First Burger is located in Historic Downtown Albany, Oregon. They’ve been open for a couple of years but this is the first time I’ve been able to get there. I was intrigued by the way they advertised their local, fresh ingredients. This is their mission statement from their website, “First Burger is based on the simple idea of using the best possible ingredients available to make the best possible hamburger. We Oregonians are lucky that the best quality is local, natural and sustainable. First Burger strives to keep Oregon working; we hope that you will join us.” They also list their suppliers on their website, all of which are indeed local.
The sign in the window said they were voted Best Burger in the Valley by the Democrat Herald for 2010 by reader’s choice. That sets expectations pretty high.
First Burger is in a historic building. High ceilings make the small space feel much roomier than it is. The shiny wood floors give the space a crisp clean look. The décor was industrial meets agriculture, somehow it really worked. Exposed pipes overhead, light fixtures, and paint all agreed with an industrial look while there were oversized photos of produce and farm fields on the walls. There was also a mix of old fashioned tin-type plaques that advertised the products they used (soda, ketchup, beef, beer, etc.). A large chalk board hung on one wall with the day’s special, soups, and the short list of local micro brews and wines they carry. The writing was easy to read from anywhere in the room.
Seating consisted of tables and chairs, although one side of the restaurant had a bench along the wall. There was also counter seating in the back corner. The metal chairs and tables had a distressed finish and were covered in black vinyl. Covering the table tops with black vinyl was a mistake. The tables were clean but the vinyl was sticky (as it tends to be) and streaked with lint from the towels they use to clean them.
I like to check out the bathroom at a business if it’s one that you would expect customers to use. I think it’s an area that shows their attention to detail and how they feel about their customers. If they really care about a customer’s experience, they’ll have a clean and tidy bathroom. First Burger’s bathroom was spotless and stocked up. It wasn’t decorated, but it doesn’t need to be. It was clean, well lit, and had everything it should.
The only thing I couldn’t understand was why they had a podium at the front door. I found it confusing. There was no sign asking you to wait to be seated or to go ahead and sit. Menus are already on the table. The restaurant is small enough that I can’t believe they would actually need a host station. They could take the podium out and easily add another large table.
Service was prompt and friendly. The appetizer was delivered promptly and my dinner came shortly after I was done with the appetizer. Their timing was impeccable. Diana, the waitress, checked back to see how things were but didn’t hover. Questions were happily answered and she was happy to consider substitutions and make recommendations or comments.
First Burger is a burger place. Their menu reminds me of something you would see from Happy Days. A couple of salads ($6.95), one of which is the only vegetarian meal option, fried pickles ($4.50), Frito pie ($4.50), chili ($4.50), and milk shakes ($4.50), all made by hand. Burgers are rightfully the star of the menu. Their signature burger, the First Burger is made with “1/3 lb. fresh ground Painted Hills Beef and is served with lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, our house made burger sauce, and a heap of our hand cut French fries”. You can also add all kinds of other toppings and substitute tots, onion rings, sweet potato fries, or salad for regular French fries for a small charge. They also have several named burger creations that you can choose from ($8.50-12.95).
I couldn’t resist ordering the fried pickles. I’m not a huge pickle fan but I have a hard time turning down any deep fried food. These were dill pickle spears coated in a dill flavored corn meal breading and served with ranch dressing. The pickle itself was delicious, hot but still some crunch; however, while the breading had a nice flavor the batter was heavy and thick. I also found the ranch to be runny and lacking flavor, not enough herbs and too much buttermilk. When the waitress asked how they were, I said Okay. She looked genuinely shocked and hurt. Apparently, that is not the usual response. She responded with a “to each their own comment” (in a very positive way) and she could be right; the table across from me loved theirs.
I ordered the First Burger with Gouda cheese, which wasn’t on the menu but it was on the special of the day. They were happy to substitute. I meant to take a picture of the meal, but I just dove in when it arrived. The fries were a beautiful golden orange, the burger bun was a lovely artisan style, slightly crusty bread, and there was a tidy pile of veggie topping on the side. I didn’t waste any time. Each component of the burger could have stood on its own, but together were beautiful. The burger patty itself was so good that I ate pieces of it by itself, no bun or veggies; the quality of the meat shined through. The bun was flavorful as well but didn’t overpower the burger patty star. The one drawback would be that I would have preferred more veggie toppings. The Gouda cheese was a perfect choice and I’ve sent them a message suggesting they add the choice to their menu.
I substituted the sweet potato fries for regular fries. Sweet potato fries are a favorite of mine and these did not disappoint. I like a crisp, slender fry and while I would have liked these to be a bit crispier it’s hard to do with this potato. What I did love was that they were not greasy at all and they had an intense sweet potato flavor. I’ve never had sweet potato fries that tasted this good, that tasted that much like a sweet potato and only sweet potato. Usually you would taste at least the oil they were cooked in, not so here. Burger and fries with substitutions was $9.
I like this place. It has a working class meets chic vibe where the food is taken seriously and is the star of the show. While I wince at paying $9 for a burger and fries (okay, so I’m old enough to remember when that was outrageous), this is not fast food and won’t carry a fast food price. It’s food made with care and love by people trying to support local suppliers. Give ‘em a try, I’m sure you won’t regret it.
210 1st Avenue West, Albany, Oregon
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