Zombie Burger is a fairly new (opened August 31, 2011) burger joint in the e300 building on E. Grand in Des Moines' historic East Village entertainment, shopping and restaurant district, near the state capitol building (see map). Their style of making a burger is similar to a growing number of places that smash the burger patty onto a flat iron grill causing the juices to char the outside of the burger. For years, that went against every fiber of burger cooking in my body. However, I've rapidly warmed up to this style of cooking a burger and I was interested in giving it a try. A good friend, Denny Duncan, was telling me about the place and I was able to stop into Zombie Burger for lunch during a recent trip to Des Moines.
Zombie Burger is the brainchild of chef/restaurateur George Formaro, a Des Moines native and the owner and head chef at restaurants such as Centro, Django, South Union Bakery (and the South Union Bread Cafe) and Gateway Market and Cafe. Formaro took his love of zombie horror movies - something that is big with the 14 to 35 age demographic group these days - and turned it into a pop-culture themed burger restaurant.
The contemporary industrial design of the restaurant is interspersed with individual and mural paintings of zombies. Large windows allow a large amount of natural light to come in, with contemporary lighting filling in when the sun goes down. One would think a theme restaurant featuring zombies would be sort of drab and dreary, but it was far from that.
It was around 2 p.m. when I made it into Zombie Burger. There is parking on the east side of the e300 building - it's angled, back-in only, a new parking concept that I had never seen before. I'm guessing that it's that way for easier traffic management - not that there's a lot of traffic that I could see on that side street. There's two entrances to Zombie Burger - the southeast corner entrance takes you into a carry-out only/overflow area (below left) where you can order your burgers to go, or pick up orders that were phoned ahead. The main dining room is on the other side of the building and you walk through outside seating to get to that entrance. I was greeted by a guy just inside the door and he asked me if I wanted to sit at the bar. Sure, that works fine with me.
The back bar area featured a full variety of liquor and main-stream and micro-brewed beers. Zombie memorabilia was placed on top of the liquor cabinets. A menu that was fashioned to be a Zombie-style newspaper, complete with fictionalized stories about zombies, was in front of me on the bar when I sat down. They had Bell's Two Hearted India pale ale on tap and I got that as I perused the offerings.
All the burgers have a zombie theme name to them. They ranged from the basic Zombie burger - cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and a homemade Zombie sauce, to the Undead Elvis - fried bananas, peanut butter, bacon, egg, mayo and cheese that pays homage to Elvis Presley's favorite food - a friend banana and peanut butter sandwich. (That just doesn't sound good to me.) They also had the Dead Moines burger - smoked gouda, fried prosciutto, ham and truffle mayo (that sounded better), and the Redneck Zombie with bologna pâté, pimento and American cheese, chicken fried bacon (ooo... that's interesting), and ranch dressing.
In addition to a myriad of different types of burgers on the menu, Zombie Burger also features a number of various styles of deep-fried hot dogs, appetizers that feature fried brussel sprouts (uh, no), fried pickles, Zombie nachos with shredded adobe pork, guacamole and cheddar cheese, and something interesting called fried buffalo bacon. They also had a number of different appetizers featuring French fries - cheese fries, chili cheese fries, VEGGIE chili cheese fries, bleu cheese and bacon fries, the list went on and on. The most interesting part of the fries appetizers was the Zombie poutine fries, a variation of the French-Canadian dish that features fries with cheese curds and gravy. I had poutine - once - a number of years ago and my arteries just recently softened enough for my blood to flow freely through my body.
Zombie Burger also caters to families as they also have a number of eclectic milkshakes including the Tallahassee - vanilla ice cream, a Twinkie and cherry Kool-Aid powder, as well as the Zombie Bride Wedding Cake Shake - vanilla ice cream with yellow cake mix. Hmm... Dunno about that.
You order your burger with either one, two or three patties, each are a quarter pound BEFORE cooking. That's a very important thing to consider when you're talking about smashed burgers - or bashed burgers, as they call them at Zombie Burger. I went with the T-Virus burger - a single - that featured Swiss cheese, a grilled portobello mushroom, topped with lettuce, tomato, onion and mayo. I got a side of their regular French fries to try, as well.
The burger came out in a basket with the fries and the presentation was very nice. The bun was lightly toasted, the burger patty was smashed enough that it was sticking out over the perimeter of the bottom bun, and the golden crips fries were ample in their number. I was ready to dig in.
The burger itself, was pretty damn good. The bun - which I'm guessing was made in Formaro's South Union Bakery - was spongy-soft and chewy. The only problem was that there was too much bun for the burger that I got. The premium beef patty was pretty thin and a double would have been much better. A single patty allowed the bun to overpower the burger, something that shouldn't happen in my book. But a second patty would have been the right combination to go with the very good bun.
The portobello mushroom was a wonderful topping to the burger. It had a great sauteed taste to it and went with the burger very well. Once again, it would have been even better if there was more meat on the burger. Next time - a double, that's for sure.
The fries were very crisp and very good. They weren't limp in any stretch of the word and had a nice crunchiness to them with each bite. They'd have to be that way if you're having them with cheese, chili, cheese curds and/or gravy.
I was impressed with Zombie Burger. Everything was very good about the place - the zombie-themed decor, the sense of humor the place had, and especially the good burger. I've already figured out the burger I'm getting on my next visit - the Dawn of the Dead that features an egg, bacon, cheese, red onion and mayo. And yes, it will be a double.