Re­al­ity bites

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Rob DeWalt The New Mex­i­can

Es­tab­lished in 1974 in down­town Santa Fe and still owned and op­er­ated by the same fam­ily, The Orig­i­nal Real­burger — known lo­cally as Real­burger — en­joyed a de­voted lo­cal fol­low­ing on Don Gas­par Av­enue for more than 15 years. A short stint next to a mo­tel fur­ther out of town on Cer­ril­los Road un­der the name Moongaz­erz was fol­lowed by a move to its cur­rent lo­ca­tion, a build­ing on Old Pe­cos Trail that has seen its fair share of restau­rants open and fold. There was the pop­u­lar Pep­pers res­tau­rant. And then there were, in quick suc­ces­sion, Fresh Pep­pers, Pe­cos Trail Pizze­ria, and the strip­per-pole-sport­ing Chi­la­cas.

Mom and dad, fear not. The pole is gone, and Real­burger is, as it al­ways has been, a ca­sual, fam­ily-friendly place to eat. Booths and ta­bles with plenty of el­bow room oc­cupy a spa­cious din­ing area, and a sep­a­rate bar for the big kids, with tele­vi­sion screens, keeps the sports cov­er­age and beer flow­ing.

A call to Real­burger on a re­cent Satur­day af­ter­noon to make sure it was open for din­ner was met with, “Oh, to­tally. We’re al­ways open on Satur­day night. Come on in!” But when we ar­rived, we dis­cov­ered the res­tau­rant was closed for a pri­vate wed­ding cel­e­bra­tion. (Fade to me eat­ing string cheese and olives over the kitchen sink.) I re­turned midweek with a col­league and or­dered a Su­per Real Burger with Swiss cheese, cooked medium rare. It wasn’t su­per. The prom­ise of two juicy six-ounce An­gus-beef pat­ties cooked to the de­sired tem­per­a­ture rang empty. Served wrapped in foil on a plate — “It keeps the bun soft,” I was told — the burger was sinewy, tepid, and cooked to well done. The “burger bar,” as it was ad­ver­tised at the ta­ble, was where all the fix­ings could be found. Ice­berg let­tuce, mealy toma­toes, wilted red onions, and luke­warm pickle slices do not a joy­ous burger bar make. Raise the bar, or raze it. Or just put the gro­ceries on the plate.

Hand-cut fries are of­fered as a sep­a­rate menu item. I ap­pre­ci­ate the hard work it takes to hand-cut pota­toes for fry­ing. I would have ap­pre­ci­ated it more at Real­burger if mine had been cooked past the semi-raw stage. A plate of honey-kissed fried chicken fared bet­ter. Three pieces of chicken were crisp and slightly sweet on the out­side and ten­der-juicy in­side. Un­for­tu­nately, in­sti­tu­tional-tast­ing mashed pota­toes (no lumps, but the server swore they were house-made), re­heated frozen crin­kle-cut car­rots, and other fla­vor­less veg­gies dumbed the chicken dish down. Ser­vice was friendly but inat­ten­tive. A dirty spoon and paper straw wrap­pers sat on the ta­ble through­out the meal, and iced tea wasn’t re­filled un­til we asked.

Lunch a few days later proved com­i­cal but also a bit re­demp­tive from a ser­vice point of view. We ar­rived dur­ing a mo­tor­cy­cle rally, nav­i­gat­ing a sea of Har­ley-David­sons and leather chaps in search of a park­ing space. (Real­burger gra­ciously hosts ral­lies, fundrais­ers, and other com­mu­nity events through­out the year.) Our server was top-notch, aside from not re­fill­ing our wa­ter glasses. When my din­ing com­pan­ion or­dered the kung pao tofu — at a place called Real­burger, mind you — he was told the res­tau­rant no longer serves it. Thank god. We were of­fered free rein of the salad bar as a con­so­la­tion prize, so we dug in. It was fresh, straight­for­ward, and clean. Cu­ri­ous thing, though: the sneeze guard on the salad bar was missing, so a clever staffer had rigged a re­place­ment shield made out of plas­tic wrap.

I wish that kind of in­ge­nu­ity had ex­tended to the burger I or­dered. A six-ounce medium-rare Real­burger ar­rived cooked to well done — again. A slice of Swiss cheese topped the patty like a starched bed sheet dry­ing in an ice storm. My French fries were, once again, un­der­cooked, but this time, they con­tained enough grease to lu­bri­cate ev­ery kick­stand in the park­ing lot. Fish and chips were sub­stan­dard: frozen planks of white fish bat­tered and fried, shaped like kinder­garten build­ing blocks, and sea­soned sim­i­larly. Sweet­potato fries orig­i­nated from a bag in the freezer, we were told, but at least they were grease-free and cooked through.

Crois­sant French toast sounded de­li­cious. What we ate, how­ever, were two dry crois­sants cov­ered in bat­ter that tasted like burnt scram­bled eggs, both pas­tries cov­ered in slices of ripe kiwi fruit, the lot of it dusted overzeal­ously with cin­na­mon.

Real­burger is strug­gling to find its culi­nary iden­tity, aim­ing to please nearby ho­tel guests while hop­ing to ap­pease lo­cals at the same time. Its ser­vice staff means well, but there doesn’t ap­pear to be much man­age­rial con­cern in the kitchen or on the floor lately. When the veg­e­tar­ian sec­tion of your menu starts with the words, “Our chili is made with meat,” it’s time for in­tro­spec­tion. It’s time for Real­burger to get real.

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