Willamette Burger... again.

With K&N's recent take on WB's new Veggie Burger, I thought twice about posting this one. But... it's got a twist. Stay with me here... 
Some time ago, my first experience with WB was as a carryout dinner for myself and two friends. You have to understand the experience was dashed--in part--because that evening, fries were really what I was craving. As in PMS craving. You know how that goes. The world would END if I did not have fry satisfaction. (Probably not a good time to try something new, I realize.) 

My first encounter with WB was disappointing. The fries that evening were hard, cooked to dehydrated, dark and almost burnt. I'd commented as such online elsewhere. Soon thereafter, I received a pleasant response from the management that said, in short, "That's the way we like 'em." Can't fault a place for standing by their vision of what something should be, even though I could hardly believe they'd CHOOSE to serve what I was given. The buns had also been hard, dry and chewy, and seemed to outweigh the rest of the burgers. As a result, I was NOT impressed, and wondered what the buzz was about. 

That was six months ago, and I hadn't gone back. Given that I eat out almost daily, there are few places I don't hit in a six month period! Now you might be thinking, "Geez, what a hard-ass -- one thing off and you write off a place for good?" 

Well, that's the lesson for restauranteurs... yes, that's EXACTLY what happens sometimes, especially in competitive markets. It's got to be right, for every customer, every time. It's what we are coming to you for. If I wanted unpredictable and possibly crappy food... I'd eat in my own kitchen.  :)  

As time went on, a nagging thought sat in my skull: if all these people with opinions I usually trusted raved... what was I missing? Giving it another go was on the mental to do list. With the come of Groupon, the WB offer of a $14 value for only a $7 cost couldn't be denied. With Scot, my trusty partner, in tow I returned to WB this weekend. 

First thing's first: The fries served to me at my first visit (all THREE orders of them) appear to NOT be the norm. During a busy lunch I watched tens of baskets come by me with fries, and not a one looked as desiccated and dark as what I was served. 

If only I'd known that! Now I'm sad I've missed six months of enjoying this place! We sampled a number of things: tots, onion rings, a BBQ Burger and the Border Burger. All were fabulous. The buns were much better: fresh and substantial, yet soft, flavorful and easy to eat. While my burger came looking like an insurmountable tower, putting the opened-palmed-power-press on it reduced it to a height that could, with work, be eaten by hand.

The tots are unique, and oh-so-good with the horseradish dipping sauce. Fluffy and peppery, they are crunchy on the outside and pure potato goodness on the inside. These are NOT your usual tots. 

The star of the show, however, were the onion rings. By far the best we've EVER had. EVER. Anywhere. Medium-large slices of tender sweet onions are hugged in a crisp coating that somehow does not come apart from the onion as you eat it. Each bite is an excellent balance of onion and breading. The fry sauce goes very well with those, but there's always just plain old ketchup, which I preferred. 

Our burgers were fantastic, each piled high with fresh, flavorful ingredients. They were total opposites; the BBQ Burger was a dark, thick and heavy onslaught of flavor (bbq sauce, beef, bacon, cheddar) while the Border Burger was fresh and light with the tasty pico. In both, the quality of the beef, superior in texture and taste to what you find elsewhere, stood out. 

The service was friendly and helpful, and the patrons inside the cozy eatery all seemed... happier... than your average person on any given day. A very nice vibe! 

So a few lessons, for both sides of the counter. Eatery staff, make sure it's up to your own high standards each and every time, or you might lose people. And don't be afraid to try something again, customers, if you have a bad experience but others experience something different on a routine basis! 


Chuck Bradley said...

Bravo Lavachickie! Great review and a solid lesson for us all!

Anonymous said...

We got a groupon and went there and I wish we would have waited or been informed before we decided to dine in that their heater was broken because it made our experience not enjoyable. I would suggest to any restaurant that if your air conditioning or heating is not working in the extremely hot or cold weather warn your customers with a sign on the door or through your servers. We went in when the temps were in the 30's and although the burger was good I could barely hold it because me hands were freezing! This was our first time going there and I wish we could have enjoyed our food rather than rushing through it to get warm in the car.

Willamette Noodle said...

Thanks, Lavachickie, for giving us a 2nd chance! We really are focused on making good food, and it makes me sad that we fell short on your first visit. It also sounds like maybe we didn't dig deep enough to ensure that what you got really was "how we like it"... cause what you described here certainly wouldn't have passed with me.

Anon - I'm REALLY sorry about the heater... we've been dealing with our landlord who has been promising us for more than 3 weeks now that he was getting someone in to fix it... We have been using space heaters, but clearly they were struggling when we had that really cold snap. If you'll email me your address, I'm happy to send you another "groupon" like deal to use on another visit. Please email me: Janet@WillametteNoodle.com and I'll get it right out to you... AND I'll let you know when the heater is fixed! :)

Rebekah said...

Good review, lavachickie! I had the same experience you did the first time I tried WBC. I didn't end up going back for a long, long time. The fries were alright, but the buns were just too hard and tough for my liking.

I too, used the Groupon to give it another chance and was very pleasantly surprised! So glad things have changed for the better there! I so want to support them and now I can.

Amanda said...

We just had dinner there for the first time and it was so very cold. I didn't know the heaters were broke which is a good thing I know now. I just thought that is the temp the staff wanted the restaurant to be. We said when we go back we will order out. But since this is just a temporary thing we will dine in again!

Willamette Noodle said...

I forgot to come back and post that the heaters are back in service!! Thanks to everyone that toughed it out in parkas and hats while we experienced such frigid temperatures! I guess we now know that Salem isn't in need of an "ice bar"!

Anonymous said...

Went to the new location and were not disappointed. It was the usual great food and outstanding service but with elbow room and booths! Definitely worth the drive to Silverton Rd/Fairgrounds Rd.