This year, before we gave thanks at Thanksgiving, we gave thanks at Red Robin (#2 on our list). Why such a high-ranked restaurant when we have so many others (e.g. Hooters, Golden Corral) to go? Because it was John’s birthday, and no one puts Birthday John in a corner.
Red Robin’s slogan for years has been simply “Yum!” That’s a lot of eggs to put in one specific basket. It’s not folksy like “Eatin’ good in the neighborhood” or even “When you’re here, you’re family,” which leaves some room for interpretation. It essentially translates to “Our food is unequivocally delicious, don’t @ me.” Unfortunately, our high hopes were dashed by the overall mediocrity of the experience. Red Robin, we’ll see you in court for false advertising. The court of public opinion, that is.
Red Robin is known for their burgers. Their menu features a dizzying variety of options for ground beef on white bread, including steakhouse-y options (portobello mushrooms, blue/bleu cheese) and food-that’s-a-dare options like the “Buzz Mac n Cheese Tavern Double.” There are also fish entrees and salads, because sure. Their other signature is the inclusion of bottomless fries with all burgers. But because everyone in our group is an adult with an awareness that actions have consequences, we didn’t push ourselves to really give this privilege the workout it deserves.
Jenna says: This was my second visit to Red Robin. My first was in Colorado (the birth place of RR) and I have zero recollection of the food. And now I know why! I went with the mushroom and swiss burger, and they broke the #1 rule of cooking, which is season your meat. I’m pretty sure it was a frozen patty they just threw on the grill without even thinking of sprinkling a little salt and pepper. So disappointing. While enjoying a burger this past weekend at JL Beers (shoutout to this Fargo-based gem), I was reminded of what a burger should taste like: salty, gooey warm cheese (also John Ward’s nickname in college), a perfectly toasted bun. Maybe I’m being a bit critical, but no I’m not.
John says: Two words: not good. I got the A1 peppercorn burger. Overcooked and flavorless. The fries were perfectly mediocre.
Rachel says: I had high hopes for my first visit to RR because of John’s initial ranking, and also because the people who photograph burgers for menus seriously deserve Pulitzers for how good they end up looking. But my burger was just ok. I added some equivalent of McDonald’s special sauce on the side, which was good. But like Jenna said, SALT AND PEPPER YOUR BURGER. It’s not hard, people. I was, however, genuinely impressed by the number of “bottomless” options available*. Not just fries, oh no; you could get bottomless salad or bottomless slaw. Not that I did. But I could have if I’d wanted to.
*[Ed. note: Bend over and I’ll give you a number of bottomless options…]
Jenny says: I grew up with Red Robin in Colorado and have always loved their food. Maybe it’s the nostalgia that I loved ’cause now I can see the food ain’t so good. The Blue Ribbon burger I had was unappealing. The only thing I enjoyed were the mozzarella sticks but I might be the only one. The were crisp and cheesy.
Aaron says: I was excited by the fried appetizers that Jenny took the liberty of ordering. Mozz sticks and onion rings ftw. The crispy fried onions on my burger were nice, too.
The most notable thing about the beverage selection was that RR went out of its way to suggest beer pairings for several of their burgers. A nice idea in theory, but really, who gives a s***.
Jenna says: Here’s where Red Robin redeems itself! Decent beer selection (which if you bill yourself as a gourmet brew spot, should be a given ).
John says: I went out on a limb and tried a new beer. AND…I can’t remember what it was. I know that I barely finished it. Disappointing. [Ed note: That’s hardly the restaurant’s fault, but I’ll allow it.]
Jenny says: I went with the suggestion beer pairing of Guinness. It was fine. I remember their shakes to be delicious but I didn’t want to overindulge.
Aaron says: In case you were wondering, Coors Light pairs nicely with the Crispy Arctic Cod.
The decor and vibe left us confused. An odd mix of burger-themed art and also framed comic book covers? Our guess is that the franchise owner was given some, but not a ton, of free reign over the decor, and went with “Low Budget Fuddrucker’s on Steroids.”
Jenna says: Decor was a mishmash of food art meets sports art. Weird.
Jenny says: I liked the framed “art”. It was amusing trying to figure out a theme (burgers? hunger? introspection?).
John says: Food themed art: Check. Random sports stuff: Check. Odd table arrangements: Check. Everything was in its place. EXCEPT that it was dirty everywhere. The serving area had stuff everywhere. The bathroom was messy. Not cool Double R.
Rachel says: Not quite retro, not quite modern, not quite whimsical. Poke fun of Fuddruckers’ faux-50s aesthetic, but at least they’re consistent. I did appreciate the cute ladyburger (aka a burger with a headbow on it a la Ms PacMan) denoting which was the women’s restroom.
As mentioned in previous reviews, our group has been continually surprised by the caliber of Casual Dining servers. Not this time. Not only was our server not up to snuff, but we also saw the return of our dreaded enemy, the Ziosk.
Jenna says: While our server was super cheerful, she might have been the worst service-wise thus far in the Casual Encounters challenge. I asked her for water. She forgot. Asked for mustard. She forgot. ALSO IT’S A BURGER RESTAURANT AND THEY DON’T KEEP MUSTARD ON THE TABLE. And the Ziosk f-ed up my bill.
John says: Meh, I think our winning streak has ended. Our server was below average. She was personable enough but didn’t stop often. FFS, they had a Ziosk station to pay with. SO DUMB.
Jenny says: Yikes. Our server started out attentive but we must have not entertained her enough. We never received refills. She missed some requests. Then she was nowhere to be found near the end.
Aaron says: ZIOSK DOES NOT MEAN YOU DON’T HAVE TO WAIT ON US! F***that thing. Not enough refills, no mustard, didn’t ask if I wanted another beer. Got our orders right, for the most part.
Rachel says: This server’s fall from grace was swift and complete. Inattentive and forgetful. I had to actively flag her down to get another Diet Coke, and she didn’t bother to ask anyone else at the table if other refills were required. You could chalk it up to youthful inexperience (she reminded me of several camp counselors I had in my childhood), but I don’t want to.
Usually, burger places are a bastion of casualosity. But our group got mixed signals from Red Robin. Some classic elements, like games for kids, were present. Other elements spoke to a desire to make things more “adult” and classy. Is anyone headed to a Shoreview, MN, for a classy burger experience? Maybe those who were staying in the adjacent Hilton Garden Inn? Overall, though, it couldn’t escape its true nature: A slightly grubby burger place with football on TV.
Jenna says: Food art meets sports are means high marks for casualosity.
Jenny says: It was a lot more casual when was growing up. Now Red Robin has tried to upscale for the 30 somethings. No more baskets of food. Now we get large, metal napkin holders that contain a nest of fries. There were kid games on chalkboards and trivia to play, so that upped the casual points.
John says: Red Robin really shines there. I would have felt comfortable coming wearing just a robe. But, alas I don’t own one.
Rachel says: The vertical serving of the fries in a stainless steel cup spoke to less casualosity. The vertical serving of the onion rings like one of these things spoke to more casualosity. An uneven performance.
This is one of the only times in our Casual Encounter career where cheesecake was an option but we didn’t get it. Maybe it was the fatigue that came after a mediocre meal that led us astray from our mission. Maybe it was John’s frantic insistence that we get the “Towering Doh Rings!” aka a tower of donuts (again with the vertical presentation!). Whatever the case may be, we didn’t get cheesecake. Our assumption is that we didn’t miss anything by doing so.
John says: They had a tower of donuts that one can order. I made that happen. Even God didn’t want me to continue to eat. But I showed her.
Jenna says: While they did have cheesecake on the menu, it was John’s birthday celebration and he insisted on the donut tower. I think they were good, but I honestly cannot remember how good, so they were probably not that good. However, Aaron and I shared a Bailey’s-Guinness-chocolate shake that brought the house down.
Jenny says: By dessert time, I wasn’t in the mood to eat any more. Not because I was full; I just didn’t want to eat any more Red Robin food. And John kept pushing for a pile of donuts which sounded so gross to me. I tried one dipped in some kind of fake fruit sauce and wasn’t too impressed. I think John was happy though.
Rachel says: These weren’t so much donuts as they were fried dough nuggets. Now, I know that donuts are all technically just fried dough, but through the powers of science, they are often able to transcend these humble beginnings to become so much more. Not at Red Robin. These donuts were chewy, which isn’t really something you look for in a donut. They were also served with warm Hershey’s syrup (I know you have hot fudge back there, don’t hide it) and what I believe was the Twinberry syrup from the Perkin’s just up the road. Is it possible for something to be less than the sum of its parts? Because that’s what this donut tower was.
John says: The burger was free since it was my birthday month. Thank God, because it sucked.
Jenna says: Celebrating John Ward’s 40th  birthday.
Jenny says: Eating a mozzarella stick – just like high school times.
Rachel says: The bond that has formed among us over our hatred for the Ziosk.
Least favorite part:
John says: The Ziosk. They are the worst.
Jenna says: Going to a place that specializes in burgers and getting a sh***y burger. Also getting tricked into paying for the trivia game on the Ziosk. Damn you Ziosk, now I know why you have such a terrible reputation.
Jenny says: Waiting around to leave due to our server.
Rachel says: Being at least mildly disappointed in every aspect of this dining experience, especially after having such high hopes. Not getting to try Aaron and Jenna’s miracle booze shake.
Next up: Squeezing in one more Casual Encounter before 2016 is over at Ruby Tuesday’s!