By now, you know the deal with fast-casual burger outfits. Streamlined furniture. Tech-forward ordering. Bubbly door-greeter. Menu filled with burgers, and maybe a few chicken and other beef-alternative options, and a quirky spin on French fries. Oh, and a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine.
North Raleigh’s newly-minted gourmet burger restaurant Burger 21 in the North Ridge shopping center checks all the usual gourmet burger boxes. It’s a familiar scene, especially with competitors like BurgerFi and Smashburger in the near Raleigh vicinity. Interestingly, the Tampa-based nascent burger chain, conceptualized in 2009, was founded by the owners of the fondue juggernaut The Melting Pot as a way to penetrate the heated gourmet burger market.
At Burger 21, the basic burger—called the Burger 101—is as elementary as it comes: juicy 100 % percent certified Angus beef patty, topped with lettuce and tomato (and, peculiarly, no onion) and capped by a toasted brioche bun. The burger is a hearty size, easily cradled in between your fingertips. The actual beef patty, though slightly oversalted on the day I tried it, is juicy but not greasy.
If you opt for chicken, like the Monterey Chicken sandwich, you might not be spared of some trouble. The Monterey Chicken comes so stacked with salsa, fresh avocado, applewood-smoked bacon, jalapenos and sundried tomato aioli that it falls apart after a few bites. It’s not a pleasant dining experience to reach multiple times for the napkin dispenser to wipe up pieces of grilled chicken bits and bacon grease trickling down the palms of your hands. Personally, I think salsa on a burger is never a good idea anyway—the tomatoes are always too juicy for the delicate brioche bun to sop up.
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Like BurgerFi, if you’re looking for a breakfast-inspired burger, Burger 21 has got one of those too called the “Breakfast All Day Burger” made with bacon, egg, hash brown and avocado. But unlike BurgerFi, Burger 21 offers more diversified host of sandwich options that include turkey, seafood and chicken burgers. Yes, like the gourmet burger trend dictates, some of them are severely overwrought with mounds of toppings, but if you’re rolling in hard with a large family, at least you can make everyone happy.
The French fries at Burger 21 are of the shoestring ilk, crispy and light. Customers can amp them up by mixing them up with sweet potato fries or smothering them with cheese and ale sauce, and even adding chopped bacon and scallions or turkey chili. If you like dipping sauces, the option to choose from a mix of ten fun flavors like Thai ketchup and chipotle mayo at the condiment station might be the most alluring part of ordering the fries. If you’re thinking about skipping the fries for a side salad, well, you may be disappointed. The side salad is nothing to write home about, composed mostly of pallid chopped lettuce, a smattering of chopped tomatoes and a pile of shredded carrots, and seem like nothing more elevated than what you may receive from a Wendy’s drive-thru.
It’s obvious that Burger 21’s main concentration, though, are the burgers and shakes. Judging by the number of people toting to-go orders of the hand-spun specialty shakes, they seem to be quite popular, with decadent confections like Chocolate Malted Milk Ball and Ybor City Double Espresso. Purchase any of the shakes, or burgers for that matter, on the 21st of the month, and know that 10 percent of the proceeds that Burger 21 earns that day will be donated to local charities.
If you’re looking for a great burger in the fast-casual category, for my money, I’d still take a Five Guys burger any day. But, if you’re seeking something a little more elevated and with dessert options, I’d take BurgerFi and then maybe Burger 21.
Burger 21 adorns its restaurants with twee “B”-titled mission statements that include “b-saucy“ and “b-different“. And to that, I submit my thoughts on Burger 21: “b-satisfied”, but not “b-dazzled”.
BURGER 21 | 6196 Falls of Neuse Road, Ste. 116 Raleigh NC 27609 | 919.900.8807