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Pulling into the parking lot of Datsaburger, the relatively new faux-50s themed burger joint in Bryant, we asked ourselves if Central Arkansas really needed another place touting high-end burgers. Little Rock's burger scene is a crowded one, with several locally owned restaurants like Big Orange, the Root Cafe, and Arkansas Burger Company competing with nationally established chains for supremacy in the world of seared ground beef. Things are a little different down I-30 in Saline County, though, with the usual fast food suspects and big-box franchises making up the bulk of restaurant choices in Bryant, and so we were excited to see a new, locally-owned restaurant open up advertising burgers that their website describes as being made with "the best quality products" served up with "excellent customer service." The dining area, all black and white tile with chrome and red trim looked promising, if a little hokey.
Datsaburger is one of those "order at the counter" places, and the menus were large and easily visible. Deciding to let the place do what they claimed to do best, we ordered the Datsaburger ($4.59) with a slice of pepper jack cheese for another $0.65. And since Datsaburger's tagline is "Home of the Bottomless Basket of Fries," we went for the fries-and-a-drink upgrade ($3.49), making our total combo fairly reasonable for a mid-price burger place. Wanting to try some of the non-beef portions of the menu, we also ordered the Datsa Razorback Burger ($5.49), a pork burger covered in grilled onions and barbecue sauce. Our cashier handed us a couple of styrofoam cups and we headed over into the main seating area to take a look around.
The first thing that struck us about the dining room at Datsaburger was a decent sized toppings bar...that was barely filled with anything at all. Two stainless steel pans held some of the saddest, palest slices of tomato I've ever seen and a limp pile of shredded iceberg lettuce that was light green and flecked with beige. A few other smaller containers contained jalapenos, pickles, raw onion, and a couple of bottles of mustard and mayonnaise — and we were skeptical that the swiftly melting ice in the bar could keep these ingredients cold enough to stay fresh. We stared at this sad state of affairs for some time, feeling the growing sense of dismay that comes when you know you're in for far less than you bargained for.
Being the eternal optimists we are, we tucked into our food with gusto just as soon as it arrived. The "bottomless basket of fries" turned out to be a small handful of the crinkle-cut variety found commonly in school cafeterias. They were hot and crisp, though, and since mushy fries are a huge pet peeve of ours we forgave the use of frozen fries in light of these at least succeeding in terms of texture. The beef burger was large, and while the patty seemed to also be of the pre-formed and frozen variety it was decently seasoned and nicely cooked, with the thick slice of cheese melted just right over the top. We rather doubted that the burger was made from the "fresh Black Angus ground beef" advertised on the menu, as the taste and texture reminded us more of the pre-made burgers served at the ball game concession stands of our childhood.
The Razorback burger confirmed our disappointment and was really the final straw in our deciding that we just couldn't bring ourselves to like the place. The pork patty was bland and flavorless, and while the onions were grilled well, the whole thing was buried under such an incredible amount of vinegary sauce that it tasted of nothing else. The sauce itself wasn't bad, and might have actually worked well in a smaller quantity, but there wasn't anything to be done to help the pork. The whole sandwich was a step up from the McRib, but only just. The lone bright spot of the sandwich was the bread, which the menu says is baked locally and had a nice, soft texture that held up well beneath the drenching puddle of sauce.
In the end, we felt that Datsaburger spent a lot of time on their decor and hyperbolic website and not a lot of time on the actual food. The service was of the sort where you're handed your food, expected to dump your own wilted condiments on it, and are never spoken to again. Datsaburger is a of place that could possibly work in a town with very few other dining options; as it is, the place has no hope in competing with the big boys of the Central Arkansas burger scene. The menu is at a price point to put it just outside the range of fast food and isn't nearly justified by the lack of quality in the ingredients used. The website claims that founders Clay Buck and Dino Ochello have traveled all around the Mid-South "searching for the best burgers around," and if that's true, they should already know how far they are from producing them at Datsaburger.
The restaurant is located at 3411 Main St. in Bryant, and is open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Thu. and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
Open. Good to see Bubba and the fellows. And Ms Lou Ann.