This is one of those post-meal scribbles that makes me scratch my head. Mind you, this has nothing to do with the topic at hand. Instead, I’m wondering how it is possible that all these restaurants keep opening when heavyweights like The Dining Room and corporate backed endeavors like the ESPN Zone are shutting their doors faster than you can say “cheeseburger, cheeseburger.”
Who knows what this means for Fuze Burger, which opened its doors this past week. All that aside, for me it’s about the food. Early in, I’m not sure that the food at Fuze is good enough to draw customers from outside the Midtown adjunct of Poncey-Highlands. Right now, they need to pick things up a bit just to draw people from the ‘hood. Before we get our hands dirty, I must apologize for the poor pictures, I’m not very savory, and I was never spoon-fed.
Located in the Camden Midtown building, Fuze is a new venture from owner Eddie Hugh. To make way for his burger pad, Hugh shutdown and remodeled the space housing his previous endeavor, Thai Palate. While there are a few hints of what was, the space has been heavily reworked. Gone is the small bar and the separate dining room; in their stead, you’ll find a long counter lining the back wall, roughly fifteen tables, and a little tube-lit lounge section off to the left-hand side. You’ll see the walls awash in a deep red joined by swirly whites. Meanwhile, they utilize the über cool music website Pandora (a must for those of you music fans) to provide the “dunga-dunga-dunga.” Given what they are trying to do, I’d say they did a pretty good job.
In a number of ways, Fuze seems to be loosely modeled on Flip. While the space isn’t quite as nice, and the color palette not as simple [Flip is a nearly all-white affair], the menu loosely hints at the gastro artistry coming out of burger boutique. There are sixteen burgers options in all, most hovering around $7, and a third of them utilize non-beef proteins. In addition to the bun and patties, there are six (mostly) traditional sides and a trio of appetizers listed as eats. The one unexpected side being the “green” fries, aka tempura flaked string beans.
If my samplings to date are any indication of the whole experience, then the intriguing list of ingredients sounds a lot better on paper than they look on your plate. You’ll find angus beef options like the Mexicana (cheddar, guacamole, sour cream, and jalapeños), the Works (cheese, fried egg, bacon, guacamole), and the eponymous Fuze (angus w. pulled chicken flavored with Asian spices). The specialty burgers are marked by everything from a salmon burger (w. wasabi lime sauce) to a lamb (ground lamb, ginger wine sauce, tomato tar-tar [sic], & dill). All the patties are roughly 7 oz. and cooked “medium-well,” regardless if you plead with them not to kill your beef a second time. The quotations were intentional, as you’ll see in a second.
Split over two meals, I have sampled the aforementioned Mexicana and a modified cheddar burger. Both were heavily flawed, but each came with a smile and a hospitable attitude. Described as medium-well, both burgers were cooked way beyond the point of cruelty. The cheddar cheese on the Mexicana tasted and looked more like canned Nacho cheese than anything else. The sour cream seemed almost non-existent, the jalapeños were hidden deep inside, and the guacamole was a creamy mixture built by your favorite local mass-supplier.
I ended up modifying the cheddar burger, albeit just slightly. Instead of cheddar cheese, I requested American on my patty. I also held the mushrooms and focused on the L+T, the sautéed onions, and the bacon. My car was being washed, so I took the burger to-go. It was unboxed inside of 5-minutes later and the results are on display above. Once again, the meat was beyond dead and robbed of any remnants of flavor. Just as before, the bun was a mediocre example that left little to the imagination. The rest was just plain Jane. Bites were tough, and that made me a sad panda.
It’s clear that the fat content of the meat is insufficient to withstand the extreme cooking times (and probably temperature). By comparison, the burgers at Grindhouse, though a little too wet for culinary bliss, were more inline with the medium-well temperature and much juicier. Given the choice, I’d rather have them too wet than too dry.
My side to-go was the tots. These were basic Ore-Ridas that had been over salted. ‘Nuff said. With my Mexicana, I took down and order of the “green” fries. Sprinkled with tempura batter, they were cooked perfectly and very very appetizing. I gladly downed my order, which came with a side of curry mayo. The sauces flavors were pulled from the restaurants Thai roots and are worth an order (even at a $2.00 surcharge).
All this brings me to the true frustrations of my visits to Fuze. The string beans came out a good four-minutes before the burger That was unnerving but understandable for a restaurant still working out its kinks. Meanwhile, the surcharge of $2.00 was baffling. A low cost side is included with a burger order, but the difference on the menu between the basic sides and the upgrades is at most $1.00 … so why the $2.00 surcharge? This pricing pooch screw also reared its ugly head with my modified cheddar burger. Despite holding the ‘shrooms, I saw an additional $.40 charge for the change of cheese. I got no problem with charging a customer to add queso, but to charge them when they simply swap it out is beyond stupid. Being nickel and dimed, even for $.40, is not good.
The chef is a hold-over from Thai Palate, though his name is a mystery to me. I’m not one of those people that believes Japanese people have to make sushi or Southerners have to cook your barbecue, so that’s not a bother. What is a bother is the inability to come even close to the described cooking temperature. The overcooking seems the logical impetus behind the near 15-minute wait for every burger that I have seen come out of the place.
Foodie-centric necessities like grass-fed proteins and farm fresh ingredients are nowhere to be found, and that’s just fine. They aren’t necessary to run a successful restaurant. However, using cheap produce and ingredients will certainly hamper your ability to stick around. The price point is reasonable, and there is clearly a group of hard working and caring people behind Fuze. Simple adjustments will go along way here. Hopefully, the sourcing will improve, the cooking time will get adjusted, and we’ll all be better for it.