Then Burger

9220 W Glendale Ave #100, Glendale, AZ 85305

Then Burger is owned by the same guy that owns Twist Hot Chicken. Based on that, and that alone, I was really eager to try this place out. I really wanted to like it, but honestly, it was just…meh. It was okay.

Let’s start with the outside and work our way up to the food. This establishment shares a parking lot with Starbucks, Raising Cane’s, and Barro’s Pizza. On a Friday night before 7:30, the parking lot is a nightmare and it’s almost impossible to find a spot. That really isn’t something that Then Burger can do anything about, but it is annoying and could become a problem in the future, as they get more popular. The outside of the building is clean, and well lit, with a nice-sized outdoor seating area for when it gets warmer.

The inside of the restaurant was a little frenetic. The restaurant owners can’t seem to figure out if they want it to be a sports bar or a high-end restaurant. There are TVs everywhere, but they were also playing very loud music at the same time. The TVs are distracting and the music was so loud that it was hard to carry on a conversation. The tables are very small and the plates are very large. Don’t get me wrong, they’re nice, heavy, quality plates. But they take up a lot of room. You would also expect fries to come on the same plate with your entrée…wrong. They come on a plate of their own, taking up even more room on the table. There were only three of us this evening and my wife and our friend only ordered one thing apiece; the mac and cheese for my wife (and I ordered her a side of fries) and a salad for our friend. I ordered an appetizer, a salad and an entrée. They didn’t bring things out in any kind of an order either. You would have thought that they would have started with the appetizer and brought it out by itself, proceeding to the two salads, then my entrée, with the mac and cheese with fries, clearing dishes off the table as they served. Nope…wrong again. They literally brought EVERYTHING out at once. If we had had a fourth person there, they’d have had to bring us a side table to put all the plates on.

I did think that the water glasses were really cool. They are round on the top, and oval on the bottom. You might think this is a little weird, but it makes them really easy to hold for some reason. Not to mention they just looked really cool.

Okay…enough of that…let’s get to the food.

I started with the Short Rib Toast Points. The description on the menu was: braised short rib, shallot confit, point reyes bleu cheese, horseradish aioli, balsamic pearls. Now, to be quite honest, this was the tastiest thing on the table. It was delicious! However, the one drawback to this dish was that it was soooo greasy! It’s an appetizer, and most of them are made to be eaten with your hands; that’s just what you do with appetizers! When I got done eating one of the toast points with my hand, that hand and three fingers of the other hand were dripping grease down to the second knuckle. I don’t know if they drizzled beef tallow over the short ribs or if the ribs were just that greasy, but there was a puddle left on the plate when we were done.

Salads…let’s take a look at those.

My friend Susan’s salad was a “Champagne & The Beet” salad. Their description of it was as follows; arugula, watercress, beet, champagne vinaigrette, balsamic pearls. There were 4-5 balsamic pearls in the salad and roughly 1 slice of a decent-sized beet, diced rather fine. She said that the dressing was good and the greens were fresh. Now, it may just be my opinion, but if you’re going to charge $13 for a “high-end” salad, then two things ought to hold true; 1) That salad should be larger than a single layer of greens on a salad plate and; 2) If you’re going to focus on one of the ingredients enough to include it in the title of the dish, there really should be enough of that ingredient to do more than fill a small spoon. This salad gets 4 stars for the dressing, 3 stars for presentation, but overall gets 1 star for missing the mark.

I had the wedge salad because I find that it’s a really good indicator of how well a restaurant knows their menu. There are all kinds of variations on a wedge salad, but this is how they describe theirs; house bacon, point reyes bleu cheese, semi-dried tomatoes, balsamic-marinated cipollini onions, house ranch. It was a really good salad. I would highly recommend it. The chunks of bleu cheese on the salad were huge, and delicious! There are always onions on a wedge, but they are usually deep fried shoestring onions. These onions had been marinated in balsamic and were a perfect complement to the bleu cheese. They were very tasty and a nice twist on a wedge salad. Tomatoes are also always part of a wedge salad and these tomatoes were spot on. They were semi-dried, with some kind of dressing on them. Again, a very tasty twist on an old favorite. Lastly, was the bacon. This is the only part I was disappointed with. Again, with a $13 salad, they had an opportunity to shine once again by doing something special with the bacon. I would have liked to see something like a full slice of thick-cut, house-made pepper bacon, cooked nice and crisp. Even a nice piece of crispy pork belly, sitting atop the salad would have been a really unique and tasty twist. But alas, all I got was 2-3 bacon lardons on either side of the plate and what tasted like bacon bits in the middle of the salad. This salad gets 4 stars for presentation, and 4.5 stars for flavor, and 4 stars overall. If the bacon had been better, it would have been a 5 star salad, all the way around.

The Quesabirria Burger. Here’s a tasty burger having a bit of an identity crisis. I have no idea why they called it a Quesabirria Burger, instead of a Short Rib Au Jus burger. Here is their description; queso blanco, braised short rib, pico de gallo, cilantro, garlic aioli, beef & guajillo, consomme. I think the name for this burger is very misleading and because of that Birria expectation, you’re going to be disappointed. I’ve had Birria tacos before and they are amazing in flavor! You can take a look at what goes into making a good Birria sauce here. There were guajillo peppers on the burger, but that was the only ingredient from that list that made it into the burger, in my opinion. The burger itself was well cooked at a nice medium, with short rib meat on top. The cheese on the burger had great flavor and was melted perfectly. However, for some odd reason, my burger was served with the top bun upside down (the top was on the inside of the burger) and the pico de gallo (there was only about a 1/4 of a teaspoon) was only used as a garnish on top of the bun. Again, if it were my restaurant, I would have thought that you would have served/provided enough pico de gallo with the hamburger to actually be tasted, by providing a small serving dish on the plate so that customer could put on as much as they wanted. Unfortunately, this was not the case and I’ll never know if the pico was any good, because the small amount ensured that flavors were overpowered by everything else. Which brings us to the consommé. It had great flavor, it was a really good au jus. But let’s be honest, that’s all it was…au jus. It was not birria, and to call it that and market it as that is misleading in my opinion. Overall opinion? It was a really good burger, just not what it was billed to be and not a $22 burger. I’ll give this 3 stars for presentation, 3.75 stars for flavor, and 3 stars overall, due to the misrepresentation.

French fries…besides the short rib toast points, these were the best thing on the menu. You got a good-sized amount of fries, and they were well cooked; crispy on the outside, nice and fluffy on the inside. They were about the size of Burger King fries, only better. They had a nice garlicky seasoning on the outside and I really liked them. 5 stars on the fries.

Last and also the least appealing, was the mac and cheese. It didn’t look like anything special when it arrived, and it had some grease floating on top. I’m sure this is because of the higher end cheese that they used. Their description was as follows; cavatelli, sharp cheddar, truffle pecorino, queso blanco. You could add short ribs or chicken to it if you wanted, for an upcharge of $4-$5, bringing the cost of a small bowl of mac and cheese to $19-$20. Seriously? That’s ridiculous. My wife took two bites of the mac and cheese and that’s as far as she got. I tried it and immediately understood why. My wife is very texture motivated and the cheese sauce for this dish was very grainy. The flavor of the cheeses was okay, but nothing that I couldn’t have made at home. I’m a foody and very rarely do I leave food behind. I left this behind. 2 stars for presentation, 1 star for composition, 2 stars overall. Solid pass, if I go again.

If you’ve read this far, my hat’s off to you…I got a little long-winded. However, I think it’s important that new restaurants get feedback like this, I really do. I’m a champion of local restaurants and I really want to see this place succeed and thrive. However, in order to do so, I think they need to rethink a couple of things. Figure out what you want your ambience to be; Is it going to be a high-end restaurant or is it going to be a sports bar? If it’s going to be a sports bar, have enough TVs up so that every patron has a view of the TV…I did not. I was in the front of the establishment, with my back to the two behind me. If it’s going to be a sports bar, turn off the music and pipe in the audio from one of the programs on the TV. However, if you’re going for a high-end restaurant look (which is what I was told by one of your employees at Twist), ditch the TVs. They’re distracting and cause people to ignore the people they’re with, in order to watch the game or whatever’s on. When was the last time you saw TVs in a high-end restaurant in Scottsdale? Need me to tell you? Never. Pipe in some nice music instead, loud enough to be heard, but not so loud as to overpower conversations. High-end restaurants are about the ambience, getting lost in conversation over good food with your friends and family. High-end restaurants require a great wine list, not just cocktails and beer. Lastly, there’s a reason people live on the West Side of the Phoenix Valley…because they can’t afford the cost of living in Scottsdale. Scottsdale has a lot of very good, some quite established, high-end restaurants. But if you’re going to make it on the west side, you’re going to have to do several things:

  • Teach your kitchen staff how to prepare meals in courses; appetizers first, salad and soups second, entrées third, desserts last.
  • Teach your wait staff how to serve in courses, don’t just drop all the food on the table at one time and leave it up to the customer to figure out where to put everything.
  • Have your wait staff dress like high-end wait staff. Not yoga pants and jeans with tight tops or t-shirts. Dress slacks with a white dress shirt and nice shoes. Or provide a standard uniform that all of your servers are going to wear.
  • Bring down your prices; $17 – $36 dollars is a bit much for a burger. If I was paying $36, I’d be expecting to see a nice ribeye on my plate. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind paying for good food, as long as it meets expectations. But to spend $100 for 3 people with only one of them ordering a drink and an entrée ($121.90, with tax and tip) seems a bit much to me. High prices don’t make you a high-end restaurant.

I hope they succeed…I really do. We need more good restaurants on the west side. Overall rating: 3 stars. The food had good flavor, the service was okay, the ambiance was frenetic. But I’m sure they’ll adjust as they go along and it’ll become exactly what they were hoping for.