Kuma’s Corner vs. Red Robin

I first went to Kuma’s Corner in 2006. At the time, the place was empty during lunch, still months ahead of the packed-from-open-to-close buzz that defines it today. I was a devoted vegetarian back then, which meant that I wasn’t much interested in the restaurant’s signature, metal-bands-as-burgers, menu. While Kuma’s happily allows the substitution of a Garden Burger for any of the menu’s burger offerings, going to Kuma’s as a vegetarian is akin to flying solo for a “couples” baby shower–it’s perfectly acceptable on the surface, but you feel like an asshole for going in the first place.

On that first visit to Kuma’s, I ordered the Mesclun Green salad. The salad was good enough, sure, but once my meal was finished, I never thought about Kuma’s again.

That is, until I walked away from vegetarianism and welcomed meat back into my life. Meat is murder? Sure it is. And my life had been empty without the delicious slaughter. I went back to Kuma’s on November 29, 2008. That visit led me to write in my blog, “The good: Anthrax played at an ear-splitting level over appetizers. The ‘Pantera’ burger. The vibe. The bad: Waiting 75 minutes for my burger after the order was placed…at 5:45 in the evening. Lame.”

Less than one month later, I wrote, “I had interminably slow service the last time I went to Kuma’s Corner, slow enough to keep me from ever returning. But that burger…that what-had-to-be one pound of beef on a pretzel bun, loaded with obscene amounts of over-the-top ingredients…lured me back there for lunch today.

“Though just as crowded as my last visit, Kuma’s was a bit more subdued–even comfortable–during the lunch rush. My party of five’s food came out fast and our waitress was great, though none of that really matters for this story. What matters is the burger I ordered.

“I had the Goblin Cock (did I mention that every burger is named after a metal band?), a burger topped with a split hot dog, bacon, cheddar, relish, sport peppers, and mustard. It was an orgy of meat (which you’d kind of expect from a Goblin Cock), a cardiac traumatizer on a plate.  It was magnificent.”

I’ve been to Kuma’s a few times since then, and have watched the wait times go up as my enthusiasm for the food has gone down. Kuma’s kitchen is simply too small to effectively crank out food and turn tables in the face of the crowds it now draws. Beyond that, the cramped throngs of desperate-to-be-seen hipsters waiting to choke down Goblin Cocks is enough to turn my stomach before fried calamari ever hits my table.
In summary: The food at Kuma’s is great. It’s the waits and the too-cool-for-the-ridiculously-packed-room crowds that have kept me from returning.

So what options do fans of heart-weakening, ingredient-overloaded, burgers have, then?

Red Robin.

Red Robin?

Yes. Red. Robin.

Gourmet burgers are Red Robin’s raison d’etre. Like the Celtic Frost and Powerwolf-blaring team that runs Kuma’s, the Red Robin chain boasts a menu of hamburgers loaded with ingredients that range from the sublime to the ridiculous.
And the truth is, they’re kind of awesome. Once one is willing to trade the sexiness of a standalone, death metal-friendly, “indie” burger joint for the mass appeal, cookie-cutter, approach of a family-friendly chain, the rest is easy.

Kuma’s delivers 10 oz. burgers, which I can only guess from experience are larger than Red Robin’s burgers (Red Robin offers no weight information anywhere on their website). That aside, the differences that separate the two restaurants are cosmetic. Put more plainly, one place names its items after metal bands like Lair of the Minotaur and Plague Bringer. The other place takes a more Bennigan’s approach, offering up sandwiches like the “Santa Fe” and “Banzai” burgers.

Let’s look at some of the burgers head to head:

KUMA’S: Famous Kuma Burger (bacon, cheddar cheese, fried egg)
RED ROBIN: Royal Red Robin Burger (bacon, American cheese, fried egg, lettuce, tomatoes, mayo)

I’d never eat a burger with a fried egg on it, but I’m calling this one a tie because cheddar beats American cheese (adv. Kuma’s), and lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo trump no condiments whatsoever (adv. Red Robin).

KUMA’S: Metallica (buffalo sauce, bacon, bleu cheese dressing)
RED ROBIN: Bleu Ribbon Burger (steak sauce, bleu cheese, onion straws, lettuce, tomatoes, Chipotle mayo)

Exit light, enter Blue Ribbon burger. Onion straws are a welcome enhancement to the Red Robin burger, and buffalo sauce on the Kuma’s burger overpowers the other ingredients.

KUMA’S: Mastodon (BBQ sauce, cheddar, bacon, frizzled onions)
RED ROBIN: Whiskey River BBQ Burger (BBQ sauce, cheddar, onion straws, lettuce, tomatoes, mayo)

The Whiskey River BBQ burger hits mostly the same notes, with the glaring omission of bacon. Bacon is its own food group; the Chuck Norris of pork, and shouldn’t be ignored when given the chance to be tossed into the same mouthful as BBQ sauce and cheddar.

KUMA’S: Pantera (roasted poblano, bacon, cheddar, Jack, Ranchero sauce, tortilla strips)
RED ROBIN: Santa Fe: (roasted poblano, guacamole, sautéed onions, tortilla strips, lettuce, pepper-Jack, Chipotle mayo)

I’ve tried both, and prefer Red Robin’s Santa Fe Burger. Guacamole FTW.

It can probably be safely argued that Kuma’s food is, on the whole, more adventurous; and in many cases, better. Even so, Red Robin can take care of many of the same cravings that a burger fan might have. Here’s what tips Red Robin over the top:

Wait time. Even at the peak of Saturday night “family fun time,” I’ve never waited more than 20 minutes for a table at Red Robin. As you read this, there are people who’ve been waiting for a table at Kuma’s since this time yesterday.
Location. Kuma’s is but one tiny restaurant. Red Robin’s freaking everywhere.
Balloons. At Red Robin, you can choose your favorite color of balloon and take it home. Kuma’s has no balloons.
Bottomless fries. When I’m deep into my burger, I don’t ever want the fried food tap to turn off. Keep ‘em comin’, sweetcheeks. I’m working on my first heart attack here.
Hipsters vs. children. Tables turn frequently at Red Robin, meaning that surly children don’t overstay their welcome. Once hipsters are in the door at Kuma’s, they never leave.

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