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» Big Farm Burgers from Bob Evans
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Big Farm Burgers from Bob Evans

By • Jul 31st, 2011 • Category: Burger Blog

I’m an equal opportunity cheeseburger lover. I’ve had burgs from greasy spoon dives, sketchy food trucks, stadium concession stands, even the occasional convenience store freezer in the wee hours after a post-kegger party in college. And as I’ve said before, it’s possible to get a damn good burger from some unlikely places. But there are still places where uttering, “Burger, please,” is a dicey decision.

Bob Evans is perhaps best known as a sausage brand. Bob himself grew up in Ohio and started making sausage on his farm in the southeastern part of the state in 1948. By ’53, Bob Evans Farms was a full-fledged business, and by 1964, the recognizable “Steamboat Victorian” restaurants were popping up throughout Ohio. Evans died in 2007, but today, the company owns and operates nearly 600 full-service family restaurants in 18 states. And while the menu offers a little bit of just about everything to patrons, most of us think of Bob Evans as a breakfast place.

Now, I’ve had a decent burger at “breakfast places” before. I’ve even whipped up my own bacon-eggs-and-hash-browns cheebie at home that, while labor-intensive, was a wicked-good wake up call for drowsy taste buds. But when I pulled the family minivan into a Bob Evans in Bowling Green, Kentucky during a recent road trip, I wasn’t thinking burger.

Damn marketing propaganda. Sitting there at 2:30 in the afternoon, waiting to be seated, the airbrushed-and-Photoshopped full-color Big Farm Burgers on the promotional banner next to the hostess stand swayed me from my original plan of biscuits and gravy, an omelet, or country-fried steak. Of the five Big Farm Burgers on the menu, I went with The Smokehouse.

Stacked to the rafters with Monterey-Jack cheese, Memphis spice-rubbed bacon, green leaf lettuce, tomato and crispy onion petals. Finished with our Spicy Chipotle sauce.” That’s how it’s described. Upon delivery, I had to admit I’ve seen much worse. Maybe this would turn out okay after all. I did a little disassembly to check out the ingredients in more detail.

I’m not a fan of fried onions on burgers. Raw, grilled, or caramelized onion slices are usually a good topping choice. But in ring, straw, tangler, or petal form, it almost never works well and usually ends up being a distraction.

The beef itself looked awful. That may technically be “a half-pound of juicy 100% Black Angus, seasoned to perfection with our signature spice blend,” but it reminded me of the most right-from-the-industrial-grade-freezer patty imaginable. Flat, tough, grey, and dry, this was the kind of boring burger patty you’d expect from a hospital cafeteria or elementary school lunch line.

That “Spicy Chipotle” sauce they promised was hard to find, so forget about it justifying the capital-letter treatment on the menu. There was the faintest smear of red-orange on the inside of the top bun, but it added no discernible taste to the overall burger experience.

Despite those strikes, though, there were some plusses. The “wheat-dusted brioche bun” was quite good, although the bottom half disappeared with three whole bites left to the burger. The toppings were all tasty, with a thick blanket of Monterey Jack cheese and excellent bacon. I’m not sure the “Memphis spice-rubbed” bit made much of an impression, but you’d certainly expect a “breakfast place” to be able to get its bacon right, and Bob Evans does. Even the onion petals brought an interesting flair to the party, although I suspect that it merely stood in for the M.I.A. taste of beef.

In sum, it’s a shame that for a brand built on the back of a damn fine sausage patty, Bob Evans can’t handle one made of beef.

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