Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ground Burger, Lisbon, Portugal

I was recently in Lisbon for a conference.  Lisbon is not exactly known for being a culinary mecca (besides Pastéis de Belém, which was amazing!) and I had little time to do research before my trip.  Also I was basically looking for venues that could handle large groups with no notice.  On any given night, we had no idea if our group would be 5 people, 10 people, 30 people, or even 50.  Um, yeah.

This is no easy feat.  We managed to get a tables for 30 of us at Largo one night, where the food was pretty mediocre, but at least they had a good gin selection.  But the next night, we needed to be flexible and couldn't require people to RSVP.

I randomly stumbled upon Ground Burger when out for a walk one day, and decided to investigate.  Yes, a burger place, not not really authentic Portuguese cuisine, but, it would appeal to the masses.  Their tag line is "Burgers Fries Shakes Beer".  Pretty universal stuff there.

I did a bit more research.  The reviews were actually really, really good.  Not just for burgers in Lisbon, but, for burgers, anywhere.  People claimed the onion rings were the best they had ever had.  I pressed on.  I found out the beef is ground in-house daily.  They make their own buns, twice a day.  They make their own ice cream for the milkshakes.  Well, then.  This wasn't just any old burger place!

So, we went, a group of about 30 to start, and at least 15 more trickled in within 20 minutes of our seating.  The restaurant couldn't seat us all in one group, but we were able to take a bunch of tables, push some together, and take up about 80% of the restaurant.

So far so good.  But ... the staff just couldn't handle our group, even though we broke into multiple tables.  It was actually rather amazing how badly they dealt with us.  I understand getting a few orders wrong, but, I'm not sure anyone was actually delivered the right item.  Burgers were not cooked as specified.  It took 41 minutes after I ordered for my sparkling water to be delivered.  Other drinks took even longer.  The table next to us got their food before their drinks.  Our food was mostly stone cold.

The drinks and food were ready in a timely fashion, but, the staff just seemed entirely confused about what to do with them.  The bartender had all the drinks lined up on the counter, arranged by table, and a server would walk over, look at them, and turn away, walking in a random direction for a minute, going back, picking up one drink, wandering around, etc.  It was somewhat like watching a chicken with its head cut off.  I have no idea how they were so incapable of moving items from the counter to the tables.

So, anyway, I have a hard time evaluating Ground Burger, because maybe it really is wonderful, it sure sounded like it should be, but for us, it was highly mediocre and the experience was really not very enjoyable.

Setting

Outdoors.
The restaurant is located up on a raised platform, with a huge patio outside.  The patio looked idea for seating, but, they had none.  Maybe zoning requirements?
Inside Seating.
Inside was a large bar area, with craft beer bottles on display.

Tables were simple, chairs were wooden, and we were provided paper placemats. 

The light fixtures were fairly interesting, exposed bulbs in cages.

It was ridiculously loud inside, and it got worse as the night went on.  All hard surfaces in a fully filled restaurant doesn't work very well.
Condiments.
On each table was a box with ketchup, mustard, and salt.  No pepper.  Next to it was a paper napkin dispenser.

There was no cutlery on the tables, and none ever provided, even when people ordered salads.  Those folks ended up going back to the kitchen (!) to ask for a fork after waiting at least 20 minutes post salads being delivered for anyone to pay attention to us again.

Drinks

We ordered drinks soon after sitting.  It took 41 minutes for my sparkling water to arrive, and even then, it was brought to the person next to me, who ordered still water.  It took another 5 minutes for my cider to arrive, and it wasn't even brought to anyone, a server just walked around with it in her hand looking confused, saying nothing, until I realized it was mine and basically grabbed it from her.  The table next to us received their food before their drinks.  Emil's glass of wine was sitting up on the bar ready to be delivered to him for at least 20 minutes, and came long, long after mine, even though he was seated next to me.  They came by with a beer we didn't order at least 4 different times.  Yeah.
 Craft Beer Menu.
The first page of the menu, after the food, is entirely beer, featuring Sam Adams very prominently on top. They had a decent number of lagers, a few saisons, and tons of ales.  Given all the craft beers, I'm not entirely sure I understand the Samuel Adams thing?

Burgers and beers are a classic pairing, and the beer drinkers in my group were quite happy.

I'm very curious to know about this "Beer to go" ...
Beers, Part 2.
The next page?  More beer, tons of IPAs, and porters and stouts.

Again, very happy beer drinkers.
Wine and Cider.
And finally, wine, ciders, and ... Jack Daniel's.  Lols.  For wine, they had only two whites (only one by the glass) and 5 reds (again, only one by the glass).  Clearly, beer is the focus here, and wine was an afterthought.  Emil got a glass of red wine, and said it wasn't very good.

The cider menu was pretty good though, 5 different ciders by a Swedish brand, Kopparberg, all fruity varieties.
Kopparberg Morango Lima. 4.90€.
I went for the strawberry lime cider.  I may not like beer, but cider and burgers is a great pairing, and I was pretty happy to have choices.

This was not at all what I expected.  It was crazy sweet.  You could smell the strawberry aroma the moment I opened the can.  Sweet is good, and strawberry is good, but this was more like a malt beverage than a cider.  I would have loved it when I was in college and was into such things.

It really didn't have many cider qualities to it.  It was like ... carbonated strawberry juice with a hint of lime.  Sorta like a refreshing flavored iced tea.  Very drinkable, and likely would have been dangerous for that younger version of me.  I wasn't ever able to do too much damage with Zima, since, wow, too much sweet and you just can't pound those, but on a hot day, I think I'd find these way too easy to suck down.

But, um, with my burger and fries?  Not quite what I wanted.  Oops.  I didn't like it, but did not bother trying to order a second drink.

Milkshakes

"All shakes are made with our daily housemade ice cream.  We use only fresh, 100% natural ingredients and vanilla beans from madagascar. The recipe? It's secret!"
Milkshakes are a strange thing for me.  I like them, for sure.  But, they aren't quite a dessert to me, even though, um, they should be.  So I never know when to have one.  But, to pair with burgers and fries?  Yes!  Classic.

Ground Burger has only 3 milkshakes on the menu: chocolate peanut butter, vanilla, and strawberry.  While I agree that chocolate peanut butter is strictly an improvement over chocolate, I thought it a bit strange that they didn't have plain chocolate.

Anyway, given the description and claims of greatness, we obviously needed milkshakes.  I can't say they were anything special, although, they did look pretty impressive.

All milkshakes were served in mason jars, apparently trendy in Lisbon too.  All are topped with an impressive mount of "chantilly cream" and come with the sauce of choice drizzled down the sides of the jar and on top.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Milkshake. 6.90€.
"Vanilla ice cream, peanut butter, chocolate syrup, served with chantilly on top."

I went for the chocolate peanut butter, because I love peanut butter, and vanilla and strawberry were just a bit too boring.

The chocolate peanut butter milkshake had chocolate sauce drizzled around the perimeter of the jar, more on top, and obviously some integrated into the shake.  The mound of whip cream was impressive in stature.  It certainly *looked* impressive.

And, it was fine.  But, really, not remarkable.  It was decently thick, had decent peanut butter flavor, but the chocolate wasn't very strong.  The chocolate sauce was just generic, thin, kinda watery, likely Hershey, just, chocolate sauce.  The "chantilly" really seemed to be whipped cream from a can.

Again, fine, but certainly not special, and the handmade ice cream and other subtleties were lost on us.
Vanilla Milkshake. 6.90€.
"Vanilla ice cream, golden syrup, served with chantilly on top."

The person next to me got the vanilla milkshake, made with golden syrup.  It too had the syrup (in this case the golden syrup) drizzled down the sides of the mug and on top of the whipped cream.

I didn't take a sip of this as I didn't know my neighbor well enough to start demanding sips of his drink, but he said it was quite good.

Food

Menu.
Ground burger basically serves burgers.  And really, not much else.  The menu contains 9 different burgers, one of which is a veggie burger, but otherwise are all the same ground beef burgers with different toppings.  There are no other entrees available, nor other types of patty.

All burgers are served a la carte.  The sides offered are fries, onion rings, and a salad, plus, if you consider it a side, dipping sauces.

And that is it for savory food.  All of the savory food only filled the left hand column of the menu.

The right hand column had the milkshakes, desserts (ice cream or chocolate cake), and non-alcoholic drinks.
"Our burgers are housemade, certified 100% black angus beef, fresh ground daily in our kitchen, served on a toasted bun that we bake ourselves twice a day".
Like the milkshakes, these burgers certainly had a good pedigree, beef ground in house! Fresh baked buns!
Onion Rings. 4.90€.
"Crispy onion rings in Samuel Adams beer batter fried until golden served with GB Special Sauce."

The first food item to hit our table was one order of onion rings, long before the other food.  The basket contained 6 very large rings.

They were piping hot.  This turned out to be the only hot food we received, but that is mostly because the serving staff just really didn't do a good job of bringing food to the table.  I saw all our food sitting on the counter for a very long time before it was brought to us, and there was a 6 minute lag between this single order of rings and the next dish (fries) hitting the table, even though it was all ready at the same time.  Sigh.

Anyway, the ring.  These were pretty good.

The coating was thick and formed a very crispy shell.  They were oily, but not in a bad, greasy way, just in a clearly freshly fried way.  The slices of onion inside were white onion, not too slimy, and the batter didn't stick to them, nor did the onions slide out.  Very good execution of the rings.

The rings were served with the "GB Special Sauce", which I didn't actually love.  It was just a seasoned creamy sauce, and I really wished our side of 4 sauces arrived when these did, so I could try them with the rings.

Overall, good rings, and I'd get them again, but 2 of these was enough for me (they were massive though!)
French Fries. 2.90.
"Delicious homemade crispy fries deep fried with garlic and rosemary, served with garlic mayo."

The fries were ... ok.  They weren't warm when I got them, so I'm sure that added a bit to the downsides.  Some were crispier than others, and I liked those the best.  The fries themselves were pretty meh.

They were fairly unique though, as mixed in with the fries was slices of fried garlic that was absolutely delicious.  Mmm, fried, soft, garlic!  There was also fried rosemary, which somehow wasn't burnt, just was really crispy, and quite fun to munch on.  The garlic and rosemary really helped add a lot of flavor to the fries.

Perhaps if fresh and warm, these fries would have been great?  Our table also somehow wound up with about 3x the number of fries we ordered, so I ended up munching on far more than made sense, given how mediocre they were, but, we were surrounded by baskets of uneaten fries.

Well, there was another reason I couldn't stop eating fries: the aioli.  Er, garlic mayo.

Now this was good.  It was creamy, it was garlicy, it was really, really good.  I could kinda care less what I dunked into it.  I was also really glad we somehow wound up with so many fries, as each one came with its own pot of aioli, and most of my dining companions were using ketchup.  I consumed an unreasonable amount of aioli, but, I really enjoyed it.
Combo 4 Sauces.  3.90€.
"Garlic Mayo, Chipotle Sauce, GB Special, and smoked BBQ sauce, our special recipe with spices smoked with Jack Daniel's wood chips."

And ... all the sauces!  They finally arrived way after everything else.

The garlic mayo in back was more of the same that I had with the fries, and I eagerly took the extra off of this platter too.

BBQ was next, so fancy in description with Jack Daniel's wood chip smoked spices, but, it was just kinda thin BBQ sauce, a bit too sweet.

Next was the Chipotle Sauce, another creamy sauce that I didn't care for, but I don't tend to like chipotle.  It did have a little kick to it.

The GB Special Sauce in front was the same as the rings, meh.
Baconcheese, Rare. 10.90€.
"100% Black Angus beef patty, cheddar cheese, smoked crispy bacon, lettuce, tomato, fried red onion, with smoked BBQ sauce."

Finally, burger time.  Daily ground beef, housemade buns, yadda yadda.

I believe that these burgers could be good.  And I've seen photos of ones that were nicely cooked.  But, none of ours were.

Let's start with the done-ness.  Now, I wanted medium-rare, but I had read reviews that said to order under, so asked for rare.  This also matched with our experience the night before at Largo, where the folks who ordered medium got well done.

So, what was rare like here?  Um, well done.  Far past medium.  All our burgers wound up well done, which was a bit amusing, as they made a point of saying the cook level as they handed them out, inevitably to the wrong people.  But it wasn't that they handed them out wrong, literally, all were well done.  Ok, so, that was a problem, and made the patty pretty dried out and not particularly juicy nor flavorful.

Next, temperature.  It was stone cold when it arrived.  This was the servers fault.  I saw it happening, just like with the fries, just like with the drinks.  They just really couldn't seem to figure out how to get food to the table.

There was a pretty seriously large thick slice of cheese, nice crispy bacon, fresh enough lettuce and tomato, but, these things couldn't make up for a cold overcooked burger.  The bun was soft, fluffy, and glossy.

Overall, disappointing, but I believe they are capable of doing this right, our group size just ruined it.
Ground Burger Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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