We returned as promised to Jerry Built Burgers second location this week, wanting to give them a few weeks to get into the groove. Once again we were met with a full staff ready to serve and eager to please. During our first visit, we were amazed by the sheer number of employees seen buzzing around in the open concept kitchen and around the dining area during the grand opening, and were somewhat surprised to see at least the same number of worker bees on hand again this time.
Since the menu is pretty limited, we decided to try a couple of things we hadn't tried on our first visit and this time we ordered milkshakes to go with our meals. I had a burger instead of a chicken sandwich, and he opted for chili on his burger. Yes, we were in fact going for our full day's worth of calories in one meal, why do you ask?
After a quick stop by the really cool hand washing station we chose a table and waited for our names to be called. He had ordered a strawberry shake, while I had a chocolate malt. All of the shakes at Jerry Built are made with hand-dipped Blue Bell ice cream, mixed with fresh fruits (as in the case of the strawberry shake) or other quality ingredients. It's pretty hard to mess up a milkshake, and both of ours proved to be delicious. A little thick, not too sweet, no odd, syrupy flavors like those found at a typical fast food *cough*McDonald's*cough* restaurant. It took a whole lot of willpower to not finish off the shakes, as the "small" was 10 ounces of creamy goodness.
I went in a s Lightly different direction this time adding chili to my burger, having been assured by my order-taker that it was "really good." What are the employees expected to say?
I think one of the main issues with the burgers at Jerry Built (sadly enough) is in the way that the meat is prepared. Jerry Built burgers are comprised of two cuts - Brisket and Chuck freshly ground each day and prepared for grilling; which is a great start. A good way to ruin any hamburger is to smash the patty; when on the grill one can push the juices (and all of the flavor) right out of the meat and before grilling a good smashing can serve to break down all the texture and the flavor. Jerry Built must know what they have done because they attempt to reintroduce some flavor by adding some sort of spice blend back in to meat (see above) but it just isn't enough to overcome the damage already done. While a thinner burger may cook faster, and more evenly - this method tends to produce a dry patty with an odd texture and equally odd flavor.
And my (typically) messy chili burger was presented in the same fashion as all Jerry Built burgers - wrapped in paper then placed inside their signature five-sided box, with just the top of the burger exposed as I peered down into the bag. I had hoped the chili would add a little more flavor to the burger but, it only served to cover the lackluster flavor of the beef. Honestly, it reminded me of my days as a bachelor tasting like Wolf brand canned chili. As I have said before, I find it sad when that the best part of a main entree is the side items and there is only so much one can say about tomatoes, pickles, and lettuce.
I promised myself a bacon cheeseburger after the last visit, so I was looking forward to this one. The chicken sandwich last time was really good, but after hearing the explanation that the skin is added back into the chicken when it's ground for the sandwiches, I knew the burger wouldn't be that much less healthy for me. Plus, Jerry Built professes to use Niman Ranch beef - which I already knew from the many times I'd dined at Coal Burger was fantastic meat. But the moment I cut my single-patty burger in half (I'm a lady; it's how I stay ladylike) I knew there was something different with the beef at Jerry Built. If you look carefully, you'll see the little red and green specs in the patty - Jerry Built's secret blend of seasonings. The resulting flavor is something I don't think I've experienced since middle school, or perhaps at the rare forays into various chain fast food restaurants. I swear it tasted like I was eating a soybean-blended patty. It was just... weird. And the bacon was equally disappointing; thin, overdone and chewy, almost jerky-like. Overall, it had the rather awkward effect of actually not tampering with my goal of eating a less-fatty diet by making me do something I rarely do - I didn't even touch the second half of my burger, after not even finishing the first half.
Of course, this did leave my a little hungry. I thought maybe the fries, with their promise of being "prepared using a traditional two-step French frying method – achieving the optimum exterior crispness and interior fluffiness" would fill the void. But again I was disappointed. Even fresh from the box, the tiny little fries are impossibly oily, some being squishy, some over cooked, and others ending up burnt. The longer they sat, the more unattractive they became, shriveling up and leaching out grease into the napkin I'd dumped them onto. The end result in all of this disappointment was that I managed to consume about a third of my malt, less than half of my bacon cheeseburger and barely a quarter of my fries. Which was made all that much more disappointing by the knowledge that my meal had rang up at just over $14.
How had such a great concept gone so far off the rails? Well, in several ways - in my opinion anyway. First, in an effort to make a new and unique product to attract a fan base, they've made some curious modifications to ingredients that had already proven successful on their own. Starting with the meat and potatoes. Niman Ranch beef is fantastic beef; typically a little salt and pepper (if that) is all you need to turn out a great burger with it. Whatever it is Jerry Built is mixing in there just isn't working. It might work alright in the chicken, but then, how often does anyone prepare chicken without seasoning it somehow? Plus, smashing the dickens out of it on the grill is just adding injury to insult. And those French fries - by trying to be unique with their crinkle cutting they may be increasing surface area thereby supposedly increasing the ability for the flavor to be exposed. In this case it only makes for tiny, greasy fries with burnt ends instead of exterior crispness and interior fluffiness like you get at say, Five Guys Burgers or JAX Burgers. My concern is, even though they're making an effort to offer foods crafted from the finest ingredients, Jerry Built is not going to win people over with what they are presenting. And if they can't win people over with the food, that's going to go a long way towards widening the gap between profits and overhead. And that overhead must be crippling; Jerry Built has opened two locations within six weeks of one another, both in high-rent areas, and staffed them with an enormous staff all dressed in full-blown, monogrammed chef wear. That makes for great presentation but is it really worth the cost? With such a limited menu, there's no real reason either one of their locations couldn't be operated with half, or perhaps a third of the staff we've observed - and all of them in their own jeans with company T-shirts and name tags - maybe some hats (hair restraints are required in the food prep area). It's a tried and true recipe for success that's working for places like Five Guys Burgers and Fries, JAX Burgers, Mooyah - even Beck's Prime with their far more diverse menu.
We were looking forward to having another choice for burgers and always root for the success of the locally-owned small businesses, even more so in this volatile economy. But we're fairly certain that if some major changes aren't implemented in a hurry, we could be adding Jerry Built to our closed restaurant list in the near future.
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