Eating cheeseburgers can be a lonely endeavor. As a family, we don't generally eat out a lot since I enjoy cooking and we'd rather spend our money on other things. Therefore, I have mostly journeyed on this quest alone.
Since moving back to Iowa, however, I have had multiple requests from the members of the staff to join me in my journey, and sample some of Iowa's greatest burger spots.
Who am I to turn down an offer like that?
So when my daughter's youth soccer tournament brought me to Ames last weekend, I seized the opportunity and invited current residents, Kevin Fitzpatrick and graphikdeCYner to join me and pick their favorite spot.
Their choice: Brick City Grill
I arrived at the restaurant 30 minutes ahead of our agreed upon meeting time and spent some time marveling at the new area of town the building was located in. Because it was early afternoon, the restaurant was not very busy and I was sat at a table towards the back of the surprisingly small dining area.
My email, notifying him of my early arrival, made it through to Kevin, and he showed up roughly 15 minutes and 1 beer later. If you follow him on Twitter then I can tell you he looks exactly like the photo he uses in his avatar. Like, exactly the same.
We engaged in a few rounds of small talk as the waitress brought me another beer, and then I launched into my interrogation.
Me: What made you choose Iowa State for your undergraduate degree?
Kevin: I decided I was going to go to ISU pretty early on in my junior year of high school. Both of my parents went to Iowa State and, being a big fan of Cyclone athletics, I couldn't pass up the chance to attend myself. When I visited the campus I fell in love with how gorgeous it was and that solidified my decision.
Me: What was your favorite sporting memory as a student?
Kevin: There were a ton of great moments during my four years (2011-2015), but I think the one that stands out the most to me is the triple overtime football game against Iowa in 2011. It was the first big victory I witnessed as a student and rushing the field was an incredible experience.
Sadly, I decided to go home instead of attending the Oklahoma State game later that year. I missed out on that one, for sure, but feel less bad about it now that I know it didn't end up becoming the "game that turned around Iowa State football" like we all thought it would at the time. Watching it from a warm La-Z-Boy recliner wasn't such a terrible thing in retrospect.
Having the Royce White era (year) serve as the first of my introduction to college basketball experience was awesome as well. They beat Kansas in Hilton that year and I got to rush the court for that one, too. So, getting to rush both Jack Trice and Hilton as a freshman will be something I remember forever.
Me: Yeah, I was in school in '98 when we beat Iowa for the first time in 15 years, in Iowa City. I wasn't at the game, but some friends of mine and I were watching it in my apartment and we stormed the bars afterwards, so sorta the same thing. I was a senior during the ‘99/'00 basketball season when both the men's and women's teams won the Big 12, and of course we know about the Elite Eight run that year.
At this point, as I ordered my third pint of the afternoon, Fat Tire for those of you who are interested. Kevin recognized graphikdeCYner walking through the front entrance and waved her over. The two had met previously at one of the organized staff meetings during basketball season and have competed against each other in Ames area trivia challenges.
The waitress arrived again, having noticed the new arrival, and this time we were ready to order more than just beer. Admittedly, I was the only one of our group drinking beer at 3:00 in the afternoon, but Saturday was hot, and spending the morning on the soccer fields had made me thirsty.
I asked my hosts for suggestions since they had recommended the place and had presumably eaten here before. Kevin chose this moment to admit that he exclusively eats chicken wings during his visits to BCG, but has heard great things about all the burgers on the menu. Meanwhile, graphikdeCYner highlighted four of her favorites as options and three to four more that she wanted to try, but "hasn't yet."
Both helpful suggestions, I must say.
So, in a last-ditch effort, I asked the waitress what she would order, if she were me. She pointed out the four highlighted burgers on the menu that she says were the customer's favorites and thought one of those might be worth trying.
I ended up ordering the Pretzel Burger because pretzels and beer complement each other, right?
As the waitress retreated with our orders I shifted the conversation to graphikdeCYner to catch her up on the questioning.
Me: I've already asked this of Kevin, but what made you choose Iowa State for your undergraduate degree?
GraphikdeCYner: I briefly considered Colorado State and NC State, but in the end, and having grown up in a Cyclone family, I didn't actually end up applying anywhere other than Iowa State. Once I went for a campus visit, it was set. It probably helps that the first visit to campus as a prospective student (I have vague kid memories of a giant terrorbird and sleeping under the bleachers of Jack Trice during games, but those don't count) was during Homecoming when Seneca Wallace made "The Run".
Me: Which leads into my next question: What was your favorite sporting memory as a student?
GraphikdeCYner: The Oklahoma State football game in 2011, hands down. It was my senior year, the last home game of the season, with a bowl game on the line. I can remember the whole stadium collectively holding their breath as Jeff Woody scrambled into the endzone right in front of me as a member of the marching band. I recall hugging my fellow band members and smiling so hard I couldn't play Fights as Jack Trice erupted around us. My entire family was there, too, which made it even more awesome.
A semi-distant second would be the bowl game experiences, particularly the trip to Tempe. It was a lot of fun to banter back and forth with the Minnesota band during the game. Our fans travelled amazingly well and the athletic department put us up in some pretty sweet digs. Winning was a nice bonus.
Knowing the food would be there shortly, I wanted to sneak one last question in to whet their appetites and get an understanding of what defines a perfect burger for them.
Me: What is the best cheeseburger you have ever eaten?
Kevin: This is gonna be a super lame answer, but I LOVE Culver's cheeseburgers. Other than that, a burger with meat seasoned/mixed by my mom and grilled by my dad can't be beat.
Me: (shakes head in severe disappointment)
GraphikdeCYner: The best cheeseburger I have ever eaten is my go to from a restaurant in Chapel Hill called Buns. I would always get a single beef patty on a freshly-made wheat bun with swiss, pesto mayo, grilled onions and mushrooms on top. I'd also do a side order of half-n-half fries with chipotle mayo. Deeeeeelicious. And now I've made myself hungry...
Which worked out well since two servers were approaching our table with our orders and a fifth beer for me. I had ordered mine with tater tots due to a firmly held belief that when fried tots are an option on the menu, you order them.
Beyond simple hunger at this point, I attacked the plate in front of me while the other two politely ate theirs and the table grew silent.
I was a little disappointed by the size of my pretzel burger. I know they say size doesn't matter, but I had burger envy as I compared mine to the other two at the table. I'm guessing a pretzel bun isn't easily made in larger sizes as mine seemed half as big as the others.
Strike two was the placement of bacon between the beef and cheese which acted like a strict middle school chaperone keeping the melted cheddar from fully enveloping the grilled meat patty in the greasy embrace I expect from a cheeseburger love affair.
The patty itself was nicely charred and full of flavor though, which took some of the sting out of the other two disappointments, but the pretzel bun lacked the saltiness and chewy texture I was expecting. Despite the negatives, the harmony of flavors did eventually begin to win me over until by the last bite my only regret was there was no more sandwich for me to eat.
So damn small...
Overall, I'd rate this burger at a 25/30: 10 for the meat, 8 for the cheese and 7 for a bun that failed to deliver what the name implied, but was pretty good otherwise.
As for Kevin and graphik's burgers?
Kevin (Bacon Cheeseburger): The meat was a little too charred for my liking, so that took away some of my enjoyment of the flavors, but it was still a very solid burger. The cheese had a perfect melty-ness to it, although I wouldn't have minded a little more of it altogether. And, the bun did a nice job of adding to the experience without taking away from the other two (meat and cheese). Would eat it again, but it won't be taking the spot of my usual order of wings when I visit BCG. I'd say this was a 24/30 for me.
GraphikdeCYner (Worcestershire Burger): The burger was juicy and the bun held up to the juice/grease shenanigans. Demerits come from a lack of mushrooms on what's essentially their mushroom and Swiss burger, and the cheese was off-center, making one side of the burger significantly better than the other. 25/30.
You are considerably kinder than I would have been in that situation, graphik.
As we finished signing our checks and walked towards the exit, I thanked each of them for their time and reviews. I certainly look forward to making another trip to Brick City Grill at some point in the near future. Next time, however, I'll order something bigger.