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Thursday, August 26,2010

Belgium, bikes and burgers

By Clay Fong

Blending the disparate elements of cycling, Belgian gastronomy and burgers, Rueben’s Burger Bistro is a recent, if not risktaking, addition to the downtown Boulder dining scene. This space’s interior harkens back to its two-wheeled heritage, with a depiction of vintage European cyclists and a signed jersey from Team Garmin-Transitions. The menu highlights burgers, which are available with a choice of proteins, including natural beef, buffalo, house-made veggie, chicken breast and turkey.

Each burger is named for something cycling-related, including bike components, famous riders, races and routes. Given Rueben’s Belgian bent, it’s only natural that a burger be named for Eddy Merckx, arguably the greatest cyclist ever.

Other features include entrée salads, chicken wings, mussels and mac and cheese with additions like green chiles and pancetta. A $5 kid’s menu features a choice of entrée as well as beverage, vegetables and dessert. There’s also an impressive array of draft Belgian beers, and if Tin Tin or Poirot visited Boulder, they’d come here to knock back a few. In this spirit, dinner companion Kuvy enjoyed two thoroughly potent brews, a $7 saison and $6 chimay.

Starters consisted of two happy-hour specials, a $5 moules frites and a $3 spring pea soup. While Kuvy prefers a creamier, assertive broth with mussels, I didn’t find the cooking liquid steeped with garlic, onion and wine lacking as a medium for tender shellfish. The accompanying fries were crisp with appealing bits of skin, and happily these also accompanied one of the maincourse burgers.

The spring pea soup was odd in that it was more stiff puree than fluid. My initial reaction was it resembled something you’d get in the hospital to facilitate recovery — nourishing but bland. The dish fared better once we overcame our apprehension and added a dash of salt for balance. Then, we were better able to appreciate the peas’ fresh taste and mouthfeel.

We ordered two burgers, both cooked medium. However, one was closer to medium well, the other, medium rare. Perhaps the chef felt compelled to have the $12 Vuelta patty, stuffed with mozzarella and pancetta, spend more time on the grill to better melt the cheese. Unfortunately, the resulting dryness detracted from our enjoyment of this sandwich. Part of the issue was that the beef was of high quality, and relatively lean. In this instance, a lack of fat meant going past medium was a surefire prescription for eliminating moistness.

On the plus side, the $11 Spoke burger’s medium rare state was darn near perfect, making for a much more juicy and palatable patty. This neoclassic concoction of bleu cheese, bacon and onion straws nailed it, and the soft pretzel bun had an appealing golden shade and pleasing chew. We also enjoyed fresh-from-the-fryer onion rings that combined exemplary sweetness with delicate batter.

At first blush, the melding of cycling, a Northern European nation and burgers doesn’t seem like it would necessarily work. However, Rueben’s mostly gets it right, and it’s certainly not afraid to take chances with its menu, whether it’s the pretzel bun or the ambitious selection of Belgian brews. If the Spoke is any indication, it should also be able to consistently provide a yellow jersey-worthy burger.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

Rueben’s Burger Bistro
1800 Broadway, Boulder 303-443-5000

Clay’s Obscurity Corner

The Cannibal


Belgian Eddy Merckx won all three of the great European stage races: the Vuelta a España, the Giro d’Italia (five times) and, of course, the Tour de France (five times). He also had a cameo in the ’80s cycling epic American Flyers, in a scene that appeared to be filmed near Superior. One of Merckx’s opponents noted that this champion’s drive for success was so great that he didn’t leave behind any crumbs for other riders. Hence, Merckx’s infamous nickname, “The Cannibal,” which may or may not be the best moniker for someone that you plan to name a burger after.

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