I've seen Red Robin Gourmet Burger restaurants in my various travels, but I've never tried one. This last summer, they opened a new Red Robin Gourmet Burgers restaurant here in Davenport and we recently went to check the place out.
Red Robin's history is sort of interesting. The original Red Robin was nothing more than a tavern that was opened in the early 1940's near the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Originally called "Sam's Tavern", the name was eventually change to "Sam's Red Robin" as the owner, Sam, sang in a barbershop quartet and his favorite song to sing was "When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin' Along".
In 1969, Sam was no longer the owner and the new owner changed the name to simply Red Robin. By the early 70's, Red Robin began to serve the first of their signature "gourmet hamburgers", including the Royal Red Robin, basically a cheeseburger topped with a fried egg.
Two brothers, Mike and Steve Snyder, used to frequent the Red Robin during their years at the University of Washington and in 1979 they received permission to open a Red Robin in their hometown of Yakima, WA. Over the years, the Snyder's became the largest Red Robin franchisees.
in 2000, Red Robin's overall operations eventually merged with the Snyder Group with Mike Snyder as the CEO. However, Snyder was forced out as CEO in August of 2005 for irregularities of travel expenditures. Basically, he was using the company jet for personal travel without re-imbursing the company.
There are now over 350 Red Robin locations in 39 states and two Canadian provinces. Red Robins bill themselves as "America's Gourmet Burgers and Spirits" as they feature 22 different types of burgers and a number of specialty drinks. The cater to more of a younger crowd - primarily those in their 20's and 30's - but they also market their image as being very family friendly.
Well after the prerequisite three months that Cindy and I wait to try out a new restaurant, we decided to have a burger at Red Robin one evening. The decor at the Davenport location is colorful and art deco-ish, similar to other newer Red Robin's around the country.
We were seated in a booth and our waitress came by to fill us in on what Red Robin is all about. She talked about their gourmet burgers, their "bottomless" steak fries, and their specialty drinks they serve. She gave us a few minutes to go through the menu.
The burger variations were interesting. They included the 5 Alarm Burger with jalapenos, pepper jack cheese and smoky chipotle mayo; the Banzai burger that is marinated in teriyaki and served with a pineapple on top; and a Pot Roast burger that really isn't a burger but more of a hot beef sandwich with gravy, onions and carrots served open faced.
They also had a number of chicken sandwiches that they called "Chicken Burgers", but they were nothing more than grilled chicken breast sandwiches.
Our waitress came back and Cindy went with the Bleu Ribbon burger (left) - a burger topped with deep fried onions straws and a bleu cheese spread. It looked yummy from the description.
Given that I learned my lesson from my first visit to Kopp's, I went with the very basic Gourmet cheeseburger (right) - a hamburger patty topped with your choice of five different cheeses and veggies. I went with the pepper jack cheese.
Of course, when they brought out the burgers, they didn't look anything close to the ones in the pictures.
With the burger, they bring out a big basket of steak fries that they sprinkle with an in-house seasoning that is mainly salt and more salt. Actually, they also throw some black pepper and chili powder in there, too. And if you can't get enough of the taste of the seasoning on the fries, they have a big container of it on the table.
They also put the seasoning on the burgers, making them extremely salty. And on Cindy's Bleu Ribbon burger, they not only seasoned the burger, they seasoned the fried onion rings they put on top. Cindy took a couple of bites and declared it was too salty. Now Cindy is the salt eater in the family (I rarely salt anything) and if she said it was too salty, it's WAY too salty. I took a bite of hers and it was nearly inedible there was so much salt. She ended up pushing the onions off the burger and tried to finish it that way. She couldn't.
My burger was OK, nothing special. The seasoning detracted from the taste of the meat, which, to me, is wrong. Seasonings should enhance the flavor of the meat, not detract from it.
The bill with a couple of sodas came to a little over $21.00. I thought it was vastly expensive for what it was. And the taste of their burgers and fries were way too salty for me.
As Cindy said as we left, "I won't have to come back here any time soon..."
(Update March 2010 - And we haven't been back. To ANY Red Robin...)