Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and the Future of America

Had a Red Robin Gourmet Burger and Now I Am Nostradumbass

So your immodest game writer went to Red Robin, the burger chain, the other night. While the experience is fresh in my mouth (why does that sound wrong?), I feel I must crack wise about what Red Robin gourmet burgers tell us about the future of this country.

red-robin-gourmet-burgersRed Robins are really a microcosm of what is good and bad about the name-branding and big-boxing of America. They’re made from fresh, healthy ingredients. They’re tidy, clean, identical, carefully marketed to Joe Six-Pack, and unerringly friendly.

The staff seem ridiculously cheery; you have to wonder about the pep talks and management, because they’re totally getting it done. I do admit, however, to a flashback to the cynical and often twisted movie Waiting when I saw them gather up twice to sing out birthdays to families celebrating their kids’ special days.

So Yeah, The Burger

I ordered the Whiskey River BBQ Chicken Burger, which is basted with BBQ sauce. It also includes cheddar cheese, crispy onion “straws” (think skinny onion rings), lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo. “Cowpokes and real folks both love this one!” crows their website.

The burger arrived promptly, accompanied by a serving of their piping hot “bottomless fries” and some gigantic crunchy onion rings. At first it looked a little small to me, peeking out of a white paper wrap*, but it’s about the size of a chicken burger you cook on your own grill. The menu photos always look enormous.

So I took a big bite and I had a revelation. Red Robin gourmet burgers are telling the future, and the future is expensive, heavily sauced, carefully manicured, and so full of flavor that you can’t taste what it’s made of. The future is served by marvellously attentive people who refill your soda before you’re done, sometimes bringing you a second glass so you don’t even have to lower the glass to get more.

A bite of my burger was like a little bite of Las Vegas. The glittering lights, the gambling, the dancing girls, and the empty feeling. I followed the cheese, I was diverted by the onion straws, and I was waylaid by the barbeque sauce. The overall effect was pleasurable and comforting, because on an animal level I was happy that I was getting some serious calories. My tongue responded to the sweet and the salty. But on the other hand it had none of the subtle interplay of flavors that truly great food possesses. It didn’t surprise or delight; it overpowered.

And somewhere in there was a chicken breast, flanked by some lettuce and tomato, all yelling to be heard, but no one paid any attention.

My gourmet burger was relentlessly adult but built on childish principles. It’s forgotten what it is. A Red Robin gourmet burger is what mall food looks like when it grows up. And the future is lavish, clean, and bright, but it looks to be overdramatic and desensitized at the same time.

*By the way, this wrap is really a brilliant innovation, keeping the burger together without a toothpick, and making it easy to hold.

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