Friday, April 16, 2010

Fresh Perspective At Louie's Bar and Grille

From one of my favorite foodie movies, Ratatouille:

Mustafa: Do you know what you'd like this evening, sir?
Anton Ego: Yes, I think I do. After reading a lot of overheated puffery about your new cook, you know what I'm craving? A little perspective. That's it. I'd like some fresh, clear, well seasoned perspective. Can you suggest a good wine to go with that?
Mustafa: With what, sir?
Anton Ego: Perspective. Fresh out, I take it?
Mustafa: I am, uh...
Anton Ego: Very well. Since you're all out of perspective and no one else seems to have it in this BLOODY TOWN, I'll make you a deal. You provide the food, I'll provide the perspective, which would go nicely with a bottle of Cheval Blanc 1947.

Fortunately, no bottles of Cheval Blanc, regardless of their vintage, were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

One of the surest ways to generate lots of comment and emails is to say that such - and - such - a - place has the best fill-in-the-blank sandwich. In this particular case, the fill-in-the-blank sandwich happens to be a hamburger. And I've discovered that people feel quite passionately about who has the best hamburger. Through suggestions from my readers as well as keeping track of the latest burger joint openings, I feel much more well-rounded now than before I started writing a food blog. This brings me to perspective: Now that I've eaten my way through some of the best burger places that Canton, Lodi, Orville, Akron, and Cleveland have to offer, I thought I'd revisit one of my hometown spots for some fresh perspective.

As I mentioned the last time I reviewed Louie's Bar and Grille, they won the Akron Beacon Journal's Best Burger contest back in 1993, having only been in operation for just one year. An impressive feat, no doubt. While the previous visit had a most impressive burger with rather less impressive fresh-cut fries, I decided to return to have another burger (and a different side) to compare not only against the last time I ate at Louie's, but also against some of the other burger contenders at which I have eaten since then.

Unlike the last time I went, I decided to return on a Monday night at 7 PM and was rewarded with a much less crowded restaurant. Here was a shot of the window and marquee outside the bar:

I sat down at one of the booths lining the wall and was immediately greeted by my server. She asked if I wanted a basket of freshly popped popcorn, but knowing the half-pound burger that awaited me, I declined. It didn't take me long to locate the page of the menu that was my focus tonight, the burger page:

Last time I had the bacon cheeseburger. After looking at my options tonight, I decided to go with the Ranchero Burger. Something about the bacon, gourmet onion rings, and tangy BBQ sauce just seemed to call out to me. While each of the burgers come with a side of the fresh cut fries, from my previous experience (and honestly from the experience of others who have also eaten at Louie's and told me about it), I decided to try a different side this time. For only an additional $0.79, I could substitute onion rings for the fries. When I asked my server if they were homemade onion rings, she looked at me kind of funny at first and then stated that they were actually a fried-from-frozen product from Moore's. Knowing that you can still get a decent ring if the fry cook was sufficiently skilled, I went ahead and decided to order the onion rings.

I settled in after placing my order and perused a few news websites on my G1 phone. After what only seemed to be a few minutes, my dinner arrived:

First up, a shot of my half-pound Ranchero burger:

And here was a shot of the burger with the crown removed:

As you can see, the gourmet onion rings that topped my burger were exactly the same Moore's fried-from-frozen onion rings that accompanied the burger as my side dish. Finally, here was a side shot of my burger after I cut it in half:

Okay, now it's time for the good, bad, and the ugly. Well, technically, there really was no ugly. I ordered the burger medium. While the burger was definitely juicy, it wasn't medium. It was closer to somewhere between medium well to well. While there was the obligatory warning on the menu about ordering hamburgers too rare, I decided to order my burger the exact same way I would at some of my favorite burger places. Since the hamburger was always fresh and never frozen at Louie's, I needed to compare apples to apples. Tasty? Yes. Juicy? Yes. Soul-satisfyingly good? Sadly, no. Having just had one of B Spot's Red Hot burgers only days prior, I can say with certainty that Louie's burger just didn't quite reach the bar that other places I have visited set for its patrons. Additionally, the tangy BBQ sauce that accompanied the burger was nice when I tasted it on its own, but it didn't really help to cut through the fattiness of the burger patty. It was definitely better than other places that have employed this sauce, but it didn't have enough presence to stand out when tasted as part of an entire bite of the sandwich. The bacon, however, was nicely cooked and added a very necessary porky and smoky element to the burger's flavor that I thought worked very well.

Besides having the onion rings on my burger itself, I also ordered a side of them to accompany my dinner tonight:

The onion rings were decent. I suppose they are considered "gourmet" onion rings because the onion inside each ring is made from whole onions instead of minced. That being said, while the rings themselves were crispy on the outside, they were also a tad bit greasy. I know from past experience that some people like them this way and to those gentle readers out there, I think you will be very happy with this version. But I've also had some terrifically tasty fried-from-frozen rings, and these were definitely about two notches below what I've experienced at some other eateries. That being said, I'd still recommend the rings above the fresh cut fries. Of course, it should be perfectly obvious to any of my gentle readers out there who have been following along for a while now that I'd prefer most other sides over fresh cut fries.

Overall, I really did enjoy my dinner tonight at Louie's Bar and Grille. The burger was seasoned nicely and was definitely juicy, but had flavor components that just didn't quite work as well as I think they could've. The onion rings were decent enough, and quite superior to the fries, but still could've been executed just a little bit better. Is Louie's still the best burger in Akron? Honestly, I'd have to say that for me, the answer is still "yes." Is Louie's the best burger in northeast Ohio? Sorry, fellow Akronites, but that honor is still firmly held between the Greenhouse Tavern and B Spot in downtown Cleveland and Woodmere, respectively.

If you're in Akron and want to stay local, definitely check out Louie's Bar and Grille. The truth is, you won't get a bad burger. However, if you absolutely need to fill that void for a soul-satisfyingly good burger that makes you feel guilty from the first bite to the last, I'm going to suggest you continue to look further north to Jonathon Sawyer's Greenhouse Tavern or Michael Symon's B Spot.

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