Red Robin, home of the juicy, fried-egg and crispy bacon-garnished Royal Red Robin burger, is hot for two new burger styles: "Cry Baby" and "Fiery Ghost." Having already tried much of the Denver-based chain's lineup at Red Robin's Burger Works, I had to find out of these two hottie burgers would fan the flames -- or just get tossed into another fast-casual ash hole. See also - Red Robin's Burger Works delivers signature dishes in a smaller space - Top five chain-restaurant burgers -- completely naked!
I was intrigued by the idea that a popular burger chain would attempt to use the ghost pepper (Bhut Jolokia), which is very, very, very hot: somewhere between 855,000 and 1,000,000 Scoville heat units, compared to a typical jalapeño, which falls between 3,500 and 8,000 Scoville heat units. To unleash this much heat on suburban crowds seemed like a fast-track to a class-action lawsuit.
Here's how Red Robin describes the Fiery Ghost: "The style's star is one of the world's hottest chile peppers -- the ghost pepper, which teams up with both fresh-cut and fried jalapeños atop pepper jack cheese to round out this tour-de-fire."
I asked a company spokesman for more details: "Do you have special prep instructions for the cooks at Red Robin so they don't injure themselves with the peppers? (Think eye-burning, finger-burning, fiery finger-poking...)
"Preparing the Fiery Ghost or Cry Baby burger styles doesn't require the handling of raw ghost peppers," he said. "So no prep procedures are required other than our high standards of quality, safety and sanitation."
Hmmmm...so the peppers come in already cooked? In a relish or something?
And I had another question: "Have there been any reports so far of customers losing their sh*t, being hauled away in ambulances, or choking from the pepper-heat?"
"We have received great feedback from our guests about the Fiery Ghost style and the ghost pepper sauce," he said. "Our goal was to create a flavor profile with the pepper intensity our guests were asking for, but with a balance of ghost pepper spice and the sweet, acidic and salty flavors from the tomato base. In fact, some guests love the sauce so much they have been asking for extra to use as a dipping sauce for their bottomless steak fries."
Obviously, I had to try this for myself. So I trekked to the Red Robin location at 7460 West 52nd Avenue in Arvada around 6 p.m. on a weeknight. The place was fairly empty, but still noisy as hell with the "bleep-bleep-pew-pew!" of video game machines and the lilting refrains of the Dave Matthews band -- since '90s music brings the nostalgia for customers while they are waiting for their bottomless fries refills. I hadn't been to a full-service Red Robin in a while, but not much has changed since my last visit a few years back. There are still walls covered with studied eclectic-retro décor, there are still overpriced cocktails in every color of the neon rainbow, and the servers still ask you if you want your burger cooked with "some pink" or "no pink" -- medium or well done, respectively.
To get the Cry Baby or Fiery Ghost, you start with a regular Red Robin Gourmet Cheeseburger with bottomless steak fries for $8.99, then ask them to bring on the heat. My burgers arrived -- it took about twenty minutes -- and they looked as tidy and picturesque as they do in the ads. To prepare myself, I had ice water, honey packs I'd brought from home, and I'd taken a prescription heartburn pill several hours before. I was ready for the blast of searing peppers to burn the hells outta my eager gob.
I took a tentative bite of the Fiery Ghost burger....chewing....nothing yet...
Nothing at all.
I opened the top bun with my finger and poked around inside. I saw breaded, fried jalapenos, pepper jack cheese, onion straws, some sort of red sauce, but nothing that looked like even a slice of a ghost pepper. I asked my server where they were located on the burger, and he told me that they were in the red sauce smeared on the top bun.
Tommyrot and bunkum!!!
No actual peppers on the damn burger? No wonder the heat was on par with a hit of Tabasco sauce ,rather than lighting my esophagus on fire.
My mood was Pepto-dismal at this point, but I moved on to the Cry Baby burger, which turned out to be quite flavorful and oniony, but with a pussy-ass, barely-there bite of mild heat that didn't even linger.
Red Robin didn't exactly lie, but the home office sure didn't mention that processing ghost peppers into a weak, tomato-based sauce was what customers were supposed to get their knickers all in a twist about.
I eased the pain of not being in pain by ordering one of Red Robin's new desserts: two rich, fatty triangles of butter cake atop a pool of pureed strawberries and crowned with a heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Red Robin's new burgers, I officially pronounce thee lame. Thank Satan that the bottomless steak fries are still worth getting fired up about.
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