Thursday, May 28, 2009

Giant Burger (Springfield, OR)

3760 Main St Springfield, OR 97478, T: 541-747-3399

Giant Burger is a well-established burger joint in downtown Springfield, Oregon, which also sells lottery tickets and houses various slot machines. It is old school greasy, but also very tasty. As an extra, you get a colorful collection of locals as you fellow-patrons. I had been there several times before I started this blog, but had to go back for a real review.

Giant Burger advertises that it is one of the few places left that makes real burgers and that it has a selection of 20 different burgers. Its menu features all other old school favorites like curly fries, floats, shakes, etc. It further does some regular dishes, including home-made chili.

I had various burgers before and was almost always very happy (I was not impressed by the chili burger though). This time I arrived extremely hungry and decided to go all the way. So, I ordered a Western Bacon Burger (minus Swiss, plus baked jalapenos), curly fries, and the seasonal fresh strawberry shake for a total of $16.95. I know, a lot of money, but boy, was it worth it! The burger was absolutely delicious: a 1/3lb thick and juicy patty, two thick strips of bacon, two fried onion rings, baked jalapenos, and zesty bbq sauce. The only problem was eating it without having everything over my face. The curly fries were thick and perfectly fried. And then the milkshake, 16oz of ice cream, fresh strawberry and milk, mixed together in a near perfect, not too sweet, not too creamy, supershake!

VERDICT: 92/100
Giant Burger is one of those few remaining independent burger joints that survive because of sheer quality. Unfortunately, there is a hefty price to pay for it, but it is certainly worth it. Go when you are hungry, and you will leave satisfied.

Oklahoma Smokehouse Barbecue (Eugene, OR)

1055 Hwy 99 North, Eugene, OR, T: 541-912-9674, E:

BBQ is Oregon, I hear you think... really? Yes, really! The Oklahoma Smokehouse Barbecue is a small shack, with its own smoker behind it, on the parking lot of a big store at the side of a motorway. Not the most usual setting. And not a usual bbq place in the Northwest!

I ordered a sandwich combo for $7.50, which included a small pulled pork sandwich (with slaw), a side of coleslaw, and a can of diet coke. The counter had two different bbq sauces, one mild and one hot, both very dark and tasty. The sandwich was tasty and the slaw was very fresh and light (little mayo and, surprise, pieces of pineapple).

VERDICT: 77/100
Let's be honest, this is no top southern bbq, but it is very acceptable for the Northwest. If I have time, I'll definitely go back to taste the ribs!

Market Stand (Packwood, WA)

After a beautiful drive through Mt Rainier National Park we drove to the tiny town of Packwood, Washington, where the semi-annual Packwood Flea Market was ongoing. In between the various makeshift stands with crap were many stands with all kind of greasy food. I chose for this one, of which I forgot the name, and ordered an "elk burger" at this nice woman.

As always at these kind of occasions, the burger was seriously overpriced (I believe it was $7). However, it was surprisingly tasty! The patty was square and thick with a lean and not too strong taste. In fact, it was better than many burgers I ate at allegedly great places.

VERDICT: 80/100
An elk burger is not just an exotic treat, it actually also tastes good; well, at least the one I had at this particular stand.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Voodoo Doughnut (Portland, OR)

22 SW 3rd Ave, Portland, OR‎, T: 503-241-4704
(2nd Location: 1501 N.E. Davis, Portland, OR, T: 503-235-2666)

Voodoo Doughnut is a Portland institution. Tucked away in an increasingly gentrified rough end of downtown Portland, this small shop sells only donuts... 24/7! They have a huge selection (ca. 40 different types); in addition to a stable assortment of regulars, they also often come up with new (temporary) types. Most donuts are originals, only available at Voodoo Doughnut, but they also have a variety of classics that you could also find in your local Dunkin' Donuts (well, the type, not necessarily the quality). In the small shop, which often has a line of people waiting outside, you can see all the different types in a glass carousel (which I like to refer to as "the shrine").

Let's come clean: I have been to Voodoo Doughnuts a couple of times in the past months. So, I have sampled a good variety of their assortment to provide a qualified verdict. This particular time we got two of the most famous donuts they have: the Voodoo (Doll) Doughnut and the Maple Bacon Bar. The staple Voodoo Doughnut is filled with raspberry jelly and covered with a thick layer of real chocolate; it is shaped like a voodoo doll and weighs a ton. Now, I hear you thinking, a donut with bacon, really? YES, REALLY! The Maple Bacon Bar is a 'little' piece of heaven brought to us by a Doughnut God! Damn, this is the most amazing combination ever! And what is most amazing, the bacon on the cold donut is crispy!

VERDICT: 93/100
If you are in Portland, you will go to Voodoo Doughnut, and you will eat the Maple Bacon Bar! If you do not, stop reading this blog! How I'll miss Portland...

PS > They also do (legally recognized) weddings!!!

Miner's Drive-In (Yakima, WA)

2415 S 1st St, Yakima, WA‎, T: 509-457-8194

In town to see a game of the Yakima Reds, we stopped by the Miner's Drive-In, after having read raving reviews on a variety of websites. Allegedly, it is a Yakima tradition, famed for its Miner Burger. One thing became clear right away: Miner's Drive-In is all about size! It is the biggest drive-in I have seen so far.

When coming in you are greeted by someone who either directs you to the next available free counter (if you are a regular), or answers your questions (if you are a newbie). The place was bumping with various soft ball teams celebrating their victory/eating their defeat away as well as people from all ages (but mostly the same size...). In the end, I decided upon a Miner Burger meal (clearly, one has to taste the original), while M. had a grilled chicken sandwich. We then headed to the sauces counter, where you can fill little cups with various different sauces (including fry, ketchup, ranch, and tartar).

Although we were enjoying the sun on the grass outside, the wait was excessive. This was clearly not fast food (although, to be fair, it was very busy that day). As we had read online, and were told by the greeter, the portions were huge! This somewhat justified the also fairly excessive price (together roughly $16). Unfortunately, the food only stood out in size, not in quality or taste. The Miner Burger is a very average burger in taste, just twice the size. I could hardly taste the thin patty; I assume a half pound, but spread thin over a huge bun. The fries were crispy, but also not remarkable, while the grilled chicken sandwich was, despite including real grilled chicken, to quote M, "dumb" (the taste was totally dominated by the very hot mustard).

VERDICT: 72/100
Clearly, we were much less impressed by Miner's than other people who post online. Maybe this is the best Yakima has to offer (although I would like to sample the provocatively named "Major's before making that call), but on a broader scale Miner's only stands out in size. That said, I rather pay half the price and get half the food.

Burgerville (Portland, OR)

3504 SE 92nd Ave, Portland, OR‎, T: 503-777-7078

Burgerville is a hamburger chain in the Portland metropolitan area with outliers as far as Albany and The Dalles in Oregon, and Centralia in Washington. As one would expect from a Northwestern business, it stands out in its use of organic ingredients and ecologically friendly materials (for example, their straws are made of corn and thus 100% biodegradable, while all plastic is compostable). In addition, they alternate their specials based on the season, using local produce (this time they had two asparagus dishes).

Burgerville has a good selection of burgers, including two different vegetarian patties (according to my fiance M, the Spicy Anasazi Bean Burger is particularly delicious). In addition, they have various chicken and turkey sandwiches, salads, drinks, and deserts. (Incidentally, they also do breakfasts.) Everything stands out because of their freshness.

This time around I ordered a Half Pound Colossal Cheesburger (without cheese) meal with a fresh strawberry shake, while M had a Seasoned Turkey Burger and a side salad. I forgot the price, but it was pretty standard for an upscale fast food joint. As always, the burger was very juicy, but the Burgerville sauce lacks real taste. M's turkey burger was big and well cooked, though not as tasty as the bean burger. The thin fries were undercooked this time; normally they are well cooked, though not very special in taste. The shake indeed had pieces of fresh strawberry in them, but was a bit too creamy (not too sweet though). At another occasion we had the fresh strawberry smoothie, made with non-fat yogurt, which is clearly the better choice (in both taste and calories).

VERDICT: 79/100
The final verdict deserves some more explanation. I think Burgerville is a good fast food chain, although their burgers are not exceptional. That said, Burgerville is the favorite burger chain of M, who is no fast foodie. And that is probably the explanation: Burgerville is a favorite for people who don't really like fast food, because of its fresh ingredients and good (non-fat) sides. For the real pigs among us, it just misses that extra grease!

K-R Drive-In (Rice Hill, OR)

Exit 148 of the I-5, Rice Hill, Oregon, T: 541-849-2570, E:

On the I-5, between Eugene and Roseburg, is one of the shabbiest drive-ins I have visited so far. K-R Drive-In seems to be mostly popular for its ice cream (and lack of competition). They have a big selection of ice creams and shakes as well as sandwiches; the fast food selection is rather modest.

I ordered a fairly standard deal: double bacon cheese burger (no cheese, but with BBQ sauce), fries, and a small banana shake. The shocking total was $14.50! Wow, I hear you think, that must have been some burger. Well, it wasn't! The burger was absolutely average, the fries standard, and the shake way too sweet.

VERDICT: 42/100
While the food is average, K-R's prices are far from. In fact, at any restaurant you can get the same for less (including tip and better quality). And believe me, the scenery doesn't add to the experience. In other words, if you are driving the i-5 and get up to exit 148, just keep on driving, I'm sure you can find something better and/or cheaper virtually anywhere.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Kong Oscar’s Pølse Stand (Bergen, Norway)

Kong Oscars Gate, Bergen, Norway

Norway is not well known for its (affordable) food, let alone its snack culture. The country is extremely expensive, not the least in its food (previous times I visited Norway, I pretty much lived off hot dogs at the 7 Eleven). But on my wanders through the pretty city of Bergen, I found a sausage stand with an impressive selection.

I ordered a reindeer sausage, but unfortunately they were just out of them. So, I decided upon a chili dog, which was, as promised, SPICY! To be honest, it was too spicy for comfort. However, intrigued by the reindeer sausage, I made sure to visit the place again a couple days later, and this time they had them. As most sausages it cost a staggering NOK 45 (almost $7!), but it was remarkably tasty.

VERDICT: 70/100
Sure, no sausage is worth $7, well maybe a really fresh Thüringer, but for Norway this is a very good place to have a snack. The choice is amazing and the quality is well above average.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Off the Waffle (Eugene, OR)

740 Van Buren Street, Eugene, OR 97402, T: 541-606-4348

Just a couple of weeks ago, two guys, oddly enough not from Belgium, decided to open a waffle place in Eugene, Oregon. Off the Waffle sells only Liege-style waffles, the thick and crunchy ones, available in white, whole wheat or vegan whole wheat (if contacted in advance). When we visited, they had three styles: original ($3), Nibtella ($5), and chocolate-banana ($5).

It is beyond me how a place like this could survive; even in Belgium most waffle places sell at least sodas and some other stuff. Off the Waffle only sells waffles and coffee; although it also provides space for book exchanges and barters of any type. Truly a Eugene place! Anyway, back to the waffles: M.G. wasn't too happy with her Niptella, as she was under the impression it was a waffle filled with Nutella; it actually had a weak chocolate taste. My original waffle was pretty good, and I used to live in Antwerp (!), although it did miss the crunchy cubes of sugar.

VERDICT: 83/100
I seriously doubt there are many places outside of Belgium that serve better Liege waflles than Off the Waffle. However, stick with the original, it's cheaper and tastier than the other types.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Frank's Diner (Spokane, WA)

1516 W 2nd Ave, Spokane, WA 99201, T: 509-747-8798

Frank's Diner is a landmark in Spokane, Washington; voted best breakfast in the city for more than 11 years running. Although it is a relatively small place, it goes through 15.000 eggs and 2.5 tons of hashbrowns per month!! It's menu includes various (three egg) omelets, waffles, burgers, soups, etc. I sat at the counter, watching the cook making his omelets.

I ordered a Frank's Breakfast Combi ($11.29): two eggs, two slices of bacon, toast, and eight dollar-size pancakes -- I substituted the hashbrowns for extra whole wheat toast and added a side of links. Everything was delishes: the toast was thick, the links spicy, the pancakes tasty; only the bacon could have been more crispy.

VERDICT: 83/100
If you are in Spokane, have breakfast at Frank's Diner! You will not be disappointed (even if you are a vegetarian).

Eastwind Drive-In (Cascade Locks, OR)

395 NW WA Napa St, Cascade Locks, OR 97014, T: 541-374-8380

Eastwind Drive-In has been a touristic staple since the 1940s, but recently went out of business. However, since mid-April 2009 it is open again, under new management, to the clear delight of locals, who were lining up on both outside counters (one is a drive-thru), mostly for ice cream.

I went inside, to sit at the small counter, and ordered a bacon burger ($4.65), small fries ($1.75), and small cherry shake ($2.15). Clearly the place still has to find its rhythm, as it took ages for my food to arrive, and it was at best lukewarm. The burger was mediocre, with a bland sauce, the fries thin and tasteless. My shake, which took even longer, and a kind reminder, was extremely sweet as a consequence of an overkill of cherry syrup (which made it also almost impossible to drink through the ridiculously small straws).

VERDICT: 57/100
This place might pick up after a couple of months under the new management, but just to be safe, I would advice the Char Burger further up the street!

Char Burger (Cascade Locks, OR)

745 NW Wa-na-pa St, Cascade Locks, OR 97014, T: 541-374-8477

At exit 44 on the beautiful I-84 road along the Columbia Gorge River you find the tiny town of Cascade Locks, Oregon. It houses a big family restaurant/bakery/gift shop with a phenomenal view on the river. The style of the restaurant is western, in the spirit of Lewis & Clark. You walk up to the counter and choose from a wide variety of burgers and other classic American dishes.

I ordered a Western Burger, which comes with fries, and a medium soft drink for $10.55. The Western included a large but thin patty, two slices of crispy bacon, two fried onion rings, and a side of bbq sauce. The rest you could get at the well-stocked condiments bar.

While it did take quite a while before my food was ready, I enjoyed the beautiful views of the river and the remarkable clientele. The place is undoubtedly a popular touristic spot, but also draws a lot of locals: next to me sat three generations of inbreeding and at another table two 300+ pounders in hunt gear. Still, seeing everyone enjoy their food made me more and more hungry, so I was happy when the burger finally arrived. The Western Burger was very tasty; the fries were saggy though, while the mayo was sweet (Hellmann?).

VERDICT: 80/100
This was an excellent burger and with the condiments bar you will almost get what you want. The fries can be better, but that is more than compensated by the unique setting. A great stop on a beautiful road.

Zip's Drive-In (Post Falls, ID)

3927 W Riverbend Ave, Post Falls, ID, T: 208-457-8444

Zip's Drive-In is a fast food chain in the Spokane area of Washington state with a classic menu of burgers, shakes and deserts, and the obligatory chicken and fish. The different burgers have impressive names, such as The Big Zipper, Papa Joe, or Triple Triple. I had a The Grand and a regular banana shake for $5.60. The shake was sweet and icy and had no hint of real banana. The Grand included two thin tasteless patties (1/3 lb together), salad/tomato/pickles, and 1000 island sauce. The result tasted even (much) worse than a Big Mac!

VERDICT: 35/100
Worse than McDonald's!

C & D Drive-In (Boardman, OR)

103 N Main St, Boardman, OR 97818, T: 541-481-4981

At exit 164 of the I-84 is the old-school C&D drive-in, self-acclaimed "Home of the Bozo Burger". Oddly enough, the drive-in is linked to an espresso bar and pizza place. Since it opened, I guess in the 1950s, it changed nothing, except for the prices.

The guy running the place was very puzzled about me taking pictures; he even asked whether I was interested on buying the place :-). Not very hungry, I ordered just a Bozo Burger ($5.50) and a small banana shake ($2.25). The shake was made with real bananas and was creamy and sweet. The Bozo Burger was nothing more than a bacon and cheese burger (which, as always, I had without the cheese), which tasted bland.

VERDICT: 52/100
Although there are not many snack place on the I-84, I would advice you to find another place. If you do want to stop at C&D Drive-In, go for the shake and try something else than the burgers; e.g. the curly fries.

English's Cafe (Thomaston, GA)

119 W Gordon Street, Thomaston, GA 30286, T: 706-647-5525

While driving through rural Georgia, we drove through the small town of Thomaston (pop: 9.500), and found a little gem in the town center: English's Cafe. The place has been around since 1920 and hasn't changed a bit: the center stove had been moved just once, when they put in a vent. Run by a pleasant couple of southern hippies, the Cafe serves honest meals for very reasonable prices. The menu combines fast food items with home-made staples.

Hungry, but not sure whether the food would be very good, we ordered only one small item. M.G. had a very tasty chicken salad sandwich, while I had a chili dog. The chili was home made and fantastic, which made us go for a second round. M. had a bowl of the chili, while I went for Johnny's B.S., which turned out to stand for Brunswick Stew. It was freshly made and absolutely delectable! What a pleasant surprise!

VERDICT: 90/100
This place is just great! If you are ever in the neighborhood, and this means within an hour drive, do stop by. The owners (and the locals) are a riot and their cooking is fantastic!