Really? Another celebrity chef burger joint? That was my first thought when I heard that Bobby Flay was throwing his toque into the local burger-battle ring. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a huge supporter of Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar since it opened. But after the burger ventures of Laurent Tourondel, Kerry Simon, Gordon Ramsay and Mario Batali, I wasn’t excited about another contender. Thankfully Flay, as formidable a chef as any, was looking to fight in a different weight class.
Bobby’s Burger Palace at the Shops at Crystals is not a gourmet burger restaurant. It doesn’t offer haute toppings such as lobster and shaved truffles. Its patties aren’t served on brioche buns. Hell, it doesn’t even have waiters or waitresses to take your order. “This is a burger place,” Flay told me adamantly at the opening of his new spot on the Strip. “I just happen to be a guy who has high-end restaurants. But I don’t want to get them confused.”
In fact, while he expresses admiration for the burgers offered at places such as Burger Bar, he has no desire to take the hamburger to the extremes offered there. “I think putting foie gras on a burger doesn’t make any sense at all,” he says. “A cheeseburger should be beef, cheese and maybe one or two things to enhance it—that’s it.”
In addition to that basic template, Bobby’s Burger Palace offers 10 different specialty versions, many named after U.S. cities. The toppings are far from gourmet, but can definitely offer a true geographic sensibility. The New Mexico, for example, comes with roasted green chilies, pickled red onions and queso sauce, while the Philadelphia is topped with hot peppers, grilled onions and provolone. The Vegas was created specifically for this new location, and comes topped with white American cheese, Fresno red chilies and barbecue-flavored “crunch.” (Flay’s signature touch, which dates back to his childhood, is the ability to “crunchify” any burger by adding a layer of thin-cut potato chips at no additional cost.) If you aren’t into red meat, every combination is also available with a turkey patty or chicken breast. Two grilled-cheese sandwiches are also offered.
Everything is ordered from a counter in the front of the restaurant. Once you’ve placed your order, you take a seat and await its delivery. The seats at the curved communal counters can be a bit cramped. But if the weather is nice, grab a chair on the outdoor patio.
While I wasn’t terribly impressed with Flay’s turkey burgers or grilled cheese, the beef burgers are head and shoulders above anything you’ll find in the fast-food world. I walked in intending to simply have a bite or two for “research purposes” and devoured an entire sandwich. But Flay’s genius here goes far beyond perfecting the simple burger. He also offers more than a dozen flavors of milkshakes and malteds, including three alcohol-spiked varieties. The mocha Kahlua vodka and the nonalcoholic pistachio are worth a visit even if you aren’t in the mood to eat. His french fries and sweet-potato fries are fresh cut and delicious, as are the richly battered onion rings.
Even the condiments are outstanding. In addition to simple ketchup and mustard, every table also features bottles of chipotle ketchup, jalapeño hot sauce and a “burger sauce” that tastes a lot like bottled steak sauce. And the fries come with either a mayo-based barbecue sauce or a honey-mustard horseradish sauce.
Burgers are priced between $8.50 and $9.50—low by gourmet burger standards, but higher than most counter-service places. Cynics might accuse Flay of price gouging based on his celebrity status. But given the prime Strip-front real estate, the bill is pretty reasonable.
Bobby’s Burger Palace will never come close to the importance of his flagship Mesa Grill at Caesars Palace. But for a guy who says he just wanted to create a burger so memorable you’ll want to come back for more, it’s a success.
Bobby’s Burger Palace
The Shops at Crystals, 598-0191. Open daily for lunch and dinner,10 a.m.–midnight. Dinner for two $20-$40.