Thursday, June 27, 2013

Cowbell Burger & Bar - Uptown

Since it opened this spring, I have been looking forward to checking out Cowbell Burger & Bar in uptown Charlotte.  First of all, awesome name. I love SNL, I love Christopher Walken, I love Will Ferrell, and I love cowbell -this could only be great, right? I also have unnaturally passionate feelings about a lot of the things I'd spied on the online menu -cheeseburgers, fried pickles, and local craft beers. The stars finally aligned and BFTB and I made it uptown to check out Cowbell this past Tuesday before heading over to see Lord Huron at the Visulite. Although we went in drooling with anticipation, we left completely disappointed and physically sick. 

To be fair, Cowbell did have some very strong points. Unfortunately, they didn't have a lot to do with the food. The service was excellent -our server was friendly, knowledgeable about both the food and beer selections, and eager to please. I also liked the look of the restaurant. The wraparound bar seemed like it would be great for happy hour and was also large enough that I could see myself comfortably settling in for a few beers or one of their signature cocktails while waiting for a table. I am also a sucker for interesting decor. The walls were covered with old school posters, portraits of musicians, and TVs playing alternative-ish, late-1990s/early-2000s music videos. While dim lighting normally annoys me, it perfectly complemented the dark leather booths and distressed wooden tables dotted throughout the restaurant. Kudos to whoever operates the dimmer switch in this joint. They also had an interesting-looking cocktail list and a good beer selection with a lot of NC-based options. I selected the smooth and light-tasting Mother Earth Weeping Willow Wit out of Kinston while BFTB opted to drink the most beautifully-poured Guinness I have ever seen. 

The fried pickles looked, but did not taste, great.
Unfortunately the list of pros pretty much ends there. We excitedly ordered the fried pickles to start and when they came out they were beautiful. I had high hopes for what looked to be a thick cut, wavy pickle chip covered in a light-looking, peppery, golden batter. After letting the pickles cool down for a second, BFTB and I each grabbed one, took a bite, quickly looked up at each other, and... exchanged disappointed looks. It was the worst fried pickle I've blogged about, and quite possibly the worst fried pickle I have ever eaten. It was like a gilded building -amazingly attractive on the outside but a total disaster on the inside. The interior of the pickles were complete mush. Seriously, baby food has more structural integrity than these pickles. Our server came over, asked how they tasted, and we gave a high pitched, "They're okayyyyy...," but added that they were "a bit mushy." She told us they should be crispier and insisted on getting us a fresh batch. When the new guys came out they were definitely crispier-looking. They appeared to have been dunked in batter, dredged in flour, and re-dunked several times before they were fried. Upon taking a bite of the new Hulk-sized pickle chip, I discovered that it tasted like the coating on a chicken tender -very crunchy, but thick, salty, and floury. However, the extra coating on the pickles was still only a facade (can I be more dramatic about a freaking pickle?)... the inside was once again a mouthful of warm pickle goo with the texture of slightly congealed Elmer's glue. We pushed the pickles around the plate a bit to make it look like we ate more of them, but these guys were a lost cause. Moral of the story- you can't mask a crap pickle with extra coating. 

Despite the terrible pickles, we still had high hopes for our main courses. After consulting our server about a few of the 17 burger options, I settled on a medium-cooked Bruiser (a blackened beef patty on an onion kaiser roll topped with horseradish cream, bleu cheese crumbles, roasted shiitake mushrooms, shredded lettuce, and caramelized onions) and BFTB ordered the Popeye (a turkey patty blended with spinach and feta cheese on a honey wheat bun with Dijonnaise, arugula, and sliced red onions), except he subbed in spicy mustard for Dijonnaise. As for sides, I went with the onion rings and BFTB picked the side salad with pineapple-Sriracha dressing. Our main courses came out quickly and we dug in. 

For both of us, the sides were the best parts of our meals. My onion rings were cut thick, just how I like them, and had the same or a very similar batter on them as the pickles. On a should-be-goopy onion, this was not as much of a problem. Although they fell apart and the batter slid off when I took a bite, they were still pretty good, especially when dunked in the accompanying chipotle aioli. BFTB's salad was also good. It seemed to be a spring mix-type blend of lettuces with a few veggies thrown in. But the real star was the pineapple-Sriracha dressing. Although I love me some Sriracha, I've never Sriracha'd fruit before. The blend of the sweet pineapple with the spicy red pepper and garlic of the Sriracha was outstanding. I feel like the dressing would be great as a marinade on chicken, fish, or some grilled vegetables and I look forward to attempting to recreate it at home. 

Popeye burger with side salad (top); onion rings(bottom right); 
Bruiser burger topped with tons of bleu cheese (bottom left).
Our burgers were disappointing. Quite simply, each just had too much going on. We decided that they would both be better if deconstructed and served as multiple sliders, each highlighting a different feature. My blackened patty, standing alone, was flavorful and well-cooked. A blackened burger topped with either shiitakes, bleu cheese, horseradish cream, or caramelized onions, or maybe even a combo of a few of those ingredients, might be great. But the smorgasbord-like conglomeration of flavors was so overwhelming that it was gross. Even considered in isolation, the toppings were too much. For instance, I love cheese, but the ice cream scoop-sized blob of bleu cheese smooshed on top of my burger was overkill. Each topping also seemed to have been individually seasoned with an entire spice rack (with a heavy emphasis on the salt). It was like I had one last meal on Earth and I was trying to cram every single taste in existence into one sandwich. It just didn't work. Unfortunately this was the same case with BFTB's burger, despite the fact that on paper, it appeared to have fewer ingredients. The turkey patty itself was so overly-seasoned that it was almost inedible. It also was not well cooked and was a little mushy (you'd think I was getting paid every time I used the word "mushy..."). Even after BFTB scraped off the majority of the toppings, it was still too much to handle and a lot went to waste. It might be a good call for the kitchen staff at Cowbell to run to their spice cabinet/ingredient stockpile, blindly throw away at least half of everything, and consider utilizing the "less is more" approach.

Post-Cowbell nightcap.
There was one more problem that I must explain with an obligatory SNL-themed joke: we had a fever, and the prescription was not more Cowbell. Except in this case, the "fever" was a massive, ate-too-much-bad-Indian-food-style stomach ache. Although nothing seemed extraordinarily greasy at the time, within an hour of eating, I felt like the Exxon Valdez oil spill had taken place in my generally iron-like stomach. And unfortunately, that feeling only worsened throughout the night. It was so bad, that we had to leave Lord Huron (who both of us had been waiting months to see and had purposefully skipped at Firefly in order to build our anticipation) before the show even ended because both of us felt so terrible.

For a restaurant that I was so excited about checking out, this was the ultimate let down. Even without my I-missed-Lord-Huron-for-this? grudge, I would have to report that Cowbell was terr-i-ble and won't be getting my recommendation. With the combination of the service, drink selection, and pineapple-Sriracha as its only saving grace, I'll give Cowbell a high 3.5/10. Moo-ve over Cowbell, I'd rather go to Wendy's (and I realize that joke was incredibly lame).

Cowbell Burger & Bar on Urbanspoon

No comments:

Post a Comment