You'd think that any restaurant that has a line a half-dozen people deep five minutes after opening at 11am is doing something special. Maybe not Franklin Barbecue levels of special, but exciting enough to warrant an early line on a weekday. Burger Bar, the fast-casual concept at the JW Marriott, isn't reinventing the burger, but it'll do in a pinch.
The burgers here are pretty standard, and ironically enough, the non-beef offerings are the stars of the show. The turkey burger ($4.50) was savory and moist, served with avocado and lemon aïoli, on a nicely toasted bun that wasn't drenched in oil. Unlike most burger places that offer one non-beef option, Burger Bar also offers a grilled chicken sandwich ($4.25). While it's ostensibly a healthy choice, the option of a whole wheat bun might be nice. That said, I ordered mine with a lettuce wrap in lieu of any bread and was perfectly satisfied. The generous breast is topped with a slice of pepperjack cheese before griddling, then dressed with a tangy house sauce that makes for big flavor.
A recent addition to the menu is the black bean burger ($4.50). The homemade patty, which also includes quinoa and butternut squash, has good flavor, with just a little bit of a kick at the end. It suffered in the texture department, though, in that it was a bit mushy; a little bit of finesse on the flat-top to get some crunch on the outside could probably sort that problem out.
While the beef burgers were the least interesting option among the sandwiches, the Big Mouth burger ($6.25) was a definite hit. The spicy and sweet flavors from the candied jalapeños and blistered shishito peppers married nicely with the salty umami of bacon and the double burger; it's a shame there's not an option to get it with just one patty.
The fries ($2.25) here are unremarkable unless you get them topped with a green chile queso, which livens them up admirably. The sweet potato fries are standard, but I am a sucker for sweet potato fries, so unless they're burnt or have been ruined with seasoned salt, I'm going to eat all of them without complaint. The same goes for the shakes ($3.75) – Oreo, strawberry shortcake, and peanut butter pretzel are cute ideas, but Hopdoddy does the stunt shake far more creatively, while P. Terry's handles the classics with aplomb. The offerings at Burger Bar are the shruggie emoji of milkshakes.
The biggest head-scratcher about this burger counter is logistics. The party line is that it's "food truck inspired," but even most food trucks offer a little bit of lagniappe in the form of attention to detail. Are you meant to sit on one of the nearby city benches or stand at a cafe table next to the Corner patio while breathing exhaust fumes with each bite? The burgers are served in a paper box, the empty space filled with fries if you've ordered them; not exactly conducive to walking while eating, not to mention the conundrum of ketchup. If you want to take your order back to your office, you'll have to carry that box back while precious heat escapes from your meal, rendering it lukewarm by the time you're back at your desk. If you're ordering for a group, the boxes get Jenga'ed into a large shopping bag which you hope traps in the heat, but really just means that Mike's congealed cheese fries get stuck to the bottom of Ashley's burger tray.
Ultimately, go to Burger Bar if you are okay with a not-that-special burger or don't have the time to invest in a trip to Hopdoddy or Casino el Camino. But it may be a viable option if you've got folks in your party who appreciate a variety of alternatives to beef.
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