July 26, 2010

Lonnieburger Baskets: VanZandt Restaurant & Tavern

I know, not on the original list, but we've been modifying things somewhat now that we have the Cincy mag list, too.  It was an easy Saturday night; we didn't feel like driving all over the Queen City for a burger but didn't want to hit up the local Five Guy's so we headed to College Hill and the #5 burger in the city (according to Cincy mag): the VZ at VanZandt.

For those of you in the local know, VanZandt is on Galbraith (pronounced GALL-like your gall bladder-bruth) Rd which was - according to this article - originally known as Vanzandt.  It's the converted Budna Tavern and comes with the recommendation of having the former chef at Trio as its owner.

Here's what Cincinnati mag had to say about VanZandt...
#5VZ Classic
►Once known as Budna Grill, VanZandt has quickly garnered a reputation for some solid pub grub and familiar comforts. Chef/owner Chris Hoeweler—a former chef at Trio and a College Hill native—builds burgers with well-seasoned beef procured from neighboring Humbert’s Meats, imparts a good charbroiled flavor, and serves them on a sturdy herbed bun or onion-flecked foccacia. One of four designer options, the VZ Classic comes draped in American cheese and grilled onions with bacon, lettuce, and tomato. / 1810 W. Galbraith Rd., College Hill, (513) 407-6418
So we went in knowing that and pretty much nothing else.

Initial impressions of the place we that it was weirdly laid out with a covered, semi-outdoor seating area (seen to the right of the picture that I got from their Facebooking page), a bar spanning the length of the main area (behind the windows there to the left) and an odd little entry/hallway/restroom area breaking up the flow of the restaurant.  On the night we were there, the rear seating area was taken up by a 1960 North College Hill High School class reunion dinner kinda thing, so the odd arrangement of the seating in our area - mostly two- or three-person high tops around the edges of the room and tables for four sort of crammed into the middle of the bar area - could have been abnormal.  Dunno about that.

Our order was taken by the bartender who was working the full bar - initially a bit crowded with folks dining - and a couple of tables.  No worries as he took pretty good care of us, staying entirely behind the bar except when he brought out our food.

About the food then...

  • The meat is good, nothing terrific or stunning.  The burger was loosely constructed, leading to a burger that was nicely tender and had a soft chew - thankfully not smooth and sausage-like as Sammy's but certainly lacking any toughness.  We'd ordered our burgers medium-well, and it did show up with the slightest pink center, something that I tend not to cook burgers to at home but that I default to in a restaurant anymore (primarily for health reasons).  I would've liked a more well-developed crust on the burger, something to provide a bit of textural distinction.  I didn't notice any particular spices in the meat and ended up adding a little salt to mine.  It's a good burger but nothing to right home about.  Burger - 7

  • The VanZandt menu doesn't say much about what comes on the burger as you order it, but ours came with a slice of tomato, a leaf of lettuce, and three excellent, kosher dill pickles - all on the side.  They list a number of toppings that can be added in for a small charge.  I went with cheddar ($.50) and bacon ($1).  The Girl went for cheddar ($.50) and onion straws ($1).  The bacon was good stuff, well cooked but could've been crisper.  I don't particularly like that the two crossed pieces extended off the burger requiring me to break them before eating.  The cheese in both cases was well melted but not oozing into the nooks of the burger (as it was at Terry's - seriously, I've deleted that phrase four times already in this post).  The Girl was particularly fond of the onion straws on her burger, and I can attest from my taste that they were a great addition.  The buns are baked fresh every day and were excellent, sturdy, dense, fresh rolls with a touch of sweetness, sturdy enough to hold up to a fairly juicy burger.  In VanZandt's benefit, I'm going to include the bun as part of the Toppings score.  Toppings - 8 - but there's a little something else to mention that'll come up in the other stuff section.
Yeah, deal with that teaser, folks.


  • VanZandt has a solid neighborhood bar feel but lacks any sort of character.  It's like it just opened up last week with the walls a little too empty, the floor a little too plain linoleum, the bar a little too polished.  And the middle entry/hallway thing totally throw off any flow that the restaurant could possibly have.  It could be an architectural/structural thing - as The Girl postulated - but it's just weird to me.  The closest I could come to describing the feeling of VanZandts is that it felt like a hotel bar/restaurant to me.  It's pleasant but kind of anonymous.  I know the place has been open since at least last December - from this neighborhood posting - so I'm thinking that this isn't something that's just because it's been recently dropped fresh from the sky, so it's a little disappointing to me.  Thankfully, there aren't very many televisions in the place - only two largeish ones behind the bar and none around the rest of the restaurant.  So at least it's got that going for it.  Ambiance - 4 meh...
  • You can see 'em there on the plates next to our burgers.  Middling thin fries, well cooked and served nicely hot but not mouth burning.  We couldn't tell if some of them had a very light battering, but it wasn't anything to bother The Girl so it must've been incredibly light if so.  No real special seasoning or anything here, just good, well done fries. Fries - 7
  • $10 for bacon cheeseburger, fries, and the drink is the standard.  Get within fifty cents of that, and you get a five.  The plain VZ burger was $8 + $1 for bacon + $.50 for cheddar cheese (a couple of other kinds are an extra quarter) + $1.75 for a diet Coke = $11.25.  Cost - 4
Other Stuff
  • Fresh, tasty, hearty buns earns an extra point for me.  +1
  • According to that neighborhood post, they don't have any major domestic beers on tap.  The Girl asked what their VZ Red beer was, and the bartender said it was an Anheiser-Busch red of some sort (she can't remember right now) that sounded pretty macrobrew to us.  +/- 0
  • The corner - sadly, no photo of it - is decorated with a mural painted by NCH high school students, NKU students, and a couple of church youth groups according to a submitted article in the Enquirer.  I give 'em props for that, and it looks pretty good, too.  +1
  • Here's where the teaser comes back to gecha.  The Girl asked for a side of barbecue sauce for her fries - something that's pretty common for her as she likes that with her fries.  The barbecue sauce came out in a little ramekin and was amazing.  It was made in house, and the waiter wouldn't give us even a hint as to the recipe and even offered that they don't sell it in jars.  The sauce had a sweet, smoky, sharp kick with a good dose of black pepper, garlic, ketchup, and lots of other flavors in there.  We were guessing at molasses, vinegar, some kind of herbs.  In general, the sauce was outstanding.  I ended up dipping the last of the hamburger bun into it.  The girl spread it on her burger after dipping her fries into it.  Wow.  Best part of the meal by far and the reason that we're going to be headed back to VanZandt. +2 easily

So, overall score...34 points.  That's behind Terry's 45 but ahead of Quatman's 32/34.5 and Sammy's 26.

Man, I still need to write up Kuma's Corner.  Later this week, Katydid.  I promise.

Oh, and here's the Metromix review of VanZandt.

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