Chapel Hill, N.C. — Top This: The Right Burger at the Right Time
Spring has always been a time of rebirth and redemption. Just as Persephone returned from the underworld and Dante emerged from his journey through Hell at this time of year, so did The Straight Beef experience its own rebirth and redemption.
Take burgiatrist emeritus John McManus, who, after a shameful fall from grace, emerged stronger and more committed to his role as arbiter of all things burger. In similar fashion, the Reverend Donald Corey—after suffering through an ill-conceived, ill-prepared burger at our last outing—was undergoing a crisis of faith, going on two weeks without a single burger. He was hesitant, fearful even, about our impending visit to Chapel Hill’s Top This.
Fortunately, Franklin Street’s newest digs were just what Reverend Corey needed to get him back on track.
The atmosphere at Top This is comfortable and casual, with a menu that is refreshingly straightforward. (There are no grandiose claims, as Michael noted, about “kick-you-in-your-teeth” pimento cheese or “three-pepper mustard that will make you slap your mama!”) Here’s how it works: You choose a protein (burger, hot dog, chicken breast, roast beef, etc.), a type of bun, a cheese, a topping or two, and a dressing. Sky’s the limit on combinations. If you want a quarter-pound frank with bleu cheese, sauerkraut, and spicy Thai peanut sauce, that’s your problem.
With Scott in Prague for a condiments workshop, it was just Don, Michael, and Chad for this review. All three ordered the six-ounce Angus burger, differing only in accoutrement. Don went with the pretzel bun, caramelized onions, fried egg, cheese and bacon; Chad went Greek, with Kalamata olives and feta cheese on a brioche bun; Michael went old-school Southern, with pimento cheese, three-pepper mustard, and fried pickle chips on a pretzel roll. All three of us agreed that the underlying patty was uniformly excellent and properly cooked.
“Top This lets the food do the talking,” said Michael. “They tell you what they offer and they back it up with quality and care, not with fireworks. Very solid. I give it a 4 out of 5.”
Chad was also in 4-town. “My brioche bun was a little dry, but the experience was otherwise excellent,” he said. “This was a well-crafted and well-presented burger. I appreciate the chance to mix and match to create a burger that suits my mood. I give it a 4 out of 5.”
The real story, however, was at the other end of the table.
One could see Reverend Don emerging from his Dante-esque anguish as he bit into his burger. Shadows dissipated. Warmth and the smell of fresh grass enveloped the room. Persephone (albeit a big, hairy Persephone) emerged from the underworld to signal the return of spring.
“Top This certainly did [rejuvenate my faith in humanity]. My doubts and worries disappeared when I picked up the burger and the yolk of the fried egg broke perfectly, showering the burger in salvation,” said Don. “I was in an evangelical state of satisfaction. The last bite of my Bavarian pretzel bun had the perfect ratio of beef, caramelized onions, fried egg, cheese, and bacon. Top This restored my faith; 4.25 out of 5.”
Scott Blumenthal, Michael Marino, Chad Ward and 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 here.