Dining review: Is this the best burger in Boise?

Any quibbles at Grind Modern Burger melt away with the first bite.

SPECIAL TO THE IDAHO STATESMANOctober 18, 2013 

  • GRIND MODERN BURGER

    Address: 78 Eagle River St., Suite 165, Eagle

    Phone: (208) 939-9529

    Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday–Saturday; noon–10 p.m. Sunday

    Menu price range: $6-16

    Libation situation: bottled and draft beer, wine, and sake-based cocktails

    Kid friendly? Yes, with a play area and kids’ menu

    Wheelchair accessible? Yes, all ground level

    Opened: August 2013

Grind Modern Burger opened in August as a rebranding of the restaurant inside Brewforia beer market in Eagle.

There are two entries — one glass door labeled Grind for the eatery, and the other Brewforia, where the brew haven continues to exist. But they lead to the same space, and the staff is left to explain what to do.

The beer market is a long bank of refrigerated cases next to the bar, full of bottles both familiar and exotic. You can choose something and bring it to your table, where a server will crack the bottle and pour it. Or you can order from a rotating selection of draft beer listed on an electronic display.

There is no list of bottled beers, as the stock changes often. This means if you want a bottle, you have to get up and look for it, an oddity of navigating between the market and the restaurant. Imagine being told to go find a bottle of wine from the cellar or to go pick your vodka of choice from the bar.

The dining room is a warehousey space in cool colors, with concrete floors and dark, open ductwork that ping-pong sound throughout. Sports were on each time I visited, the volume turned high. The tables are spaced far apart, but when the seats fill up, the room is crazy with noise, which makes service feel a little scattered. A playspace for kids in the back becomes calamitous.

But there is very good news: The burgers make these quibbles suddenly minor.

The new restaurant concept is built around variations on a burger, all made with the house-ground patty, which is comprised of Chicago-based Stock Yards brisket and locally sourced pork belly. This combination blows through the roof on flavor and richness; going to this after eating any pre-formed, mass-produced patty served at most restaurants in the Treasure Valley is like turning on taste in high-def.

Grind’s burger is the best burger in the Valley. By like a mile. And on three separate visits, the burgers my wife and I tried were cooked exceptionally, with a well-seasoned exterior crust, medium-well but juicy throughout.

We each had the basic-sounding Modern Grind burger ($9): bacon, ale mustard, tomato spread, white onion, mixed baby greens and American cheese. Anyone can put bacon on a cheeseburger, but here the choices are very intentional. With pork belly already in the mix, the house-cured bacon is a smoky gesture in the right amount, not piles of it. The mustard is a step up from yellow. And by roasting, the chunky tomato spread stands in smartly for both ketchup and a slice of tomato — which rarely earns its place in the topping lineup anyway. The onion and greens are just right, for crunch and overall composition.

In 1,000 other places, a burger of this pedigree would be gilded with something like farmhouse cheddar or imported gouda. So why American cheese? The answer is because it’s perfect for melting into something between a slice and a sauce, and for its grounding flavor, which is punchy and nostalgic. On a fast-food burger, American is merely utilitarian. But on this burger, at Grind, it is there because it needs to be.

There are several elaborate white cheddar or asiago-topped burgers here, too, among the dozen on the menu, all between $9 and $10, plus a daily special. Among toppings I can’t recall seeing elsewhere: syrah caramelized onions on the Delmonico burger, whole roasted garlic cloves on the Gilroy, banana ketchup on the Kingston, and kimchee slaw on the DMZ. On the Homestead, there is Spam. On the Southie, Cheez Whiz.

I loved the Biloxi burger, with house-made mayo, fried-green tomatoes in a cornmeal dredge, white cheddar and white onion. At first glance, I wanted a little more pimiento cheese spread, but with one bite, I knew that what I was eating had been made this way with purpose.

While I admire the bravado to call anything The Best Ever, the French fries advertised as such are pretty good — almost there, but not quite. On only one occasion were they crispy enough, and then just barely. I won’t be prescriptive here, except to say that there are ways to solve this. Disappointingly, each order of fries was at least one-third little broken nubs. But this, too, can be fixed.

Burgers and sandwiches are served with the basic version of the hand-cut fries, with little silver dishes of miso ketchup and house mayo, or you can upgrade to one of the dressed-up versions. (Sold a la carte, fries are $5 to $9.) Here, too, there is a happy end to the story: The Asiago cheese and chopped raw garlic topping is addictive, and the ghost chile fries are spicy but still flavorful. I would have never thought of garam masala on fries, but this at-least-15-spice Indian blend is genius on Idaho russets, and the herb yogurt sauce was a great touch.

Best of all, though, is that miso ketchup, which should be bottled and sold among the prizes in the market.

We liked everything else we tried: cornmeal-crispy fried artichoke hearts ($6) with a creamy feta sauce; chips with good, fresh salsa and a black bean-corn relish ($6); crab cakes ($9) mounded on those fried green tomatoes, streaked with sweet pepper sauce. A spicy-buffalo-style pizza ($8) was one of the best in recent memory, its sauce cunningly sweetened with pineapple. (Gluten-free crust is also available, but not gluten-free burger buns, which seems like a good next step.) The soft-shell crab po’ boy sandwich ($12) would be the best thing on many other menus.

But in the end, the burger is the star — a composition well-executed, as satisfying as a good story well-told. And Grind does it so well, when it feels like almost no one else is trying. It’s a pretty good reason to get out of your seat and go find a fancy beer.

Email Alex Kiesig: scene@idahostatesman.com

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