FRANCHISE REPORT: The news that the former East West Bistro, occupier of a prime piece of downtown real estate at Broad and Wall streets, would be replaced by a franchise was disappointing. At first, the word was that Metro Diner, a place out of Jacksonville, FL, would be taking it over. But that never materialized. Instead, a year after announcing its intentions, Burgerim (351 E. Broad St., 803-522-6278), a franchise based out of Israel, renovated the space and opened for business.
As far as franchises go, it’s not bad, and there are definitely ones downtown that primarily cater to students that are not as good. The space isn’t really recognizable, and it doesn’t include the upstairs, which is now occupied by Last Resort-related event venue Wall and Broad. Instead, you step up to a low counter with huge digital menu screens above it to place your order. The usefulness of that kind of sign becomes apparent when you realize that the offerings have changed in between the restaurant’s opening and the present.
“Burgerim” means “many burgers” in Hebrew, and that’s the idea, with both small sliders and full-sized burgers on offer in a variety of different types of patties and toppings. At first, almost everything was available in the slider size; now, things have been scaled back, simplifying the menu and pushing customers a bit more toward the third- and quarter-pound options, which tend to fall apart a bit more easily, due to their copious toppings.
As far as patties go, there are good options for pescatarians and vegetarians, too, with a Hawaiian salmon burger (topped with red cabbage slaw, pineapple, ginger vinaigrette and barbecue glaze), a falafel burger (the best thing on the menu, IMHO, and not surprisingly so given the restaurant’s origins), and a yet-to-be-added vegan burger (which seems to have replaced the veggie, but not vegan, option that incorporated egg and was also quite good). Perhaps these are better because they feel less compressed.
The meats are fine, but they do feel a bit dense, common for fast/quick-service food. There are differences among the Angus, dry-aged and Spanish beef, but they require some concentration to detect. The lamb is a bit more flavorful, as you’d expect, and then there’s chicken—grilled or crispy—which is, you know, chicken. You can pick your own toppings or select a predetermined mix of them: the basic lettuce, tomato, pickles and cheese stuff, plus various aiolis, caramelized onions, tahini, tzatziki, jalapeños, bacon, onion rings and avocado. Zestier choices will result in a better experience. This is not a place for refined simplicity.
Burgerim’s fries are another area in which it somewhat distinguishes itself, both in their shape—flat ovals, like chips, but thicker—and in the fact that you can get them topped with a bunch of stuff, like a garlic aioli. Sweet-potato fries are the usual shape, as are the onion rings. Two Coca-Cola Freestyle machines encourage you to make poor choices as you add weird flavorings on a whim to sodas that were never meant to have them—don’t trust your impulses; stick with the classics—and there are milkshakes, should you wish.
Will the menu stay the same from this point on? Who knows? But the restaurant is pretty friendly to those with different types of dietary restrictions. Burgerim is open for lunch and dinner every day, and doesn’t serve booze.
INDEPENDENCE: As far away from a franchise as you can get is Figment Kombucha (figmentkombucha.com), a small business currently pouring cups and growlers at the Athens Farmers Market at Bishop Park on Saturday mornings and at Creature Comforts on Wednesday evenings, but soon to open a brick-and-mortar with other fermented foods at 1085 Baxter St.
Started by a couple with beer-brewing experience who appreciated kombucha and thought they’d give it a try, its product is beautifully light and intensely flavorful. When you buy kombucha at the grocery store, the bubbles die faster, and the underlying vinegariness is diluted with sugar, but Figment’s stuff, at least fresh from the tap, is a purer thing. They’re happy to offer you samples before you buy, whether of a mango-chile (you can add some chile flakes if you want even more spice), a blueberry lavender or an absolutely beauteous combination of fresh herbs (basil, thyme, rosemary, etc.) that is like poking your face straight into a garden. Everything tastes like real ingredients, and the funk is well balanced and not too heavy.
Figment is also available on tap at Chops and Hops, in Watkinsville, from Collective Harvest’s CSA and at various events like Classic City Brew Fest, and you can find where it’ll be next on Facebook or Instagram.
WHAT UP?: Big City Bread has moved to a counter-service model at dinner. Zombie Donuts is doing liquid nitrogen ice cream. The Jittery Joe’s Roaster, on Barber, is hosting a food-truck brunch fair every Sunday from 11 a.m.–3 p.m. through Dec. 15, with Holy Crepe, Manila Express and others offering food, OJ—bring your own champagne, plus ID, to make mimosas—games for kids, music and even picnic tables.
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