My wife and I went to the new location of Ross' Restaurant along Falcon Ave. in Bettendorf one Sunday evening last fall. As we were leaving, we were going around a curve and noticed a building off to the side that appeared to be some sort of a restaurant that we didn't know was there. We pulled into the parking lot and while there were people in the building, it was clearly closed. We could see beer taps in the front window and wondered what the place was going to be. A couple of weeks later, we found that it was going to be an upscale burger and beer joint by the name of Central Standard. Not long after they opened, word got out through friends on social media that the place was pretty good. We broke our cardinal rule of never visiting a new restaurant within 90 days of it opening and tried to get in to Central Standard in the early afternoon of New Year's Eve day. The place was packed and there was at least a 30 minute wait. We decided against going on that particular day and to just let things settle down for a few weeks more before we made our way back out to Central Standard on a Saturday afternoon.
The people behind Central Standard are the same people who run Crust Pizza in Bettendorf (click here to see Road Tips' entry on Crust Pizza). Mark Roemer is a long-time restaurateur who opened Crust in 2011 after owning other bars and restaurants in the area. In March of 2014, Roemer bought the upscale Red Crow Grille across 53rd Ave. from Crust and gave it a much needed face lift. (Roemer subsequently sold the Red Crow Grille to Aman Razden who turned it into Hemispheres Bistro last year.)
Roemer partnered with Dominic Rivera - who was the former executive chef at Red Crow Grille during its hey-day about 15 years ago - to open Central Standard last December. After leaving Red Crow, Rivera tried his hand at running his own restaurant - Five, an upscale restaurant in downtown Moline - but it couldn't sustain appreciable business and closed about a year and a half after it opened. Rivera, who studied culinary arts in Florida after realizing in his early-20's that he had a flair for cooking, then went to work for the food management group at Aramark before teaming up with Roemer to open Central Standard.
Central Standard is the anchor spot in a small strip mall developed by Roemer just south of 53rd Ave. in Bettendorf. (see map) When they were open the first few weeks, it was evident that parking was going to be a problem as the lot was seemingly always full because of Central Standard and there weren't any other businesses open yet in the other spots. Cars have had to park up and down Falcon Ave. when the lot for Central Standard gets full on evenings and weekends.
On our second try to get into Central Standard, we were able to get in right away. We were seated in a booth along the wall and had a nice view of the open dining area and back into the open grill area. Our server that particular day was Blake who came over to greet us and take our drink orders. It was still before noon and a bloody mary sounded pretty good. It turned out that they had a make-your-own bloody mary bar that day (available on Saturday and Sunday).
The bar area is part of the dining area. It features a number of craft beers on tap including beers from the Stone Brewery in San Diego, Exile Brewing from Des Moines, and Bell's Brewery from Kalamazoo, MI. Standard Burger also has a number of specialty cocktails available. Three large flat screen televisions hang on the wall above the back bar and they're always tuned on to sports, as are the other flat screens that hang around the dining area making it sort of an upscale sports bar.
The kitchen area in the back of the restaurant was a beehive of activity. There was a prep kitchen behind the grill area, but most of the work was being done out in the open. They flat-grill the burgers at Central Standard, a technique that I like much more than a charbroiled burger.
The menu at Central Standard is not large, which - to me - is good and bad. They have 10 burgers on the menu including a turkey burger. But they don't give the customer the ability to customize a burger. All the burgers are made as is, meaning you can't deviate from the burger on the menu. You can add bacon, a fried egg or another burger patty to the burgers, but you can't just order up a gruyere cheese, sautéed mushrooms and bacon burger. They also have a pastrami sandwich on the menu for people who don't want a burger, as well as a grilled chicken sandwich, a pulled pork sandwich, and a lobster grilled cheese sandwich served on sourdough bread. Actually, the lobster grilled cheese sandwich caught Cindy's eye.
For my first burger at Central Standard I got the Standard burger with bacon. It was topped with gruyere cheese, caramelized onions and a rosemary mayo spread. All the burgers at Central Standard come with double patties and are served on a soft and buttery artisan bun. I got a small basket of fries to go along with the burger.
As you can see from the picture above left, the "bacon" that I got for a $2 buck upcharge consisted of two small pieces that put together probably wouldn't have added up to one piece of bacon. I felt cheated on that, but wasn't going to complain. They supposedly smoke their bacon in-house at Central Standard and the bacon was flavorful and crispy.
There were two problems with my Standard burger - there were too many caramelized onions on the burger. I like the taste of caramelized onions, but there were just too many on the burger overpowering the overall taste of the burger. Plus, while I like caramelized onions, my stomach usually does not. I was burping onions for hours after I finished the burger.
The second problem was that there was too much of the rosemary mayo on the bun. That, too, was an overpowering taste and I think it was a detriment to the overall taste. While it was still a good burger, I would have cut back on the onions and the rosemary mayo had I known it was going to be too much.
Cindy went with the Blue burger - it was topped with Hook's blue cheese out of Barneveld, WI, bacon, caramelized onions and a malbec mustard. She wanted to try the onion rings and she was overwhelmed when the onion rings were brought to the table. It was a huge metal basket full of thick cut, beer-battered and Cajun-seasoned onion rings.
The onion rings were completely over-seasoned with the Cajun seasoning. Now, I like spicy Cajun seasonings, but if they would have backed down on the Cajun seasoning - or eliminated it all together - these would have been outstanding onion rings. The Cajun seasoning tasted like it was nothing more than Tone's Cajun seasoning. That was sort of a downer because the onion rings had a lot of potential. They were so thick you had to eat them with a knife and fork.
The fries were handcut and they were all right - nothing special. I liked the fries fine, but they weren't a highlight.
For our first visit, we really didn't know what to expect. We walked in at 11:40 a.m. and we were hoping to go watch our neighbor's daughter play basketball at 1 p.m. We figured we'd be in and out in 30 to 35 minutes, tops. The service was so slow for whatever reason on that visit that we didn't get out of Central Standard until 12:50 p.m. - an hour and ten minutes after we arrived and were seated. It would take well over 5 minutes to get drinks from the bar and it was a good 25 minutes from the time we ordered our food until it was served. And the bill was what I would call astronomical for a burger joint, even an upscale burger joint.
Undeterred, we've been back to Central Standard a handful of times since then. Sometimes, we've been told it would be 20 to 30 minutes to get a seat, but within five minutes we've been seated. Service times have gotten much better and they seem to be settling in to a routine. I've noticed Dominic Rivera in there each time we've been there, checking on customers and making sure things are running smoothly.
We've also had different burgers - I've had the B.B.L.T. burger with bacon, roasted tomatoes, lettuce and a spicy sauce, and the Sunnyside Up burger with smoked gouda cheese, proscuitto, a fried egg served sunnyside up, and a truffle aioli. But for all the eclectic burgers they have on the menu, the one I like the most is the basic C.S. burger topped with American cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion. Without all the taste-overpowering toppings found on the other burgers, the minimalist toppings allows the wonderful flavor of the flat-grilled burger to shine through, especially when it's served on those great buns.
We're certain that Central Standard is going to succeed. And I'm sure they'll evolve as time goes on. They'll add some burgers, change up some others. Crowds have been good in there, but that also makes it for a loud environment in the open space. It's expensive - we haven't gotten out of there for anything less than $45 bucks on our visits over the past few weeks. It's a little tough on the wallet so we can't go there on a regular basis. The service has gotten a lot better and we think our first visit - within 45 days of their opening, well under our 90 day opening rule - was an anomaly in regard to service times. Even for all the bitching I've done in this blog post, Central Standard has been a nice addition to our rotation of restaurants we like to go to in the Quad Cities.