Review: Burger of the Week from Whole Foods, The Tapas Burger

Whole Foods. The very name of the grocery store megachain seems to bring up almost partisan like emotions. Some see it as a stuffy, self-righteous temple for foodies and health nuts intent to convert everyone to the world of organics and the all-natural, while others see it as a bastion of fresh and sustainable choices amidst the dirge of American nutrition.

Me? I saw it as a place to wander around and kill a few hours the other day while I was in the neighborhood. It was — and I told this to one of the women there — my “first time” in a Whole Foods, and aside from wanting to see what all the fuss was about, I was looking for something filling enough to hold me over for a few hours of standing out in the cold before heading over to my other job.  Turns out you can get more than organic greens from the salad bar at Whole Foods. With more prepared and made-to-order food “stations” than a mall food court, the options for lunch at Whole Foods come in every flavor, size, and price range. It was tough saying no to brick-oven pizza by the slice and a “BBQ Bar,” but I couldn’t help be drawn to the Flip Burger Bar.

I have, some would say, something of an infatuation with beef between a bun.

Not that you need to get beef though. The Flip Burger Bar offers a number of options including Turkey and Veggie, all available in “Junior” form (one patty) and “Regular” (two patties) with the classic variations and condiments offered as well. But what caught my eye was the Burger of the Week. The Tapas Burger was described as follows:

Priced at $6.00, a burger sporting the words “caviar,” confit,” and “Brie” can light up a bargain-hunting foodie’s eye in no time — even if the caviar is anything but, and the confit involves a food which technically doesn’t have any fat on its own. After a fairly thorough quiz of the chef behind the counter, I learned the beef blend differs daily, with the cook reluctant to quote me a fat percentage or even identify the cuts involved. As ominous a sign as it was, his inability to correctly pronounce challah (the standard, freshly-baked bun the burgers are served on) made me seriously question his qualifications as a meat master. So did the lack of attention being given to the flat-top.

A few things stood out off the bat. First, I couldn’t hear any sound from the griddle. To me that was kind of alarming, if only because one usually associates the intensity of high heat meeting amino acids with that wonderful chemical process we call the Maillard Reaction. The other thing I noticed was the lack of attention given to the burgers and the toasting buns. Was I headed for an overcooked burger disaster?

Not in the least, actually. Whether it was by experience in cooking thousands of burgers or just dumb luck (and I’m really hoping the former) the young man behind the counter nailed a medium-well burger, which was quite impressive given the size of the patty itself. He also nailed the construction of a burger that looked like it should be gracing the pages of Food Network Magazine. That doesn’t mean the burger was mind-blowing. As you can see from the above photo, condiment assemblage during the lunch rush can be painfully slow experience. This does a couple of things — one, it leads to the meat and cheese cooling as the patty sits open-faced on a bun half; and two, it leads to a breakdown in textures for the condiments.

This was pretty apparent by the time I got to chowing down. The smokey chickpeas had good flavor on their own, but were soggy and far from crunchy. The roasted red pepper “confit” had also cooled, while the meat and cheese felt lukewarm, at best. As for the meat — it still retained some juices, but something about it lacked the distinctive sweet finish I’d expect, while also falling flat in the savory and multifaceted fat flavor I’d expect from a premium burger. Instead, it was more gamey and grassy than I’m accustomed to and too densely packed. Browning on the outside was not ideal, and I felt that while it had good beefy flavor, the flavor was lost amidst all the competing flavors of the condiments.

Still, I liked each of the components — alone. The Eggplant mixture had a wonderfully spicy and complex flavor by itself, but it was lost amidst bites of overpowering Brie and the red pepper confit.  The burger seemed to lack a balance in lightness, and there was nothing quietly sweet to juxtapose the loud flavor of the Brie against. As for that Brie, Whole Foods should really ditch the rind before applying the cheese. It just doesn’t melt, and its flavor is just another over-the-top earthy element that builds off the one-note flavor of the complete bite. Even the bun’s flavor — deliciously light on the exterior but still sweet and buttery — would be enjoyed better on its own, as would the densely packed beef.

Above all though, the beef suffered from seasoning and lack of fat. The burgers were not seasoned once they went on the grill and what I could not taste in the beef confirms a lack of salt and pepper, while the apparent lack of shrinkage and sheen on the grill hinted that the meat (and I question if it was actually a blend) was leaner than the chef let on.

I like the idea of a Burger of the Week, but Whole Foods out-thinks itself with the Tapas Burger. Proving that Tapas really should be eaten in small bites, the competing flavors of the condiments can’t make up for what was a poorly designed and poorly executed hamburger concept.

  • Pros: Challah bun is excellent. Meat has deep and beefy flavor, and cooked to proper temperature. Condiments are fresh and flavorful on their own. Six dollars for a burger sporting premium ingredients ain’t too shabby. Feels healthy.
  • Cons: Condiments don’t mesh with the beef, which is under-seasoned and lacking richness. Assembly line production destroys integrity of crunchy chickpeas. Roasted red peppers dominate complete bite, with overpowering Brie taste contributing only to the intensely gamey taste of the burger. No guilty pleasure greasy taste which is essential in all good burgers.
  • Pros: Challah bun is excellent. Meat has deep and beefy flavor, and cooked to proper temperature. Condiments are fresh and flavorful on their own. Six dollars for a burger sporting premium ingredients ain't too shabby. Feels healthy.

    Cons: Condiments don't mesh with the beef, which is under-seasoned and lacking richness. Assembly line production destroys integrity of crunchy chickpeas. Roasted red peppers dominate complete bite, with overpowering Brie taste contributing only to the intensely gamey taste of the burger. No guilty pleasure greasy taste which is essential in all good burgers.

    Taste: 4.75/10
    Value: 7.50/10
    Grubbing on-the-go: 6.50/10
    Price: 6.00 for single

    Overall GrubGrade: 5.25/10

    More Info: Wholefoods.com
    Nutrition Facts:
    Not Available

17 comments on “Review: Burger of the Week from Whole Foods, The Tapas Burger

  1. Chefprotoss says:

    Yeah, I have never been a fan of brie rind either. It is a bitch to remove though. Generates a lot of waste as well.

    Also, roasted red pepper confit? Confit is basicly a braise in fat, and we all know what roasting is, is this both? I don’t get it. Confit is also a preservation method. Is it roasted chiles then braised in oil? If so, what is the point? Garlic confit makes sense, but that is just an easier way to make roasted garlic…

    Ok, my head hurts now…

    • TheWarden says:

      Similarly, what the hey is “eggplant caviar?” The seeds? I think they were just throwing words together randomly. Let’s see… I think I’ll go make a goat veal simmer pancake.

  2. Rhi says:

    I love whole foods. I need one closer. Month trips aren’t enough.

  3. Marie says:

    Bravo…that was one heck of a review/critique. If you don’t already do so, you should really think about reviewing food for a major food magazine or newspaper. Honestly I could care less about the Tapas Burger or really if it was good or not, but I couldn’t stop reading the review itself due to how well it was written.

  4. SPM says:

    Not really a fan, overpriced and a real snobbish clientele.

  5. Erin Jax says:

    Are burgers available at all Whole Foods locations? I’ve never noticed them at the one closest to me (admittedly, I do 99% of my shopping at TJ’s).

    Agreed on the level of burger understanding (as mentioned by Marie) but you lost me for a minute at “medium well”. I’m guessing that burger would have had a lot more moisture at medium rare. 🙂

    • Adam says:

      I disagree, Erin. With enough fat and proper seasoning, a medium-well burger can be juicy and incredibly flavorful (ie. smashburger style burgers). This burger was more like medium-medium-well (closer to medium, but not quite). I usually request medium on 5-8 oz. patties, but if we’re talking the quarter-pound range I’m more than o.k. with medium-well.

      Thanks for the compliments. Means a ton coming from someone on the AHT staff!

  6. rob says:

    I used to hate Whole Foods until I got a little better at shopping there, now I like it.

    You just have to exercise restraint in what you buy, some stuff is reasonable priced. And they have a great beer department.

    Stay away from the $26 per pound steaks.

  7. Matt says:

    I don’t think they have this at my Whole Foods…but I find their prepared foods in general to be way overpriced. Like raw salmon may be 11$/lb but salmon in the prepared section its 21$/lb. I do love their ground beef though for my own burgers. I don’t live near a butcher shop and Whole Foods meat & fish is the best I can get. I find that for a lot of stuff it’s not that much more than a local grocery store and the quality is much higher. I don’t eat burgers or steak everyday, so when I do I’m willing to spend a few bucks more to get something I feel is much higher quality.

  8. Jambo says:

    I eat the burgers off the menu, they have a checklist for you to recipe your own burger. This led to me wonder what others where choosing and the various chefs also have their choice recommendations I have found to be delicious!

    Chipotle mayo, sauté vegetable choice, friendly people, beef cooked to temp… Bacon, hot peppers… Stuff is tite.

  9. Clint says:

    “Confit” refers to the technique, not to the inherent fat content of a food in question.

  10. mary says:

    I agree with Rob, you have to know how to shop there. I mostly use the bulk foods aisle since it is VERY reasonably priced and you can find a great selection of beans and lentils, grains, flours, etc that you couldn’t find elsewhere. Occasionally they will have a great deal on produce as well.