Buns Burgers and Properly Sized Menus

Disclosure: Our dudes own a burger joint in Rhinebeck and it's awesome. Dinnermen HQ.

You walk in and you look at a chalkboard:  Four sandwiches, a hot dog, fries and a salad. That's it. 

I've been three times, and on one of my trips I heard a customer ask for the menu.  When directed to the chalkboard,  she uttered an unimpressed: "That's it?"

It's strange to walk into a burger joint and leave defeated because they serve burgers.

When I saw the chalkboard I said the same thing,  except it was an enthusiastic: "THAT'S IT??!"

A limited menu, carefully sourced ingredients (Kilcoyne Farm etc.), some great sauces and hand cut fries.  

It's actually an elegant solution to the problem: what is the fewest menu items you can have and yet still adequately cater to modern customer expectations and dietary restrictions? (Vegetarian, Paleo, GFCF, Sustainability, Affordability, Whatever etc.)

Who knows what unimpressed-chalkboard lady wanted?  It's weird to be confronted with a right-sized amount of choices when we expect menus that list rambling combinations of proteins and pan-cultural spice palettes.  For some reason, we like holding diner menus with 100 items even if we'll only consider three. It feels good to have options, even if the presence of options does nothing but undermine the perceived enjoyment of our eventual choice.  (I SEE YOU BARRY SCHWARTZ.) 

I recently ate at Red Lobster (shutup) and their menu STARTS with a page of recommended dishes that functions as a "preview" of the upcoming menu -- a selection from page 6, a highlight from page 3 etc. Then after this teaser section is the drink menu.  Then after a few pages of drinks we land on several chapters of food options. It is such a daunting array of choices that THEIR MENU OPENS WITH A  BUILT IN TL;DR SECTION. They need to provide a summary to aid the overwhelmed.  Sadly, I bet it works.  

Buns Burgers is headed in the other direction, and at the opposite end of the menu spectrum from Red Lobster is the  "Wilensky's" approach.  Wiliensky's Light Lunch is a luncheonette in Montreal that has been serving a grilled balogna/salami sandwich since 1932.  Want something else? You can have a hot dog or a chopped egg sandwich.  That's it. (I have no hard evidence but I will guess that their signature item -- a Wilensky Special -- accounts for 95% of food sales.) 

Wilensky's even wrote a poem instructing you to shutup:


When ordering a special, you should know a thing or two. It is always served with mustard; it is never cut in two. Don’t ask us why; just understand that it’s nothing new. This is the way it’s been done since 1932.
— from Wilensky's Website

Yes you read that correctly, they will not cut your sandwich in half.

Buns Burgers is NOT this maliciously restrictive in their approach, as I mentioned above, their strategy is a tidy decluttering of excess. This isn't an "our way or the highway!" type of vibe, it's essentialism.  Trim the fat.  Stay focused. Aim to feed the family. Make the kids yell for a Buns Burgers stop after the little league game.  

And financially,  it IS a reasonable weekly stop. The 1/4 lb patties keep the prices down, so this isn't categorized as a special occasion premium indulgence.    It's not a $15-20 a la carte burger, it's a $7 a la carte burger. 

This isn't a Valentine's Day outing.  This is a weekly dining spot.

Correction: It's a weekly spot unless you're like me when presented with an opportunity to add additional patties for $3/each.  Then we enter into different categories both financially and nutritionally.  I cannot eat here daily or weekly because I cannot be trusted.  The (infinite?) extra patty add-on is an open assault on my self-restraint.  Every time I walk in, I slip into Carpe Diem mode and eat until I've negatively altered my life expectancy.

I will spend $25, eat 2,000 calories and open my mouth so wide that my head muscles tremble from sheer effort.  My most recent order, which showed MUCH more moderation than my initial 4 burger escapade:

  • Lamb Eater (2x Patty) - $11
  • Fries - $3
  • Two Sides of Sauce - $2
  • Pistachio Cardamom Milkshake - $5

Total - $21

The lamb is right in that appropriate lamby zone -- all the distinctive deliciousness of lamb without the old & dying barnsweater mutton taste that is the reason that people who hate lamb say they hate lamb.  The lemon-oregano mayo and Buns Sauce are good enough to be bottled, and should be aggressively smeared on anything entering your quivering mouth.  

Their milkshake flavors rotate and I lucked out with Pistachio Cardamom.  It was bizarrely refreshing. The exotic and fragrant combination tricked me into thinking that I had somehow made a healthy choice by ordering a milkshake.  I was chewing on cold thick dairy feeling like I was already a day into my post-burger detox.

Next time, I'm getting a quadruple Lamb Eater.   I'll spend $17 on a burger because I'm gonna live forever if I stick with this milkshake cleanse.