As we mentioned a few weeks ago, a big trend of 2011 was the triumphant comeback of the burger. Burgers are being taken more and more seriously these days, and last year, they hit that tipping point, moving front and center in the restaurant world, with both high-end dining rooms and casual joints offering house-ground patties, a spread of fried and fresh sides, and toppings that range from fried-green tomatoes to quail eggs. Each place seems to have its own niche, whether it be sliders, a focus on craft beer, or ping-pong tables for burning off the calories after lunch. And just when we think we've seen it all, Vino Burgerz enters the market serving up big, juicy burgers with wine pairings.
At the corner of Highway 41 and Highway 17 North in Mt. Pleasant, you'll find Wine Awhile, a nice little wine shop and a multi-year winner of City Paper's Best of Charleston readers' poll, which just expanded with Vino Burgerz. The store is home to the 24-bottle wine station, which accepts a wine smart card. Swipe the card at one of the six stations, select a wine, size (sample, half, or full glass), and let the tasting begin. Samples and half glasses allow you to explore styles of wine you may have never tried before, and with the addition of the burger menu, winos can explore the offerings even further by pairing them with good food.
Inside Vino Burgerz, the walls are the color of a lush burgundy wine, and the tables are dressed with black tablecloths. The open kitchen is separated from the dining space by a low wall fashioned from wooden wine crates, giving off an artistic vibe. Stark white kraft paper rests on top of the black tablecloths, slightly marring the whole black-and-red motif. The white paper would be better suited for a pizza joint instead of an upscale burger place. Overall, the vibe is a bit off-kilter, but burgers and wine are an off-kilter pairing, so maybe the decor works after all.
A bulk of the menu is dedicated to a variety of creative burgers ranging from all-beef patties ground in-house to house-smoked salmon. Pick out a specialty burger or build your own, starting with beef, lamb, turkey, salmon, or a portobello cap with lettuce, tomato, and a side ($7). There's no question that these burgers are huge. The Sunshine Burger ($10) consists of a nicely seasoned, juicy beef patty that's immersed in a flood of oozing egg yolk that gets lost in a pile of Bibb lettuce. Cutting through the field of lettuce reveals strips of pecan-smoked bacon, fresh red onions, and vibrant heirloom tomatoes all seasoned with black pepper.
On the menu, each burger is paired with a wine and beer, but the pairings are with styles, not specific vintages or brands. For instance, they suggest pairing the Sunshine Burger with Riesling or Zinfandel and IPA or pale ale. For anything more specific, you'll have to enlist the help of a server.
The Tobacco Road ($9.50) also consists of a beef patty, but this time smothered in a tangy herbed goat cheese, fried tobacco onions, and spicy garlic red peppercorn aioli. For this one, it made sense to go with the beer pairing, which was suggested to be a Porter or Rye. At the time the closest beer option was Oskar Blues Old Chub, which is a dark Scottish ale boasting big caramel, molasses, and smoky flavors; it complemented the big taste of the strong goat cheese well.
Moving over to the lamb option, the Take it to the Greek ($12) is basically loaded with a Greek salad of kalamata olives, sweet peppers, feta cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, and creamy yogurt. The Greek flavors were definitely there, but the lamb patty was under-seasoned and lacked flavor.
The juicy portobello is grilled, topped with fresh mozzarella, and broiled before being piled high with fresh heirloom tomatoes, basil, and a dose of aged balsamic reduction ($9). This vegetarian-friendly burger was fresh and full of flavor, but the pairing with Sean Minor Sauvignon Blanc made it even better. The Sean Minor was not too sweet, showcasing subtle flavors of melon and pear, with a bit of effervescence. A perfect complement to the earthy, yet sweet portobello.
The burgers come with a choice of fresh-cut fries, sweet potato chips, or a side salad. The fries are skin-on and dusted with seasoning salt. The sweet potato chips are seasoned with spicy cinnamon. Both are top-notch when cooked correctly, but on my most recent visit, the fries and chips were soggy and chewy and could've used a little more time in the fryer.
While each of the burgers has its own unique style, there's one thing they all share: the bun. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the bun can make or break a burger. A large, shiny, crispy brioche is used at Vino Burgerz. There's no doubt that it has the firmness to hold the large patties, juices, and mounds of toppings, but it's a bit too bready and often overpowers the flavors that sit in-between. In this case, the brioche doesn't completely ruin the burger, but a smaller, less bready bun would certainly help.
Though the burgers take the spotlight, the appetizers shouldn't be ignored. Two deviled farm eggs ($4) are cut in half length-wise and come out with a perfect ball of creamy yolk mixed with parsley and topped with crumbled pecan bacon to give just the right amount of saltiness. A simple dish, but it works. The pickle dogs ($4.50) are cut into spears, battered, fried to a crispy golden brown, yet lack any crunch.
The jumbo, succulent shrimp are smoked with cherry and applewood, giving them a sweet, smoky flavor ($7) and stacked on a bed of greens surrounded by dots of cocktail sauce and aioli — an artistic presentation. The shrimp were tasty and flavorful, although they were big enough to warrant the extra care of deveining since they were already shelled.
Vino Burgerz has a few things going in its favor: the presence of the well-established Wine Awhile, the need for a go-to burger place in northern Mt. P, and good food that's got a lot of bang for your buck. Who knew you could drink wine with a burger? It certainly didn't cross my mind until I set foot into Vino Burgerz.