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Dining review: Virdene's idea lost amid its execution

Published September 10, 2013 11:20 am

Dining review • Fun burger-bar concept derailed by boring fare.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Few foods are as versatile and adaptable as a hamburger. Grab one on the go for a buck or pay a small fortune for the finest ingredients.

There's a burger match for everyone — and Virdene's Gourmet Burger House offers a creative approach to finding yours.

Housed in the southwest corner of the Peery Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City, the restaurant occupies the space previously home to Squeezebox and, before that, Christopher's Steakhouse.

The centerpiece at Virdene's is the build-your-own hamburger. Guests are handed a clipboard, printed checklists and small pencils — the burger of their dreams merely a few check marks away. For those plagued by indecision or reminded of an SAT exam, the menu also provides a number of prebuilt burgers and bowls. Or swap your bun for a salad bowl.

Despite the menu's relatively simple-sounding approach, ordering can quickly become a test, and more than once I needed assistance. Certainly, the design and ordering of the menu could be improved.

Building your own burger is a multistaged affair, so take a deep breath. Start by selecting a size — 1/3 of a pound ($8.95), 2/3 of a pound ($11.95) or a full pound ($14.95). Those expecting monstrous burgers on mammoth buns will be let down; larger burger creations are merely assembled from multiple 1/3-pound patties.

Your next decision is protein — beef, chicken breast, vegan patty or bison ($3 extra) — and the bun: brioche, wheat, pretzel, English muffin or gluten free ($1 extra). The slightly bizarre bowl option is a buck extra, and diners can choose from lettuce, organic mixed greens or spinach in lieu of the bun.

Next up, cheese from an array of 10 (extra $1 each) and four free toppings (extras 50 cents each). There also are 11 premium toppings, such as bacon, fried egg and sautéed mushrooms, at $1.50 each.

Finally, choose one of 20 sauces (extras 50 cents each). If you want fries, it's an extra $1.95 for a small or $3.50 large.

If you've been counting along, you've correctly noticed those prices can start to mount — especially if you get carried away with your pencil. A 1/3-pound bison burger on a gluten-free bun upgraded with a premium topping such as bacon, coupled with small order of fries, passes the $16 mark — and that's before a drink ($2.50 sodas, $4.95 shakes). For the prices levied, the menu makes zero effort at highlighting the provenance of any ingredient.

Priced and sold under the guise of "Gourmet Burger House," this food invites high expectations. Sadly, if the cuisine at Virdene's was truly the epitome of gourmet, I'd hand over my knife and fork right now in favor of something far more stimulating like stamp collecting — please, no angry letters, philatelists.

Burger after burger I sampled ranged from mediocre to downright poor. They all seemed to be cooked identically (medium well to well) with virtually no thought — despite oral and written menu requests to the contrary. One tough-as-leather bison burger had every last ounce of joy cooked from it.

More than one order lacked requested components, again even when specifically checked. A fried egg summed up the whole dining experience. Excitedly plucking it from the premium toppings list, I imagined a deliciously lush sunny-side up-egg, exploding with creaminess. The reality was a hard, sad lump on a listless burger: passionless, painful and plain boring.

The gourmet moniker also flounders when it comes to the pub appetizers. The cutely named Nuts And Bolts ($1.95) — dumbed-down Chex mix — along with the French fries, onion strings and sweet potato fries didn't stir much excitement. A Crawfish Dip ($9.95) with fresh fried tortilla chips certainly sounded epicurean, but was a runny, cheesy soup. The five coconut shrimp ($8.95) with sweet dipping sauce were perhaps the best.

At least the full bar at Virdene's offers a respite for patrons; even if the lack of an actual beverage list led me to play "tell me everything you have behind the bar" with my server. Thankfully, heady steins of Uinta Cutthroat come quickly, ice cold and reasonably priced at $5.

In fact, at times, I wondered if Virdene's would prefer life as a bar — one evening tables were plastered with ads for evening drink specials before an open-mic night unfurled noisily during the end of our dinner.

The impromptu entertainment was just one example of Virdene's identity crisis. Fine dining or fast food. Bar or restaurant. Ode to old-time Americana or hip downtown eatery. Receipts bear the name "Peery Pub" but actually bill as "Squeezebox." Staff eschewed a uniform as far as I could tell, one even sporting a competitor's T-shirt.

There's at least a glimmer of something interesting at Virdene's. The custom-burger-building notion could be riotous fun in the right hands. But as things stand, the thoroughly poor execution is in need of serious examination.

features@sltrib.com

H

Virdene's Gourmet Burger House

Food • H

Mood • H

Service • H

Noise • bb

A confused identity and lackluster execution prevent an otherwise creative concept from delivering fun and flavor.

Location • 110 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City; 801-575-5014

Online • virdenes.com

Hours • Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Children's menu • Yes

Prices • $$

Liquor • Full bar

Reservations • No

Takeout • Yes

Wheelchair access • Yes

Outdoor dining • Yes

On-site parking • Yes

Credit cards • All major