Fuddrucker’s

Time to come clean: I love — love, love, love — a good hamburger.

That’s no secret to those who remember when the R-J critics wrote about their dirty little secrets a few years ago, but I imagine it’s a surprise to many. After all, hamburgers are so déclassé, so un-restaurant-critic-y, so middle-American, so …

Delicious, if they’re done well.

Further disclosure: I long have been a fan of the Fuddrucker’s chain, which is kind of a cult classic. True, I’ve dined in some substandard Fuddrucker’s outlets over the years, but I’ve also visited enough really good ones that I was looking forward to the opening of our very own Fuddrucker’s here in the valley.

So? So, true to form, it was very good.

The secret of Fuddrucker’s is pretty elemental: fresh-ground beef, cooked to order. The original — and still the best, in my estimation — burgers are served plain, to be topped by any of an array of fresh produce on a chilled display, plus cheese sauce, the usual condiments, etc., etc. They’ve also got a number of specialty burgers on the menu, plus chicken and even some fish.

It would be burgers for us, though. I decided to stick with the basics, a 1/3-pound Original Burger with fries and beverage ($9.99; 1/2-pound and 2/3-pound variations also are available, as are Original Burgers with no fries or beverage).

“How do you want it?” asked the girl at the counter.

“How rare will you make it?” I asked in reply, with the knowledge that litigation (and even laws, in some states) have made rare burgers very rare indeed.

“Medium-rare,” she replied.

Well, good. Except that this burger was not medium-rare, but barely pink in the middle. That wasn’t as much of a problem as it might have been, though, because it was still nice and juicy; intuition tells me that Fuddrucker’s is smart enough to use enough fat in their burger mix. I hit the produce bar for some salsa, some tomato, some jalapeno and some onion, then the condiment bar for a little of the cheese sauce, which would more properly be dubbed Cheez sauce, but whatever. The fries were great — big skin-on wedges, cooked just until they were tender, doused with a mix of seasonings dominated by pepper.

My friend and co-worker went the specialty route with a 1/3-pound Black & Blue ($10.99 for a platter), which meant it was topped with balsamic-glazed onions, plus bacon and blue cheese. Her medium-well was more on target, and the toppings — particularly the onions — were so plentiful that she didn’t feel the need to hit the produce or condiment bars.

These are the smallest burgers Fuddrucker’s serves, and they would’ve be fine by us, but we also indulged in some starters to get a feel for how the chain has branched out beyond burgers. The Tricked-Out Nachos ($7.49) were your standard corn chips topped with some of that Cheez sauce and the usual pico de gallo, plus mounds of guacamole and sour cream. What we really liked, though, was that we had a choice of chicken, beef or chili, and the chicken we chose was very nice, chunks that were well charred and juicy.

Firehouse Boneless Buffalo Wings ($6.99) were pretty good, too, a rung above basic bar food in that they had been fried carefully so that they were just crisp enough, then topped with a kicky-but-not-tear-inducing sauce, celery and dressing (although ranch instead of the regulation blue-cheese) included.

And dessert, which we ended up taking with us: white-chocolate-studded chocolate cookies ($2.49) a little better than average.

Fuddrucker’s is one of those places where you order at the counter, then they call your name (and in this case also buzz a pager) and you go up and pick up your food. What was especially nice, though, was that staffers also roamed the attractive (think minimalist fern bar) dining room, periodically asking if we needed anything.

No, we sure didn’t. I love the hautest of haute cuisine, but sometimes the simple goodness of a burger appeals more than anything else. And in that regard, Fuddrucker’s delivers.

Las Vegas Review-Journal reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or e-mail her at hrinella@reviewjournal.com.

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