Acme Burger Co.
275 S. 200 West, Salt Lake City ; 801-257-5700
Upscale burgers of grass-fed beef, lamb and salmon at this burger-centric venue.
Hours: Su-Th, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; F-S, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Liquor: Full Service
Corkage: $ 10
Reservations: For large parties only
Recommended Dishes: Lamb burger, shoestring fries, garlicky "breath enhancer" burger.
November 7, 2007
Wily chef is back, taking hamburgers to new heights
By Vanessa Chang
Devouring a good burger is a blissful, messy business. First, you wrap your hands around a stacked tower of grass-fed beef, butter lettuce and a soft specialty bun. To even make a dent, you simply have to go for it. At least, that's the way I went about the Acme classic ($6). Inevitably, the juices dribble down your chin and you may lose an add-on or two -- a chunk of blue cheese ($1), bacon ($1) or a bit of mushroom ($1) -- onto the translucent purple tabletop.
But no one in the packed house notices. They're all busy eating their own Acme classics (ranging in size from mini, $3, to colossal, $20), snarfing down parsley-freckled shoestring fries or ruminating on the purpose of the Pollocked hammerhead-shark art piece.
Conversation ricochets off the renovated warehouse cement walls like pinballs, layered with the soundtrack and din from the exposed kitchen.
Adam Kreisel's re-emergence is a highly anticipated one. As chef of the adventurous, but ill-fated Globe Café, then Sundance resort and other places beyond Zion, he's earned a loyal following of diners who respect his creative zeal.
Now, at Acme Burger Co., Kreisel is aiming to elevate burgers -- make them objects of desire. Judging by the sheer number of business travelers, conventioneers and excited downtown residents, diners have high hopes and expectations.
Those expectations are set by the restaurant. On its Web site, it insists on uncomplicated menus and a lack of pretension. But diners equating burger dining with a brewpub atmosphere and beer list are in for a surprise. The motto here is "anything but common." Grass-fed beef, carefully ground and seasoned with the barest hints of Worcestershire sauce and ground coriander, exemplify why good ingredients make a humble dish indisputably mouth-watering.
But Acme's burgers aren't limited to beef. Ground lamb scented with citrusy cardamom and dressed with tangy cucumber yogurt sauce is a revelation on a sweet-potato bun ($12). Salmon burgers ($12) come alive with a ginger pickle cream-cheese sauce in pumpernickel. Even vegetarians can join in on the fun with a "3-bean" patty, hearty and well-flavored ($7).
Beyond this cornerstone, many items are worth a foray. After all, I can't think of many other burger joints where the latkes, served with crème fraîche and applesauce (single order, $4; family order, $11), are as good as the fries, where the chowder's clams ($6) are so tender or where the acorn squash bisque's ($6) curry level is worthy of debate.
Kreisel's penchant for flavors and thoughtful touches make standard items unique. Airy, sweet bread pudding dons a tangy-sweet caramel made from goat's milk ($8). And even a simple blueberry sorbet got more interesting with a little help from tarragon's licoricelike flavor ($6).
Only a few months into its life, Acme has entrenched itself into many a diner's rotation. On most weekend nights, they come in droves and endure a wait. And it's also been the target of criticism. For as simple as burgers may be and as much as Acme promotes a laid-back attitude, it sparks some serious opinions. Some of it I find unwarranted. I don't really care if there's a patty-bun incongruity as long as the beef is juicy and good. And really, do you need a trough of fries to be happy? If so, there are plenty of Training Tables to frequent.
Yes, prices for these burgers are at a premium. And they'd be completely worth it if the kitchen could nail down consistency. Admittedly, it's a new operation and changes have been made gradually to streamline the menu and ensure that your garden herb bun won't disintegrate under the "breath enhancer's" ($8) juices and aioli. But thick-cut fries were ethereally crispy and tuber-sweet one night, utterly soggy another. Ahi tartare once arrived mysteriously bland and devoid of its usual succulence. And on a busy night when the kitchen's pacing puttered, I wonder why our server bothered to ask how I wanted my burger cooked (medium-rare) when it arrived well-done anyway.
The service itself has yet to find a rhythm. There are stellar servers and others who take Acme's casual vibe literally and disappear for long stretches between dessert and getting the check. Maybe it's to get you to look over the svelte wine list again and try out a fruity red 2006 Tempranillo Gormaz Duero (half-glass, $4, glass, $7, bottle, $24) or a sweet Greek Samos Muscat (half-glass, $3, glass, $5, bottle, $26). Or maybe not.
Still, there's reason to be excited when an Acme burger arrives at your table. In all its stacked, messy and delicious glory, it's a symbol for SLC's true dining potential. You just need to get your hands around it.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.