Today I had a burger epiphany. At the suggestion of my good friend Nancy, I agreed to meet her for lunch at Michael Symon's B Spot restaurant at 11 AM for lunch. Chef Symon, an always interesting and sometimes oddly polarizing character to some in the Cleveland community, happened to be in the restaurant checking in to make sure everything was running smoothly. I had met him once before at his Tremont restaurant Lolita when I attended a small dinner party set out to taste a new menu that was being debuted. For those who have heard it in person or on the Food Network show Iron Chef America, once you've heard his quite distinctive laugh, you can tell that he is in the house long before you see him. Today, as I arrived at B Spot about ten minutes before opening, I heard that laugh. Love him or hate him, that laugh always seems to elicit smiles from those who hear it.
Nancy arrived precisely at 11 AM and as we approached the front door to the newly opened B Spot restaurant from within Eton Place, we were actually greeted by Michael. Since we were literally the first two to arrive today, Michael spent about ten minutes chatting it up with us. The chef let us in on a little secret: As much as people kvetch and complain that menus don't have enough healthy options on them, what people really want when they go out to eat is food that is comforting and tastes good. Apparently the Bar Symon menu recently got a revamp to remove the salad entrees. It turns out that what people say they want and what people actually order can be two very different things. In an entire month, only seventeen salad entrees had been sold. Seventeen! Meanwhile, the fried chicken and several other items perceived as less healthy sold like hotcakes. With such lousy turnover of an entire class of menu items, I can completely understand Michael's decision.
As we finished up our small talk, I then had the opportunity to experience a distinct pleasure which had never happened to me before. Chef Symon asked us if we preferred a booth or the bar, grabbed two menus, and actually sat us at our table. Honestly, gentle reader, I think I might have been a little more star struck if that lilting laugh of his didn't snap me back into reality. As much as I admire what he has done at his myriad of restaurants in Cleveland and Detroit, I realize that he still puts his pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us. And while any of his restaurants can have an off night (every restaurant does), I've never experienced a bad meal at any Symon restaurant. Today would be no different.
When Nancy and I first started looking through the menu, I saw an item that I had been anxious to try out since I had heard about it, the vanilla bean apple pie bacon shake. We decided to get our version today without the extra shot of bourbon. At $5 for the basic shake, it wasn't the cheapest milkshake out there in Cleveland, but after splitting the rather sizable shake with Nancy, the price was more than reasonable.
Here was a shot of the milkshake in the original metal cup:
And a close-up of the milkshake:
Our server was kind enough to bring us two glasses, two spoons, and two straws so we could each have a more than ample serving:
Until this point, my favorite place for excellent milkshakes has been Tommy's on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights. After tasting this milkshake, I have to give B Spot credit and say that they give Tommy's a run for their money. Michael stopped by our table after our milkshake arrived and confessed that even though they make the ice cream at his other restaurants, because of the sheer quantity of milkshakes they sell every week, they source their vanilla bean ice cream from another local Cleveland business, Mitchell's Homemade Ice Cream. However, once B Spot receives the ice cream, they add that Michael Symon spin to it by adding apple pie and cooked bacon to the mix. Nancy wasn't the milkshake addict that I am, but we both went gaga for this concoction. Smooth, creamy, cold, sweet and just a tiny bit salty, you could taste every flavor so distinctly. There were tiny bits of crust, apple, and bacon strewn throughout the entire glass. It was a milkshake you could enjoy first as a cool creamy treat and then as little pops of flavor as you chewed the bits leftover after the ice cream melted.
I knew that I was going to be getting a burger; that was a given. But since I had ordered a basic bacon cheeseburger the last time I came, I decided to try one of the already dressed burgers that was on the menu. Looking at my options, I picked the Red Hot burger. Having had that burger before, Nancy enthusiastically agreed with my choice. Here was a shot of my burger when it arrived at our table:
Along with the ground on-site cooked perfectly medium beef patty I had ordered, the Red Hot was topped with pulled pork, pickled tomatoes, pickled banana pepper rings, pickled jalapenos, Pepperjack cheese and sriracha mayonnaise. Here was a shot of the interior of the burger:
After cutting my burger in half, I wondered how I was ever going to be able to get my mouth around it; I managed. For those out there who might be worried that this burger packed too much spice, I am here to ease your apprehension. The spice level was perfect, enough to perk up your taste buds, but not so hot as to cause any even remotely long-lasting pain or discomfort. This was a really incredibly good burger. Every single component on this burger, from the bun to the meat to the toppings, all came out perfectly. Between the burger and the pulled pork, juice was literally dripping down my hands and back onto my plate. The seasoning was absolutely spot on. I have written before that I thought that the Ohio Beef Burger at The Greenhouse Tavern was my all-time favorite burger, but this ... well, this threw a huge wrench in that plan. While my previous bacon cheeseburger at B Spot had been really good, this was as soul satisfyingly good as the Ohio Beef Burger.
I must also mention the bun on which the burger was served. While I didn't find the previous version to be all that particularly offensive, apparently enough people complained that the heel of the bun got too soggy too quickly that Michael responded and replaced it with a sturdier version. Today's bun was definitely up to the task and besides having a wonderful crust and crumb, it also had a lovely "eggy" smell to it.
Since I had already tried several of the sides during my previous visit, Nancy suggested we split one of the bratwurst sandwiches. We looked over the list and picked the Chili and Cheese Brat. Here was a shot of the entire sandwich:
And my half:
Composed of a grilled bratwurst served with a beanless chili and lots of shredded cheddar cheese on a hoagy roll, it turned out to be a surprisingly messy sandwich to eat. Sadly, the hoagy roll didn't stand up very well to the wetness of the chili and by the time we got around to eating this, it had turned to mush in several key locations and more or less fell apart by the time I finished it. I have a feeling that now that the hamburger bun issue has been fixed, it might be time to turn the attention to finding a suitable replacement for the hoagy bun, too. The flavor of the sandwich, however, was quite good. The chili was nicely seasoned with just a tiny bit of spice and the amount of melted cheddar cheese added a nice creaminess to every bite. To be honest, the brat didn't bowl me over like the burger did, but given that my normal preference is for a good burger over a good brat, I wasn't too disappointed.
When it came time to ask for the check, our server informed us that before Michael had left B Spot (he was only there for the opening of the restaurant today before he had to leave), he told the server to comp our meal. This was only the second time I've ever been completely comped at the end of the meal (as opposed to knowing the meal was comped going into it, such as here) and the first one since I started writing this blog back in 2008. While it is tempting to think that this generous gesture is something that happens all of the time, the reality is that it isn't. Nor is it expected. Nancy and I quickly added up what we thought the total check had come to and left an appropriate tip for the excellent service we had received today from our server.
With today's Red Hot burger, B Spot has just shot itself up into a tie for first place with The Greenhouse Tavern as my all-time favorite burger. The fact that we had an incredibly interesting and delicious milkshake and a pretty decent bratwurst sandwich made today's lunch noteworthy. When we arrived today at 11 AM, the place was pretty empty during its first hour. By the time we left at noon, there was only a slight wait to get a table. Compared to showing up at 6:30 PM and having an hour wait, this was an excellent way to have my cake and eat it, too. I suggest that if you don't like waiting for a table, showing up for lunch sometime between 11 AM and noon is the way to go. Finally, if you couldn't already tell by my school girl-like gushing, B Spot is highly recommended.