Words and Photos by Cory Johnson
In the spirit of Halloween, this Battle of the Burgers pits two restaurants better known for their aesthetic than their food against each other. At one end of town, Galaxy Diner is a 1950s space-aged eatery in the heart of Carytown that is better known for being a hip place to grab a drink than having a great burger. On the other side of the fan, just inside VCUвЂ™s Monroe Park Campus, is Strange Matter. Not a diner, but also not a bar, Strange Matter does have a budget burger night on Tuesdays and gets most of its traffic during band shows and other events on the weekends.
Both arenвЂ™t rightly famous for their burgers, but feature them prominently on their menus. With that in mind, the battle begins.
GalaxyвЂ™s fries are an unseasoned, overcooked waste of space. There is nothing wrong with freezer friesвЂ“ I love Ore IdaвЂ“ but the most a professional kitchen can do is sprinkle salt on them before they cool off and are no longer seasonable. GalaxyвЂ™s saving grace is that they offer two different sides and a delicious fried pickle with every burger.
Strange Matter only faired slightly better. The fries were seasoned, but very underdone. They went for an ambitious ultra-thick French cut to a russet potato; it is that same cut that lead to the undercooking of the fries.
There are two different ideas about how to season a burger: simple with salt and pepper or with complexity, trying to infuse the beef with as much flavor as possible.
Galaxy is in the simple seasoning camp, with the Bleu Moon Burger as its representative. The patty is solid with a good amount of seasoning to it, but nothing from there is spectacular. Crisp bacon adds some texture to the sandwich, but everything else is lost in an abundance of lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. The burger is named by its bleu cheese but with the simple, watery flavors of the LTM, it comes off as biting and out of place. The attempt to add more flavors, like caramelized onion, is futile here as well, making the entire experience lack luster.
The word вЂњdinerвЂќ sometimes invokes the thought of average, homey food; an idea easily applied to this burger.
Strange Matter is a different story. Their comparable burger is the BobbyвЂ™s Dream Burger: melted bleu cheese, mushrooms, and tempura-fried onions adorning a cooked-to-order patty on a toasted pretzel roll. I ordered mine medium-rare and couldnвЂ™t have been happier. BobbyвЂ™s Dream lies in the saturated flavor camp of burgers, placing juices and spices into the patty that only enhance the flavor of the meat. Crunch of fried onions and slight tang of blue cheese: both elements come together to form a rich burger experience.
But BobbyвЂ™s Dream doesnвЂ™t stop there; it is a very filling burger as well. The pretzel roll has the consistency and flavor of a pretzel and will remind you of that with each bite. The mushrooms act more as a filler, providing more substance to the burgerвЂ“ though its debatable whether they are needed or not. After eating BobbyвЂ™s Dream, youвЂ™ll feel like the $12 it costs is worth it.
To be blunt, Strange Matter has the better burger. ItвЂ™s a little bit grungy and gets loud on the weekends, but there is something to be said about a low-key restaurant that takes the time to make sure its food is seasoned properly and gets the most flavors from its ingredients.
Galaxy Dinner has one of the best milkshakes in Carytown and donвЂ™t leave Strange Matter without tasting their Vegan Mango Donuts HolesвЂ“ they are a spiced, cakey ball of sugar-powdered delight.