I guess it was back about January 2007 when Lynda and I were driving out to the Summit on Brownsboro Road, when we discovered that a new Costco and Red Robin restaurant had been built out there on the other side of the Gene Snyder Expressway opposite the Summit. While both companies were new to Louisville, I had patronized both during my trips out west in recent years, first encountering Red Robin in 2000 — they’ve actually been flipping burgers as Red Robin since 1969, having started as Sam’s Tavern near the campus of the University of Washington in 1943. More recently, a new Red Robin has opened adjacent to the food court (with an outside entrance) at Mall St. Matthews on Shelbyville Road. This review applies to both restaurants more or less, with the emphasis on our recent visit to the newer location.
Red Robin’s biggest selling-point is — as their name suggests — that they serve a pretty good hamburger dressed in what they would like to think is a “gourmet-style”. I am not sure you can legitimately call any hamburger, no matter how dressed-up, as even approaching gourmet fare, but I do concede that the ones I have had at Red Robin have been “different” and quite tasty. It doesn’t hurt their cause that they serve “bottomless” orders of fairly decent steak fries with each burger, or if you order one of the four sandwiches off the “Insanely Delicious” section, you get the better garlic-parmesan steak fries. As befits their origin as a tavern all those years ago, there is a full bar on the premises.
Last Saturday, while driving around trying to decide on an Italian restaurant to dine at, we wound up at the newest Red Robin at Mall St. Matthews. Don’t ask me how that happened, but we often go out to partake of one cuisine and wind up someplace totally different and neither of us has a clue how we wind up where we do. Life in a Serendip I guess.
We were led to our table in a noisy dining room near the kitchen, but well back from the full bar that is partially screened off from the rest of the restaurant in an area up by the front windows. Our server (his name tag said “Cam” but the ticket said something else…) was still a little bit green, but did his best to be helpful in answering our questions and being as attentive as he could, considering how busy the restaurant was during our visit. I got my usual diet Coke and Lynda order a Freckled Lemonade ($3.99) which is fresh strawberries in Minute Maid Lemonade (you can order it with Minute Maid Light Light Lemonade if you are watching calories or your sugar intake), served in a strangely twisted glass. According to their TV ads, the Freckled Lemonade is a bottomless drink and at that price it should be, but I can’t remember if Lynda has ever asked for a refill. After a short perusal of the menu, I settled on the Sicilian Burger ($9.29) and Lynda opted for the Santa Fe Burger ($9.79).
My Sicilian Burger was served on an herbed focaccia bun and was topped with pepperoni slices (not many, but you knew they were there), Provolone cheese, balsamic-marinated tomatoes, red onions, Romaine lettuce and an olive-herb mayonnaise. The tomatoes and the mayonnaise really made the burger, imparting a flavor that best be said to hint at an Italian dish of mild spiciness that still allowed the taste of really good beef to come through. The pepperonis and focaccia bun kind of made me think of a Sicilian pizza as I was eating it and as our server had suggested that I might try it with a little warm marinara sauce on the side, that added to the pizza imagery and also made a good dip for the steak fries. I know, dipping my fries, how gauche, and in a “gourmet” burger joint at that. The server and I had also exchanged a little pleasant banter over the way I wanted the burger cooked (some pink or no pink) and I told him “no pink, I want it good and dead” and “not dried up into a hockey puck” and he laughingly assured me that it would come as I wished. Indeed, it came without the thick carbon crust I sometimes get when I order it “good and dead” and was still very juicy inside, which give lie to all those servers who insist it can’t be done. I was very happy with it and though we didn’t wind up at an Italian restaurant as we had intended, I at least had an Italian-tasting burger.
Lynda’s Santa Fe Burger was as you might have guessed, a Southwestern-inspired burger. It came served up on an onion bun with a liberal dab of Ancho mayonnaise and topped with roasted Poblano pepper, guacamole, sautéed onions, tortilla strips, lettuce and pepper-jack cheese. She had ordered hers with some pink and that is the way she got it. Her overall assessment was that not a thing wrong with it and it was quite flavorful and not overly spicy.
A couple of the other burgers I have tried on earlier visits really warrant a mention here. The original Red Robin Gourmet Cheeseburger ($8.79) is probably one of the best plain-jane (dressed with lettuce, tomato, pickle, onions, mayonnaise and pickle relish) cheeseburgers I have had anywhere and your choices for the cheese (Cheddar, American, Swiss, Monterey Jack, Bleu, Provolone or Pepper-Jack) is wider than you get at most places. The Chili Chili Cheeseburger is a burger in name only, as it is an open-face sandwich that requires a knife and fork to eat. You get a patty on a bun with chipotle mayonnaise, Cheddar cheese, diced red onion and then just absolutely smothered with Red’s Homemade Chili Chili, which according to their menu, is made with ground beef, red kidney beans, poblano and chipotle peppers and plenty of seasonings. This seems to be my step-daughter’s favorite, as I can’t remember her ordering anything else, but I found it just a bit on the salty side and I usually need an industrial-strength Tums™ chaser if I eat it.
We have never had room for dessert, but on this last visit we were at least tempted by a Mountain High Mudd Pie ($5.99) that was served at the table next to ours. It is an unusual looking concoction made with chocolate and vanilla ice cream, with peanut butter cookie bits, chopped peanuts, fudge and peanut butter in a chocolate cookie crust. All of this is topped with whipped cream, more chopped peanuts and crowned on its heights with a cherry. Looks very good and we will have to go in sometime and only order it by itself and then not eat anything else for a week.
If Lynda and I were only judging Red Robin on their food, we would probably give them a 9 or a 10, depending on what we had ordered, but no restaurant can only be judged on its food. We have to take off a couple points because the place can get quite noisy with entirely too many kids running wild (this is more a problem with the general decline in parenting skills and not really the restaurants fault, but there it is) and the staff tends to come flying out of the kitchen with overloaded trays carried over the customer’s heads. My fear of having full tray dumped on us runs somewhat higher at the Prospect location, but having had hot spinach dip dumped on me at what will remain an unnamed steakhouse on the Indiana riverfront, I still cringe when I see a fast approaching tray held high. Still, if you are looking for a different take on a hamburger, give them a shot.
8 stars out of 10.9870 Von Allman Court
5000 Shelbyville Road