Review: Tribeca Tavern (Cary, NC)

The Tribeca Tavern in Cary is a huge place.  You can’t miss it from the road; it looks something like a castle.  Inside, a massive staircase leads you to believe there’s seating for hundreds.  The furnishings give it the look and feel of a tidy, mid-range hotel.  Countering this and striking a distinctly casual note are giant TVs everywhere and ludicrous oversized images of, for example, a man eating a slice of pizza, or two people chomping on a burger.

In fact, the first thing you see when you walk in is a 6 or 8 foot tall blow-up of a burger stacked impossibly high with toppings.  If this doesn’t signal the restaurant’s culinary intentions, the “Red Robin” style specialty burger menu certainly will.  They range from “Southern Lovin” (fried green tomatoes, bacon, goat cheese) to Jimmy the Greek (ground lamb, tzatziki, olives).  There are burgers with bbq on them, or fried onions, or a fried egg, you get the idea.  But that’s not all: if burgers aren’t your thing, the menu covers an immense range of options from shrimp and grits to fish tacos to pizzas.  That’s covering more culinary ground than your local Ruby Tuesdays does.    The waiter may give you a spiel about how nearly everything is made in-house and how many of the ingredients are sourced locally.  In fact, he indicated that just about the only things not made in-house are curly fries, pasta, and bread.  But considering the breadth of the menu and type of foods offered, that seemed highly unlikely.  You’ve got to be skeptical of restaurants that offer that kind of variety: there’s just no way that nearly everything is made in-house, or that the quality of every dish is at a high level.

Tribeca Tavern does use organic NC beef, which they grind in-house daily, allowing you to order your burger rare, if you so choose.  The cheeses offered are mostly local, but feel free to opt for Kraft American (from Illinois) or Gruyere (from Switzerland).  The choices of side items with your burger or sandwich are extensive (14 items!), from tater tots to mac & cheese to sweet potato casserole to soup or salad. Unfortunately, fries are one of the things not made in-house.    The “local” focus at Tribeca does extend to the beverage list, which features Fayetteville’s Mash House beers and root beer.  I tried the root beer, and it was pretty good.

I ordered the “All praise Holly Grove” burger, which was topped with Holly Grove Farms goat cheese, roasted red peppers, and “charred” onions.  It was cooked the way I requested (medium) and it was juicier than a burger from, say, Red Robin, but really it was just ok.  There just wasn’t much flavor – the patty needed some seasoning.  The “peppered” onion rings were atrocious.  They were very densely breaded, and, despite their name, vastly underseasoned: they just about ruined the entire meal.  The specialty burgers are very expensive (at $13 perhaps the most expensive burger I’ve ever ordered) but, to be fair, they are so massive that the first thing I did with mine was set aside half for another time.  On the plus side, the fried calamari was breaded with a very light hand and had a nice spiciness to it.  And guacamole was surprisingly acceptable, if a little undersalted.  The guacamole is supposedly made to order, but it came to our table within a few minutes of placing our order.  I did not get to try the cheesy puff appetizer (puff pastry, brie, cashews, bacon, raspberry dipping sauce), but that sounded like a little much anyway.

For dessert, I tried a brownie sundae, which was nice and warm but, oddly, not rich enough.  The brownie was homemade, but the whipped cream most certainly was not.  I also tried the banana crème brulee, but I would not recommend that to anyone.  There wasn’t much of any banana flavor to the crème part, and there was hardly any crustiness to the brulee part. It was actually much more like a pudding, and for some reason, all of the vanilla bean seeds were found at the bottom of the dish, rather than being distributed throughout the custard.

In the end, this place is equivalent to one of those “ale houses” in a nice shopping center.  The fact that they offer local ingredients is commendable, but does not a successful restaurant make, and doesn’t justify the high prices.  You can make a much better burger at home, and for a lot less money.  The restaurant needs to pare down the menu and cut their own fries to go with their gourmet burgers.  I’d think a small restaurant focusing on gourmet organic burgers and excellent fries could do really well.  For example, Durham has Only Burger and the forthcoming Bull City Burger and Brewery.  I wish the conversation about this kind of place was inverted: instead of  “WOW” they make everything in-house, it should be of course they do, and “WOW’ everything tastes great.

Rating:  * *