I’m a sucker for a good burger. It’s been our mission since we’ve moved to Raleigh to find the best burger in town and we’ve made some pretty good discoveries (Char-Grill, Mojoe’s) and still have a lot to try (the burger at Porter’s is supposed to be legendary). So, imagine my happiness when we heard that a new burger joint, Uncle Fatty’s Drive-in (Woodburn Road, Cameron Village). Cameron Village has always been a little boring when it comes to food for me, how many “upscale” bar and grills can one place have? I think they’re trying to revitalize its culinary side, a few new restaurants have popped up. But it was Uncle Fatty’s that really picqued my interest. I mean, with a name like that, who could resist…right?
Walking in, I didn’t quite get what was going on. They’re obviously trying to go for a retro soda shoppe vibe, but its comes off very antiseptic-feeling. Everything was pristine, white and grey, and glossy, a little too glossy. I was scared to smudge the counter Tony and I sat at. I’m not a big authenticity proponent, but it felt like sitting at someone’s modern, calculated idea of a diner, not a real place you’d want to hang out.
At least there’s burgers, although the menu was pretty unimaginative. Just your basic classics; hamburger, cheeseburger, bacon burger. It was a little disappointing, especially at the prices, which are very Cameron Village-ish considering that you’re just getting a burger and fries. What did catch my eye was “The Billy Goat;” a half-pound patty, bacon, onions, cheese, slaw, and chili. How could I say no? The special was The Billy Goat, fries, and an Orangeade, which is also something I can’t walk away from. It’s not an exaggeration to say that my hopes were high.
Sadly, I was going to be walking away disappointed. The food came out quickly, which was nice, but I noticed it came out a little too quick, like maybe it wasn’t as fresh as I’d hope. Oh well, as long as it’s tasty, right? Nope. Not at all. I was shocked, I was hoping there’d be some smokiness from the bacon, spiciness from the chili, and maybe a little crisp bite from the slaw. Instead, there wasn’t any distinct flavor, the different ingredients just mushed together into a sloppy and bland mouthful. Not a single topping stood out; the chili overpowered everything, the burger was cooked to death, and it was hard to make out the taste of slaw.
I switched to fries, but faced another disappointment; shoestring fries that tasted like they came out of the freezer. I tried to find some comfort in my orangeade, but since they don’t mix the orangeade fresh for you, I got a big swig of sugar water with an afterthought of orange. Tony’s orangeade had a better mix of fresh orange taste when the waitress poured it for him, but we agreed that making orangeade fresh then letting it sit made it a crapshoot when it came to ordering. Who knows who will get the good glass?
I know I’m coming off a little harsh, but I think what was most off-putting was that Uncle Fatty’s doesn’t know what it wants to be; it wants to be a classic diner, but its veneer is a little too slick. You can charge higher prices for burgers, but make sure they’re actually tasty. Judging from the empty seating, I don’t think people in Cameron Village know what to think about Uncle Fatty’s either.