Holly Springs, N.C. — We rolled up separately in our suburban dad-mobiles so as to avoid unwanted attention. Our wily prey had taken great pains to conceal itself among the pedestrian surroundings of an infill shopping center, a generic collection of national retail outlets, tire stores and chain restaurants. We were there to investigate the Mason Jar Tavern, not blow its cover.
Chad adopted his truly awful Crocodile Hunter accent, “Crikey, you’d never find it if you didn’t know it was here!” “You’re a sneaky one, aren’t you?, he said, as Michael and Don pretended not to know him
The Mason Jar Tavern’s suburban camouflage is nearly perfect. It is the only independent restaurant (or independent anything, for that matter) in the new(ish) Holly Springs Towne Center on 55 in Holly Springs. Even after you are seated, you would be forgiven for thinking you were in a Five Guys, Chipotle or just about any strip mall sports bar in America. The little touches – like the large photographs of Mason jars in various rustic settings – register, but it’s not until you take a good look at the menu that the true nature of the restaurant begins to reveal itself.
The menu is upscale southern comfort food. While the pulled pork tacos were an excellent appetizer, we would not be swayed from our mission of discovering the quality of the burger at this potential diamond in the rough. We quickly ordered three of the house specialty burgers.
Chad opted for the pimento cheeseburger with regular bacon and a fried green tomato. Don chose the bacon cheeseburger with candied bacon. Michael went for the BBQ burger with candied bacon and fried onions.
Michael fell into a trance-like state while eating. He didn’t say a word until there was nothing left but the memory of the burger.
“Candied bacon. Let me repeat that. Candied. Bacon. I am not one for gimmicky bacon accoutrements. However, I didn’t care what else was on this burger after I saw those words. Fried onions? OK. BBQ sauce? What-evs.
The patty was well-seasoned. The barbecue sauce was under the patty which made the bottom bun somewhat soggy by the time I was halfway through. Yeah, yeah, whatever.
Candied. Bacon. 4.0”
Chad remarked that it was a very good burger, but not transcendent, and not in the same ballpark as Chuck’s, Only Burger or the even the Island Burger he had eaten at Salem Street Pub just days before, but still a damn fine burger. “The pimento cheese was an excellent addition, he said, struggling to maintain his atrocious Australian accent. “It added a bit of tanginess to the overall flavor, but the fried green tomato was a no-show. It didn’t even register on my palate (even though I could see it in there).” Nonetheless, he gave the burger a solid four on The Straight Beef’s five-point scale. 4.0
Don's burger was good enough to send him into a flashback: “In Tijuana blah blah blah back in 1963 blah blah blah them crazy hippies blah blah blah no effect on me." We deciphered the Reverends ramblings to figure he gave it a 4.0.
Chad attempted one last “crikey,” but the others glared him into silence.
The Straight Beef guys added this note, “We generally do not include side dishes or deserts in our reviews, but the peanut butter pie and s’mores in a jar? Dayum!”
More about the authors:
Scott Blumenthal, Michael Marino and Reverend Donald Corey are The Straight Beef, professional burgiatrists who review, rate and rank Triangle-area burgers on their award-winning blog. You can read more about The Straight Beef, including their education and scholarship, ratings system, and burger categorization method on their official website.
Chad Ward bypassed traditional burgiatric academia and earned his grill marks in the unlicensed burger pits of Hong Kong and Malaysia, competing under various aliases and stage names, including Patty O’Doom, Baron Beefcake, The Griddler, and, once, embarrassingly, Major Meat. He made the transition to “legitimate” hamburger studies with the publication of his treatise on the physiology of taste and the chemical reactions that occur during hamburger browning, Maillard and Me, though he maintains a network of burger underworld contacts.