Gourmet burgers resemble all those beautiful women you run into after a long night on Upper King. They just keep coming out of the woodwork, and most will leave you broke with a bad taste in your mouth.
But let’s define gourmet burger. We’re not talking about a Hardees Thickburger here, or even a respectable fast food attempt put up by In-n-Out or Five Guys. We’re going for special stuff, distinctive, regional, fresh beef with enough flavor to approach the foie gras ice cream at McCrady’s or the chicken liver pâté at FIG. A big meaty burger roiling with greasy juice, piled a mile high, ketchup and mayo squirting out of the sides, teetering on a big, buttered bun, perhaps sporting a pickled beet, some Benton’s bacon, a fried egg, or three kinds of cheese imported directly from an artisanal farmstead in rural Wisconsin. Something that could knock the vegan out of a Tibetan monk.
So it’s always good to hear that another joint in town has caught the gourmet burger bug.
This time it’s in the old Amuse space, out in West Ashley on Sam Rittenberg, where Grindz now goes head to head with the down-home, creative fare that peppers that side of town served by seasoned purveyors of elevated bar food like Parson Jack’s, where the burgers can hardly be improved, and the Tin Roof with its “Cleveland Steamer,” the best grilled cheese with bacon and a fried potato cake that you will ever stuff into your pie hole, and the Early Bird Café where you can get a bodacious order of chicken and waffles.
Unfortunately for Grindz, it seems they’ve attempted to wrap all that grungy goodness that personifies roadhouse grub into a neatly laminated playbill; the flashy menu could easily be a marketing test for the next interstate challenger to the Cracker Barrel chain.
The interior hasn’t changed all that much from Amuse. They’ve added a few more tables, a big mural of the Grindz logo splayed across the back wall, and numerous televisions affixed to the walls. Tables are draped with strange tablecloths stitched together from what appear to be black pleather, which makes them look like something you might display a Harley on. Grindz looks to be a family joint, sports bar, biker joint, and, yes, a gourmet burger shop, all at once.
We could talk about the Firecracker Shrimp ($8.99), which are surprisingly plump and crunchy, with a decent kick to the sauce, or the wings, which are a bit gooey, but passable for a Monday night football game with a crispy exterior and plenty of butter in the sauce so that the paper napkins stick to your hands. And even the most serious of food snobs would have to laud the homemade potato chips, which are every bit as addictive as the signature crisps at Magnolias downtown.
But a place called Grindz can only be judged by its burgers ($8.99-$9.99), and they deliver some big ones. The pictures on the menu feature a double stacked monstrosity layered with enough cheese and bacon to make Elvis blush; even a single-patty version can be difficult to get your mouth around. But looks go only as deep as that shiny lamination on the menu.
They have all the options — mushrooms, chili, cheese (pimento and otherwise) — and they lay the shtick on as thickly as they do the mayonnaise, with colorful names: The Palmetto (pimento cheese), Texas Hold ‘Em (Jack Cheese), The Steakhouse (fried onions and steak sauce), and even the Dirty Sanchez (refried beans, smoked cheddar, frito chips, jalapeños, sour cream, salsa, guacamole, and black olives).
That’s not to say that the right person will not appreciate Grindz. They have a decent beer selection, and even a salad or two, even if you don’t count the Caesar burger as a salad or the bacon cheeseburger salad as a burger, and the sheer number of gut-busting dishes like the Monster Cheese Fries ($6.99) will guarantee that I’ll be visiting for a NASCAR race or two next season. The only problem with Grindz is that for all the things they do marginally well, they don’t really excel in any one place.
A gourmet burger place, one whose very name indicates the fresh grinding of the meat itself, who prides itself on that meat being from the ribeye, who develops a menu of creative topping combinations, should concentrate on being the best — but there are better places to get a gourmet burger in town, and better places for wings. There are sports bars that seem more welcoming, and beer joints with a local, entertaining crowd always at the ready. You can find places serving sliders that don’t come with soggy buns, and if you like cheesy menus with catchy slogans and novelty names, then there’s bound to be an Applebee’s or Ruby Tuesday just around the corner. You can get all that at Grindz, under one roof, done reasonably well, which may in its own way become a perfect recipe for commercial success and future expansion.