Restaurant Reviews

Raw Power

Rare hamburgers, fair warning: Your days are numbered as surely as those of cigarettes in restaurants. Many operators simply won't serve you anymore -- at least not without written consent.

Thanks to the much-publicized proliferation of buddy bacteria E.coli and salmonella in worldwide supplies of ground meat, restaurants, especially chains, are simply refusing to cook beef to any degree less than medium. During a recent meal at Roadhouse Grill, for example, the waitress reluctantly agreed -- only after (nudge-nudge, wink-wink) we promised to take care of her -- to prompt the cook into slipping our patties off the grill a few seconds before they reached doorstop status. "But it's really against policy," she added darkly.

One might note, however, that this guiding principle of burger-flipping has not been written to protect the customers' health but to prevent litigation. In Britain, the trend is to have customers initial a statement on their checks, claiming personal responsibility for rare-meat consumption.

But controlling cooking temperatures and asking consumers to sign what are essentially agreements not to sue are not viable solutions to controlling disease elements in our food supplies. For one thing, as restaurateurs in England already know and as I freely point out to anyone who appreciates common sense, cooking doesn't kill the aberrant, nervous-system proteins (prions) that can cause, in humans, a deadly variation of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (also known as mad cow). So while eating a well-done hamburger abroad may save you from three days of uncomfortable flu-like symptoms, it can still make you crazy in the end.

I prefer when establishments acknowledge that the source is where food safety starts and where contamination should end and take measures accordingly by purveying the highest quality from the most reliable vendors. And if the specimens at the new Boca Raton location of Lindburgers are any indication, this is a concept thoroughly understood by the team here. Heck, they even have a raw burger blended with equally raw egg -- yup, that's tartare -- on the menu. And not only will they not require you to order it medium or beyond but the only statement and signature required are the ones for your credit card receipt.

Not that you'll need to charge a meal here, most likely. Prices are reasonable enough that you can even treat yourself to dinner with a ten spot after a tough session in the bear market. One of the most expensive burgers, second only to a double cheeseburger known as the "Dagwood," is appropriately called the "Worth Avenue" and features caviar, sour cream, and red onion as toppings. It goes for a mighty $6.75. Even the tartare is less, at $5.95. Go ahead, make your day -- or your year. With 52 variations on the burger-topping theme, you can alter your burger preferences on the same weekly basis as you change your bed sheets. That's a fresh take on seven ounces of ground sirloin every seven days, with the emphasis on fresh.

Hopefully consistency in cooking will catch up with clear-cut value for money. On one visit to this franchise of the Delray Beach original, the "Popeye" burger (spinach, natch, plus grilled onions and mushrooms) was ordered medium but tasted charred, and a pizza burger (green peppers, onions, marinara, and mozzarella), asked for medium-rare, was delivered rare. But the burgers themselves were pleasurable regardless, sandwiched between soft egg buns and accompanied by a fryer basket's worth of crisp, browned steak fries.

In fact, you probably won't have to ask for anything to be cooked on the dark side. Instead, ask the fry cook to go easy on the hot-oil immersion. Although breaded whole mushrooms and zucchini strips were mildly crunchy, the crust not disguising the taste of the vegetables themselves, our Howard Johnson-style clam strips were so overdone, they repelled the advances of fork tines.

Nonbreaded items also get thrown in the disabling grease, it seems. The chicken strips on the sesame-soy chicken salad tasted as if they had been subjected to the same VO5 treatment as opposed to their billed grilling, rendering nil the health benefits of the salad aspect. Even the tortilla shell, in which the greens, carrots, snow peas, and poultry were encased, was browned and dry to the point of crumbling.

If you are looking for heart-healthy options, you can find a variety of alterna-burgers -- turkey, soy, portobello mushroom. Chicken can be substituted for just about any beef patty, and the specials menu might offer such goods as grilled vegetable quesadillas, dietetic only if you ignore the cheese and such that come with them. But the seared, sushi-grade tuna, at $9.95 one of the more expensive items on the menu, is truth in advertising. The tuna slices, crusted with sesame seeds and flavored with pickled ginger and a honey-ginger dressing, featured a red-pink interior and were a terrific textural contrast to the field of greens and shredded Napa cabbage on which they lay.

If you tend to order dishes as iconoclastic as the awfully good "Lindogger" with sauerkraut or the merely mediocre, bouillon-flavored French onion soup, be prepared for other customers to comment. The clientele who frequent this shoebox-shaped, aviator-themed eatery are nothing if not chatty.

The plus side is not that everybody knows one another but that they think they know you, or probably someone else who knows you, and therefore no one can afford to offend anybody. Courtesies such as customers vacating large tables and moving to make way for bigger parties are common, as is the personable, efficient service.

The Boca Raton Lindburgers may not yet be successful on all possible fronts, but there's every assurance that at these quality-conscious prices, you'll always be able to score a meal without expensive and stressful liability.

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Jen Karetnick is an award-winning dining critic, food-travel writer, and author of the books Ice Cube Tray Recipes, Mango, and The 500 Hidden Secrets of Miami.
Contact: Jen Karetnick