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Quest for the Best: Red Robin

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Before today, I had never stepped foot inside a Red Robin Restaurant. I have passed them. I have dined in establishments next to them. I have had friends work for them and have seen dozens of friends on Facebook post pictures of themselves inside of them, but I have never desired to actually go in one. I'm not 100% sure why although if I am completely honest with you (and myself) I am a food snob and have always viewed Red Robin as the Olive Garden of the burger genre. Fellow food snobs know what I mean by that.

But I felt it was time to set aside my disparaging feelings for this franchise that always seems to be overflowing with happy customers and finally give it a shot. Thankfully, I needed a place to review and happened to be driving past one of their four Las Vegas locations just around lunch time.

Their entry is something I have seen in countless other chain restaurants; padded booths spaced throughout the generous area providing ample seating to those waiting for a table on busy nights, a lone podium where a pair of hostesses questioned you about the number in your party staring at their laminated floor chart to determine which of the worker bees was next in line for your patronage and wall decorations assuring you that you are, in fact, going to have fun here. There was even a chalkboard where aspiring artists could share their inspirational creations with other like-minded individuals. I'm sure that goes over very well when the high school kids congregate for a meal.

After taking my seat, I became impressed with how deep this chain has involved itself with cross marketing. On one page, the menu promised that a cold Coors Light would be the perfect complement to whatever burger I happened to choose on this occasion. On the next a bare steel arm, instantly recognizable as the appendage of the self-aware android mass produced by Skynet that will eventually destroy all mankind, welcomingly extends to you the restaurant's latest creation; the Genesis Burger.  Topped with fiery roasted jalapeños, pepper jack cheese, bacon, tomatoes, romaine lettuce and avocado, then adorned with a jalapeño aioli and served on a jalapeño cornmeal bun, there is no shortage of action in this summer blockbuster.

The rest of the menu - and it is a big menu for a restaurant that serves mostly hamburgers - is filled with mouth-watering images of their various combinations of meat, cheese and vegetables. It even comforts you, the patron, by showing chefs adorned in white chef coats meticulously assembling their opus made specially for you, by them, with love. I was excited to learn my lunch was going to be so professionally prepared! However, I took a glimpse into the actual kitchen while walking to the restroom to wash up and was saddened by the reality.

Not to be one trick pony, the chain even appears to be riding the sustainable agriculture wave and, on their website, details how their brand promotes responsible farming without really providing much detail. But, I get it, marketing people. You care because we care that you care.

Insulting tone aside, I will say that the burger that was served to me looked remarkably like the image on the menu. Even the bacon on my friend's sandwich was served with a perfect 90⁰ angle between the slices. Would the flavors deliver the same pomp and circumstance? Let's find out.

This is Red Robin (YUM)!

History:

Founded by a singer in a barbershop quartet, the first Red Robin restaurant was located in Seattle, Washington and named Sam's Tavern. Eventually, Sam, the owner, changed the name to Sam's Red Robin after the song "When the Red, Red Robin (Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along)" which apparently he would frequently sing.

When it was purchased in 1969, the new owner dropped the "Sam's" and simply called it "Red Robin". In 1979, the business sold its first franchise rights to Michael and Steve Snyder in Yakima, Washington who would later take over the entire brand and bring more than 450 restaurants to hungry burger-craving folk around the nation.

The Menu:

Just about any kind of burger you would want can be found here.

The Order:

Red's Tavern Double - Two classic (small) - sized patties of fire-grilled goodness. I really should have spent the extra two dollars for them to combine the meat into one single patty instead of dividing it between two smaller patties. Live and learn, I guess.

Cheese - Didn't notice anything incredible about the cheese, but it served its purpose well enough. There was even enough to stick to the sides of the paper container, which you know I am a fan of.

Cheese Score - 7/10

Meat - Again, didn't notice anything incredible here other than the disappointing size. This could have easily been purchased from the Wendy's Right Price, Right Size menu and I wouldn't have noticed a difference other than the cost.

Meat Score - 6/10

Bun - Most of the buns I have reviewed have failed to be noteworthy. This one was even less so. Again, not really in a bad way, just not much in a good one.

Bun Score - 6/10

Overall - I'll be honest, I was ready to provide some extra credit points when I saw on the menu that each entrée was served with a side of unlimited steak fries. Sign me up! Instead, my burger came with a small handful of the crispy fried potato and even though I was finally able to hunt down a waitress after I had completed the three bites it took to finish my sandwich and ask her for a fry refill, I never got a second helping of my favorite spud and left wanting more.

Red Robin, as it turns out, was slightly better than an Applebee's. I didn't leave feeling like a rotten potato had fermented within my bowels, so that is in fact an improvement over their competition, but I am very ambivalent if I ever eat there again.

Turns out, I haven't been missing much all these years.

Overall Score 19/30