Monday, January 20, 2014

Freebies at Red Robin make it worthwhile

Red Robin on Urbanspoon No reservations on weekends at the Vancouver/Thurlow Red Robin location, and for good reason: Even at 6 PM on a Saturday night, you can expect the place to be quite full and a slowly-extending lineup all the way outside the front door. Not the most pleasant experience during the chilly winter time, either for yourself or the poor hostess who has to stand at reception in just the regulation T-shirt.
But it's popular for a reason, right?

Some of the black T-shirts proudly proclaim "You are in the Presence of Burger Greatness". The burgers aren't exactly the greatest, and hovering at $12 they are sort-of competing with gourmet burger joints that in the last few years have popped up in Vancouver.
Gourmet burger places have a more relaxed atmosphere, and classier ad copy. But are they that much better?
At Red Robin, you can count on a full-sized burger tall enough that it is inconvenient to bite all the layers at once. Choice of bun. Gluten free bun option. And fairly extensive customization options -- nothing too funky, but if you want something like pineapple or fried egg, you can get it. Other than that, they aren't "special" -- in the sense that gourmet burger places have special-sounding ingredients. Whether you can taste and appreciate the difference will determine where you find more value.

With your $12, you also get unlimited steak fries. This sounds like a good deal, but you'd really have to be a hockey player or something to really take advantage of this. If your burger and initial two-cups worth of fries hasn't filled you up, you can just get more fries.
At a gourmet burger place, your $12 burger will probably not even come with any sides at all.

Also, Red Robin offers various "bottomless" non-alcoholic drinks. They look heavily watered down and there's a lot of ice in your glass, and the drinks sort-of taste like sugared water, but bottomless is bottomless and they don't make you feel bad about getting more. In fact, they just refill it without asking. All for just $4.29.

Towering Onion Rings 13 onion rings. Sweet Spanish yellows seasoned, breaded & fresh fried. Served with campfire mayo and ranch dressing.
  • Sweet onions have more sugar content and don't taste as hot, and make a good choice for a non-pungent onion dish like onion rings.
  • These are actually really nicely done onion rings!
  • An interesting thing about this order is that the onion rings on top are smaller than the ones on the bottom, so if you're quick on the draw you'll get one, but if you're passed the tower last, you can get the biggest one! Hmm...
  • The "campfire mayo" is really quite nice, with a bacon-y flavour to it. If you have some of it left, hang on to the tower so you can dip your bottomless fries in it.
5 Alarm Burger Pepper-Jack cheese, jalapeños, fresh tangy salsa layered on a juicy beef burger and topped with crisp lettuce, tomatoes and chipotle mayo
  • Total waste of time. Not really hot at all. The main source of heat comes from the jalapeño slices that line the bottom of your bun, neatly arranged to go all the way to the edge.
  • There aren't many ways to add heat to your burger. None of the extra toppings will do it, and for sauces they have Frank's Hot Sauce and Tabasco sauce. These can add a distracting sourness or bitterness to the mild heat they provide, and that can overpower your burger if you put enough to get some real heat going.
For a packed place, staff are patient and tireless, and for our table of 13, the burgers came out quite quickly for everyone.

Things to watch for:
  • On the website, don't trust the interactive menu. Look at the "printable menu" (lower left corner of the menu window) to look at the PDF, which is more complete. For example, it lists the various bottomless specialty drinks.
  • If you get any burger with a fried egg, or ask for that add-on, check your egg! I asked for the add-on, but the kitchen forgot it. Someone else at our table got a burger that comes with a fried egg, but they overdid it instead of leaving it over easy so there was no fun gooey yolk to go around. I'm not really sure how much you can salvage a "wrong egg" but I suppose the kitchen could try to rush you one to slap on your burger before everything gets cold.
  • Their eClub free-burger-on-your-birthday apparently does NOT work at the Thurlow Street location, and if you try it through the Red Robin Royalty program, the website says the Thurlow location doesn't participate (huh?). My friend had her birthday there on the weekend, and they said no. She's going to double-check, and if you want your birthday burger, I advise you double-check too.
  • Birthday song at your table is available, but they do check if you are "easily embarrassed". The birthday song is fast, upbeat, and short -- which is a good thing in case you end up totally embarrassed. You also get a free basic sundae-like dessert. Very basic. But hey, it's free!

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