That Time a Burger Left Me Breathless {Day 3 – the River & Rail Burger}

In the world of food porn, every once in awhile, you run into a burger that’s truly centerfold-worthy.

And you guys…

You guys.

I came face-to-face with one last night — Day 3 of my Search for the Holy Grail of ‘Noke Hamburgers — and frankly, I’m still kinda reeling.

Don’t believe me?  Here’s the Money Shot:


Bam.  One look and you know you what you want.

Now before you judge me, I have to say, honestly, that it’s really, really hard to talk about this burger in a way that doesn’t sound almost laughably scandalous.  This thing just provokes that kind of reaction.

To prove my point — I texted the picture above one of my food-loving girlfriends, and her immediate response was:


See what I mean?  Sounds terrible even when it isn’t.

But let’s get down to brass tacks here.

I don’t really know how I’ve missed out on the R&R burger for so long, but somehow I did.  I didn’t even know it *existed* until I started talking to folks about my 14-day ‘Noke Burger Challenge, and the reactions were positively zealous:  “You *are* going to try the River & Rail burger, right?  What?  You haven’t tried it?  You have to.  You have to.  You have to.”

I think I missed it in the same way people miss my favorite burger at Local Roots — if you’re the sort of person who goes to nice restaurants for dinner more often than lunch, and who sits down at a table looking forward to a multi-course meal, then the burger simply isn’t on the menu.

In fact, when I sat down at the bar last night with my sweet girl Hayley, the burger wasn’t even on the bar menu.  I had to ask for it specifically.

And people, trust me:  Ask and ye shall receive. πŸ™‚

But let’s back up a few steps.

This burger fits beautifully into the overall ethos of River & Rail – a small, Southern, locally-focused restaurant in South Roanoke that’s presided over by executive chef Aaron Deal, a James Beard Rising Star semifinalist.  Everything about this place, from the decor to the food, is stylish without being stuffy — like a high-class dame dressed down in {expensive} flats and a straw fedora.

It’s *exactly* the kind of place I think of when I hear the term “casual-chic.”

Like most everything else on the menu, the burger ($12 at lunch) is clearly built by hand using high-quality ingredients.  Cut it in half, and you can see just from the grind alone that this is *not* your average pre-ground chuck…

This is the good stuff:

And it’s at this point that I want to make something absolutely clear:  this burger is really, really, euphorically good — but that isn’t just because it’s so big.  The whole experience of it is layered with a tremendous sense of intentionality, both in terms of taste and texture.  The “burger sauce” — smoky-sweet and sopping beautifully into the bun — is balanced perfectly by the spicy, crunchy bite of the house-made pickles.

But notice:  those pickles are on the bottom of the sandwich — not the usual top — so that they bookend the crispy-fried onion straws.  Why am I going on about this?  Because. The construction of this sandwich means that you get a serious top-and-bottom-tooth crunch when you take a bite, followed by the soft, hot patty in the center.

It’s like textural surround-sound for your mouth.

Hayley and I made quite the picture while we chowed down:  a pair of hundred-pound, sweet-faced ladies pounding back some of the biggest burgers in the ‘Noke, with sauce all over our faces and fingers, totally oblivious to all standards of ladylike decency:

So now it’s happened.  I’ve finally found a burger that rivals my favorite.

Is it the Holy Grail of ‘Noke Hamburgers?  … Only time will tell.

Until tomorrow, friends!

–Ashley β€