I'm always a little leery when I pick up a local restaurant guide and see a restaurant that is named "Best of" in a poll of local diners. To me, it usually means the restaurant has some sort of support organization that has the human resources to "stuff the ballot box". (Like Pizza Hut for "best pizza", or "best seafood" to Red Lobster.) So, I was a little intrigued by the "Best burger in Omaha" award that went to a one outlet burger joint - Burger Star - considering there area some excellent burger places in the Omaha area. On a trip to Omaha recently, I stopped in for lunch.
In doing research on the background of Burger Star, I found that even though it's a one location restaurant, it is under the vast restaurant management umbrella headed by Omahan Greg Cutchall - Cutchall Management Company. The company owns Sonic, Domino's Pizza, Rock Bottom Brewery and Famous Dave franchises in three states, as well as overseeing the franchise operations of Paradise Bakery Cafe locations in Texas, Utah and Nebraska, as well as Tin Star taco bar locations in the greater Dallas area. The company also has entered the "breast-taurant" business with Twin Peaks locations in Omaha and Des Moines complete with girls in "Daisy Duke" shorts and tight tops tied under the breasts. Like similar places such as Show Me's, Hooters, or Tilted Kilt, I'm guessing that you don't go to Twin Peaks because the food is outstanding. (As an aside, my entry on the Tilted Kilt location in Peoria, IL is one of the most read entries on this blog. Go figure...)
Cutchall Management Company took over an old Joey's Seafood location just off 72nd St., and just south of Pacific (see map) and opened Burger Star in 2008. The initial year was a little rough for Burger Star as they initially used a machine to stamp out 1/4 pound burgers that were then grilled. The public didn't go for the taste of the burgers initially, so Greg Cutchall replaced that burger making process with a 6 ounce, hand-pattied Angus beef 80-20 mix to make the burgers more juicy. Also, they were getting their buns daily from their sister restaurant, Paradise Cafe. But it was taxing the staff and infrastructure at Paradise Cafe, so they began to get their buns from Rotella Italian Bakery in Omaha. Things turned around for the restaurant after those little tweaks.
I walked into Burger Star around 1:30 on a weekday, just after the lunch hour rush. The place was about a quarter full of customers finishing up their lunches. A young lady greeted me as I was looking around at the rock and roll-themed decor and she said, "Is this your first visit to Burger Star?" I told her that it was and she gave me the skinny on ordering. She pointed to the menu board on the wall above and behind the counter and you had your choice of either a 6 oz "Burger Star" burger or a 12 oz "Rock Star" burger. (They also have grilled chicken at Burger Star, and, interestingly enough, they have tacos including grilled fish tacos.) After you choose the type of burger that you want, you get your choice of nearly 20 free toppings including all the regular stuff you'd get on a burger (ketchup, mustard, onions - grilled, fried or raw - pickles, lettuce, tomato, etc.) They also have mushrooms and jalapenos available for free. Some burger places will charge for mushrooms or jalapenos. For .75 cents each, you can add smoked bacon, a fried egg and cheese to the burger.
I was just going to get a basic 6 ounce burger and I added Swiss cheese, bacon, mushrooms, ketchup, mustard, raw onions and pickles. After the young lady took my order, she put the order on a clip suspended on a line above her and slid the ticket over to the kitchen. She asked me if I wanted any of their hand-cut French fries and I declined. Burger Star doesn't serve beer, so I just got a bottle of water to go along with my burger. She gave me a number and said, "Find yourself a seat, anywhere you like and we'll bring it out to you when it's done!"
She took the order she had written, put it on a clip that was attached to a metal zip line above her head, then literally threw it over to the kitchen. A cook grabbed the order and began the process of making my burger.
I took a seat in a booth near the fireplace that had a framed guitar above it which was autographed by the Rolling Stones. They had a number of rock and roll memorabilia on the walls throughout the place including a number of old concert posters (probably reproductions) and pictures of classic rock bands and musicians. Playing on a television in the corner and piped through the sound system of the place was a Michael Jackson concert from probably back in the 90's. To me, Burger Star reminded me of a stripped down Hard Rock Cafe.
After about 15 minutes or so, someone from the kitchen brought my burger out to me. It was served in a basket on a checkered sheet of wax paper. The burger was piled high with the toppings and condiments that I ordered with it and a toothpick held the top bun in place.
The burger patty was sort of a misshapen chunk of meat that was flat grilled and stuck out from the sides of the bun. I have to say that the burger certainly looked promising.
But the first bite told me something else. The burger was severely overcooked. It was dry and almost tough to chew and subsequently swallow. I'm guessing whoever was running the grill that day literally pressed all the juice out of the burger during the cooking process. This was not the taste or juiciness that you'd find in an 80-20 mix of ground beef to fat.
The bun was very good, however, and had the burger not had the life cooked out of it, it would have been a very good compliment to the beef. But even the soft and chewy Rotella bun couldn't save this burger. And that's too bad.
I suspect that the management group that owns Burger Star had a little bit to do with the place getting "Best Burger in Omaha" awards. I've had some excellent burgers in Omaha over the years - Stella's, Louie M's Burger Lust, Dinker's Bar (click on the links to see my entries on those places) - and the burger I had at Burger Star wasn't close to any of those places. I know I should give restaurants a second chance, and maybe I will with Burger Star. But their burgers should be consistently good that whether it's your first visit or your 100th, they're the same. I just have to say that I was disappointed in my burger at Burger Star.