Partial Credit: Grind Burger Proves Good Food, Which It Has In Spades, Is Only Half of What Makes a Good Restaurant

There certainly is no shortage of hamburger joints, from neighborhood one-offs and small but growing regional ventures to large national chains. To stand out in such a crowded market, a new operator is wise to adopt a trademark feature. That can include secret menus, grass-fed beef, mini-sliders, oddball toppings, and everybody's favorite: the celebrity chef.

That's precisely the tack that owners Craig and Michelle Ozan took when they opened Grind Burger this past fall. Their trademark move? All beef would be ground fresh daily, in plain sight behind glass. If fresh is best, then Grind wins.

I've now eaten or sampled four different burgers at Grind, and they truly are some of the freshest, most juicy and flavorful burgers around. It all starts with Certified Angus Beef chuck roll from Blue Ribbon Meats, which is double ground, gently molded into patties, and cooked on a sizzling-hot flattop, which imparts a great crust. The burgers drip and ooze and almost melt in the mouth, substantiating the restaurant's motto that "Perfection is Messy." My only quibble is the bready top bun, which is larger than the burger itself.

But just because Grind serves amazing burgers doesn't mean that Grind is an amazing burger restaurant. From the odd layout to lackadaisical management, the restaurant has considerable room for improvement.

Early in the going, the Ozans described their concept as part restaurant, part lounge, and have dedicated a full quarter of the space to a soft-seating area outfitted with low-slung chairs, couches and coffee tables. The only problem is that the restaurant is situated in sleepy Highland Heights not swanky Scottsdale, Ariz., where Craig spent much of his professional restaurant career. I haven't spotted a single person seated in that area, which could better be used for more conventional seating.

Compounding matters is the fact that tables remain un-bussed for interminable stretches of time. My wife and I watched an unoccupied six-top sit with dirty dishes for 30 minutes under the nose of the general manager, who instead worked the room chatting up guests. On a separate visit, a table in the bar sat un-bussed for 40 minutes, giving that "Perfection is Messy" tagline new meaning.

That's a shame, because those burgers really are delicious. The Over Easy ($11) was cooked perfectly, the egg yolk oozing onto the beef, bacon and cheddar cheese. Despite the name, the Triple Truffle ($12) manages to not go overboard on the truffle train, lending a funky fragrance to the mushroom-topped burger. The Diablo ($11), however, does not live up to its name, offering almost zero spice for heat freaks. The vegetarian-approved Skinny ($9) swaps a grilled portabella mushroom for the meat and tops it with goat cheese and sundried tomato spread. I splurged one time and ordered the $15 Wagyu beef burger with cheese and sautéed mushrooms. The beef definitely feels and tastes a bit more tender, but I don't think it's worth the supplement.

You'll have to fork out an additional five or six bucks for sides like french fries, onion rings or fried sweet pickles. They are all worth the added expense, with huge portions served in mini wax paper-lined deep-fry baskets.

Not that you need appetizers before consuming a half pound of beef, but the hot dog sliders ($9) are fun, festive and easy to share. A trio of 3-inch beef weenies are topped separately with mac and cheese, chili, and Stadium Mustard and relish. Grind's sauerkraut balls ($8) are more accurately described as deep fried sausage balls with a whisper of kraut. Too much meat for my taste. Some other menu items are head scratchers, like the whole grilled artichokes ($7) and the cheese board ($11), which seem out of place at a burger bar.

With 20 taps and more than that number of wines by the glass, the beer and wine lists are above average for the genre.

At $8 to $15 per sandwich, Grind hamburgers rank up there as some of the priciest in town, a fact not lost on the owners. "We understand that we're probably one of the most expensive around, but I think if you show diners why, and you provide a good experience and good value, then you'll get people to come back," explains Michelle.

Expansion, naturally, is on the minds of management. But before they can ever focus on Nos. 2 and 3, No. 1 needs to be more finely tuned.

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Douglas Trattner

For 20 years, Douglas Trattner has worked as a full-time freelance writer, editor and author. His work on Michael Symon's "Carnivore," "5 in 5" and “Fix it With Food” have earned him three New York Times Best-Selling Author honors, while his longstanding role as Scene dining editor garnered the award of “Best...
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