Burgers in the ’Burg 

Great burgers are alive and well at Engine No. 9.

You would think with the popularity of burgers, fries and hot dogs that good or even great examples would be abundant. However, we’ve gotten so used to fast food mediocrity that we barely notice. Of course, franchised food is comfortingly predictable and the price is right, but mass production is a gastronaut’s enemy. And despite this proclamation, I can’t claim innocence when it comes to scarfing down chain burgers; I’ve had more than my share of Big Macs and Whoppers.

But if you’re asked, as I now am, to apply critical faculties to every calorie that passes your lips, this is a food category fraught with peril. So what happens when a restaurateur doing burgers and dogs decides to aim high? The answer is Engine No9.

The sleek sports bar has bright fire engine red walls, but a “very comfortable uncluttered clean atmosphere that sports fans both male & female will appreciate.” The clearly stated goal: prime sports, prime burgers. And they deliver in spades.

The burgers are sublime.

They all begin with eight juicy ounces of prime Black Angus beef; but that’s merely where the fun begins. There are, count ’em, 20 fabulous options that even include grilled portabella for vegetarians and seared ahi tuna for fish lovers. The “simple” end of the prime beef menu touts the “chili burger” topped with shredded jack and cheddar cheese or perhaps a classic crispy bacon cheeseburger with melted sharp smoked cheddar.

Your burger comes with the difficult choice of terrific sweet potato fries, tater tots, or thin-cut pencil fries. There’s also a cucumber salad for the carb averse.

But after these recognizable menu staples, the craziness begins. Will you crave the “black flag” blackened with Cajun spices and topped with pepper jack cheese and fire roasted red peppers? Or perhaps the “demi-god” with cheddar, Swiss, sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions and horseradish mayo? I particularly like the “wine-o” with red wine barbecue sauce, bacon, aged white cheddar and fried onions. Also delicious is the “chubby duck” with caramelized onions, smoky pancetta, Brie, foie gras and duck cracklings. Every choice has a wonderful flavor combo to make your taste buds happy.

As you reach the end of the menu, the burgers get really serious or frightening, depending on your perspective. The “heart attack” adds a fried egg, three slices of American cheese, four slices of bacon, and plenty of chipotle mayo. If you’re even more foolhardy, the “double attack” is twice as big. Everything above is doubled but it’s all served between two grilled cheese sandwiches in place of a hamburger bun.

Topping them all is the “ghost burger.” Engine No9 requires you to sign a challenge waiver before they let you order this dish due to the extreme heat. Why the legal documentation? Because this dainty burger piles on jalapenos, smoked chipotle peppers, sliced habaneros, pepper jack cheese and ghost chili peppers. Unless you grew up swallowing fire, I’d steer clear.

Fear not, however, Engine No9 is no one-trick-pony.

A 10-piece serving of hot wings is marinated, then golden fried. The crisp wings get a heavy coat of thick and slippery Sriracha-voodoo hot sauce. The bright orange sauce packs heat, but won’t singe your mouth. The yummy wings come with a creamy blue cheese dip, tangy seaweed salad, and a welcome post-wing Handi-wipe to return your fingertips to their pristine pre-wing glory.

I love gumbo, but rarely find a bowl like Engine No9’s that does N’awlins proud. It’s a spicy, complex bit of classic Cajun dark roux heaven with huge chunks of roasted chicken and andouille sausage. The bowl is dotted with rice and packs more heat than the wings, so you can hold the extra Tabasco and just enjoy.

Engine No9 also offers salads and non-burger entrees. The mushroom risotto on the menu is not available, so we opt for jerk braised short ribs. The slow-roasted meat, served over four-cheese tortellini, is tender and full of flavor, but it’s not particularly from jerk seasoning. It’s fine, but doesn’t pack the wallop of the prime burgers.

And then, there are the hot dogs. A de rigueur chili-dog with sharp cheddar and a “southern” dog with a south-of-the-border topping mashup from the burger menu: chorizo, corned beef hash, pico de gallo, and cayenne-avocado cream.

I opt for the “No.9” dog with layers of grilled onions and mushrooms, crisp bacon and American cheese on a 100 percent Vienna beef 9-inch wiener that is just outstanding.

There’s no dessert menu, but they do offer a piece of unremarkable cheesecake Jackson Pollocked up with no fewer than two splattered sauces. Stick to the transcendent burgers and dogs (unless you just can’t help yourself) and you’ll go home happy indeed.

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