (not bad, just different) flavor.
The fries were nothing special; some obviously pre-made, frozen-variety, battered fries. But they were fried up well, crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside. Again, though, I found myself unimpressed. Not only because they were mass produced fries, but because the trace amount of seasoning on them was just bland. Even with the addition of a little salt, they had no flavor. All in all, Honey Bee Grill just didn't give me much to buzz about in the burger department. I'm holding on to the hope that a Club sandwich or a Jerk Chicken sandwich at my next visit will restore my confidence in Honey Bee Ham.
So, the Burger Basket Special saves you $1.49 and according the menu, includes French Fries, Chips or Potato Salad and a Regular Drink just like the regularly priced basket. Like she mentioned previously, the burger was a bit dry and the thin patty had very little texture as it was very 'soft' ie: not over or under-cooked. This was actually our second visit to Honey Bee Ham in as many years, the first visit not being all that memorable. The taste was pleasant yet not particularly enticing, which for me, isn't much different than having no flavor at all - not bad, not good, also not worthy of a return for another Honey Bee Burger. The frozen fries were rather dull when it came to flavor, yet even the fluffy texture of the potato inside I had no interest in eating all of the (seemingly) small serving of them. I do however, plan to return and try something else in the near future. I prefer the fresh baked buns that you can usually only find at the independents. Taco USA, JP's Grill and here at Honey Bee Ham are three of those local places. My fave is the Sourdough Jalapeño as it's got a great blend of sweet and spicy.Get it to Go
Sometimes we finish a meal someplace and wonder - is it us? In this case, Honey Bee has been serving (we suspect) thousands of seemingly happy customers over the last twenty years. They must be doing something right, right? So what is it? Are we holding them to too high of a standard, or have they grown too comfortable in their long-running success?
So, we asked about how it was decided that Honey Bee had the "Best Burger in the County" and when. The answer was a bit confusing, initially my inference of her answer was that an external source had performed some sort of survey. That it was somehow a montgomery county related thing. Then it became more clear that they pass survey cards on the tables and guests fill them out. I would hope that you could win a contest like that. Essentially, the question goes unanswered and this best burger claim was reportedly won over the last 2 years, but if you have ever been there, you may have noticed the permanent, wooden banner hangs prominently under the sign in the public walkway. Honey Bee Ham did not place in the top 3 for status as "Best Burger" in The Woodlands vote recently held by another well known online resource. If recent meals around The Woodlands are any indication, it's our guess that vote was taken among people that don't get out much - or often as there many other choices for Burger Restaurants in The Woodlands. What do you think? Did we get it wrong? We hate to wrap up Burger Month like this, so tell us what you think in the comments below.
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Billl's Burgers & Beer 3B's
Burger Fresh Conroe
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Coal Burger Waterway Square
Grub Burger Bar
Honey Bee Ham Burgers
Jerry Built Burgers
Jerry Built Burgers
Taco USA Burgers
Burger Restaurants in The Woodlands
Honey-Bee Ham & Deli
4747 Research Forest Drive
The Woodlands, Texas 77381