My colleague Todd did a good job of picking out restaurants in Las Vegas this year. One that we went to which was a complete surprise for me was a place that opened last March in the Shoppes at the Palazzo, next door to the Venetian - I ♥ Burgers. After a few hours of setting up displays at the Venetian and the Mirage for CES, we were ready for some dinner. We took the short walk across the way to the Palazzo and after some backtracking and searching, we found I ♥ Burgers.
I ♥ Burgers bills themselves as "a modern take on a classic American burger joint". Just as many gourmet burger places are popping up around Las Vegas, I ♥ Burgers tries to set itself apart from the others with homemade buns, in-house ground beef, bison and turkey, and having one of the largest selection of eclectic beers and drinks in Las Vegas. The restaurant is part of the Fine Concepts group, a group of restaurants and food concessions run by local entrepreneur Jeffrey Fine that also include a number of Jamba Juice locations and a handful of The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf franchises.
I ♥ Burgers executive chef and general manager Errol LeBlanc (pictured right) used to own the R.E. Tapas Kitchen in Las Vegas and has worked at such renown restaurants as the exquisite Aureole at Mandalay Bay, as well as stints at restaurants at the upscale Green Valley Ranch resort and at the heralded Les Artistes steakhouse in the Paris hotel in Vegas that closed up last summer. LeBlanc reportedly worked with 16 different types of bun recipes before settling on the one they use at I ♥ Burgers. They tried 50 different variations of potatoes before settling on a Yukon Gold potato for their French fries. And LeBlanc worked with different blends of beef - primarily steak and brisket - to come up with a consistency in his burgers.
Figuring that we'd be working pretty late getting the bulk of our product up on display, Todd had made the reservations at I ♥ Burgers for 8:30 p.m. However, our fearless leader, Daniel, decreed around 7 p.m. that he was hungry and we had made a significant dent in getting the displays up and running. He asked Todd to see if the restaurant could move the reservation up an hour. Todd called over and since it was a Sunday evening they didn't have any problem fitting us in.
I ♥ Burgers is sort of tough to find in the Shops at the Palazzo. It's up on the second level tucked back in a corner toward the northeast corner of the mall. We were seated at a long table and immediately given menus. The decor of I ♥ Burgers was interesting, the most prominent feature were these large contemporary art mushrooms that seemingly rose from the checkered floor toward the well-lit ceiling. It was a curious decor choice for a burger joint. The open kitchen was toward the back and a contemporary bar area with high chairs was toward the front of hte restaurant. The staff were casually dressed in t-shirts with broad "I ♥ Burgers" across the front. Except a couple of the guys had t-shirts that said "I ♥ Beer". I found out that those shirts were available for $15 bucks. But they were cut small and even their XXL shirts looked snug.
A beer menu was on the table and I immediately began to look through that. I ♥ Burgers had a boat load of eclectic beers to choose from including La Fin du Monde, a beer that I've had up in Montreal, Arrogant Bastard Ale from Stone Brewing Co. in California (Todd had one of those because I'd accused him of being an arrogant bastard earlier in the day), and beers from the Delirium brewery from Belgium. I found one of my all-time favorites on the menu, an Alaskan Amber from the Alaskan Brewery in Juneau, AK.
I ♥ Burgers also features a number of specialty drinks including a bloody mary that had Cajun pork rinds, or pork cracklins, in the concoction with applewood smoked bacon salt on the rim of the glass (didn't know there was such a thing as applewood smoked bacon salt), a number of interesting ice cream drinks including one that had butterscotch schnapps and vodka, and for the adventurous milk shake drinkers - the Blueberry Panshake. They take vanilla ice cream and blend it with pancake batter, blueberries and maple syrup. Man, you want to talk about a gut-bomb!
We were there for the burgers. While the burger menu wasn't deep - they really only had six different burgers to choose from - you can personalize your burger with a number of toppings (for an extra charge) including four different types of cheese, applewood smoked bacon, jalapenos, roasted green chiles, sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onions. A couple three of the burgers caught my eye.
The Oregon Trail burger featured lean ground bison meat with aged cheddar cheese, a variety of veggies, and roasted garlic aioli on a wheat bun. The Dante had toppings of American bleu cheese, caramelized onion and the roasted garlic aioli. And the I ♥ Bacon burger had applewood smoked bacon ground up with angus beef, then the patty was topped with strips of bacon, mayo with bacon bits, smoked gouda cheese, onion strings and served on I ♥ Burgers' homemade brioche bun. It all sounded good.
I ended up getting the Standard Burger - ground angus with lettuce, beefsteak tomato and red onion on top - then added a fried egg, pepperjack cheese and roasted green chiles. I didn't order fries, but some of the guys near me did. I ♥ Burgers has their regular Yukon Gold fries, as well as sweet potato fries and parmesan garlic fries. The parmesan garlic fries got my attention and there was enough of all three ordered that we all could enjoy the different styles of fries.
The burgers and fries came to the table and I was ready to eat. A hard fried egg was on top of my burger, which was topped with the pepperjack cheese. The only problem was that I couldn't find the roasted green chiles. I asked one of the ever present waitstaff got get the green chiles on the side and he protested that they had to be on the burger. I looked underneath the patty, then underneath the veggies and didn't find them. When he brought out a small side of the green chiles, I immediately realized that what I was seeing on the bottom bun were the green chiles. They were in roasted strips and not in chopped up fashion that I expected. I was sort of embarrassed.
The burger, itself, was good. The patty was lean, but not overcooked. The egg gave it a nice overall taste to the burger and the smokiness of the green chiles gave it a nice little after-bite on the taste buds. The brioche bun was light and moist, and didn't overpower the the burger. The lettuce and tomato were OK - I ended up taking them off halfway through the meal, and they only gave me about three or four small rings of red onion. But that was more than enough as they were very pungent.
The regular Yukon Gold fries were served in a basket with checkered wax paper, just like the burgers. They were a thin cut and crispy to the bite. They were good, but not overly outstanding. I tried some of the garlic/parmesan cheese fries and, they too, were good, but nothing to write home about. Actually, the best of the three types of fries we had at the table were the sweet potato fries. They had a nice crispiness on the outside and were light and flaky on the inside. They had a wonderful, rich taste to them. Rich, as in filling.
Todd got the Oregon Trail bison burger (below left), but had it topped with avocado and got a side of jalapenos. He said, "This is pretty good. I like the avocado taste. Very fresh." I tried some of the jalapenos on my burger and they were pretty mild. The roasted green chiles were better.
My colleague John was seated next to me on the other side and he got the Dante (above right). I almost got that as I wanted to try the combination of the bleu cheese and the garlic aioli. John said his burger was good, but that the bleu cheese overpowered the taste of the garlic aioli. I sort of wondered if it would.
Todd got thumbs up from all of us for picking I ♥ Burgers for our opening dinner at CES. The burgers were good, service was very good and the beer list was outstanding. It was a great night to relax and get everyone together, even though we'd all just been in Montreal about three weeks before. Still, we've got a great team that works hard and a boss that loves to see us all have a good time when we get together. And I ♥ Burgers was a very good time.