Thursday, August 19, 2010

19 AUG 10: The Big Blogger Burger Blowout

A few restaurants made it a tradition for years, then took it away. Now it seems to be making a comeback, with some modifications. Things aren't quite as free as they used to be - but you don't need to call Clark Howard to ask if food at 80 percent off is still a good deal.

What I'm talking about here is the "free birthday meal" deal at restaurants. Denny's offered it about 20 years ago, and I took advantage of it for a couple of years. No, I was NOT so self-centered that I refused to leave a tip....

As my birthday approached a few weeks ago, I wondered if anyone had brought back the birthday freebie. Then I came upon an article through WTVM's website which absolutely thrilled me - revealing THREE different Columbus restaurants offer free hamburgers! Let's see the vegetarians lobby for free side orders of broccoli.

To gain the free birthday burgers, I had to join the restaurants' online clubs. That means I'm now on their e-mail lists for special promotions. But I've accepted that with other restaurants - even though I really don't care to watch Chick-Fil-A movies on "Moo Tube."

I joined the clubs - and as promised, e-mail coupons for free burgers came a few days ahead of my birthday. Thankfully, the coupons were NOT one-day-only specials. If they were, my day filled with burgers would have been followed by two days of fasting.

The coupons allowed me two-week windows for redeeming my free burgers, as long as I showed a photo ID. So I scheduled a week of meal planning to eat all three - and that was necessary, because these were large burgers. The 69-cent Wednesday cheeseburger special at McDonald's looked like a Krystal, compared to these....

BURGER #1: FUDDRUCKERS. I went there on a Friday evening - and after a recent crime report at The Landings, I felt blessed simply to walk into the restaurant without my printed coupon getting shot full of holes.

There surprisingly was no line at Fuddruckers on a Friday night. I walked right up to order, and the attendant did NOT ask for identification with my coupon. I could have mugged someone in the parking lot....

While the one-third-pound Fuddruckers burger was free, the side items and drinks were not. A combo meal included a cup of soda to refill -- and since I saved $4.79 on my burger, I could be a big spender elsewhere. Yes, I substituted onion rings for fries.

Fuddruckers lets you dress your own burger. I chose to add lettuce, mustard, barbecue sauce - but NOT a slice of cheese. That would have cost me 50 cents off the top. I simply can't believe dairy farmers are checking eight dollars for a pack of 16 slices.

The Fuddruckers team let me fill a "to-go" cup with soda, for the drive home on a hot August night. I drove home having spent only $4.39, with no tip necessary. Some Burger King combos cost more than that - and you don't even get a cardboard crown to wear, to feel like royalty.

BURGER #2: RED ROBIN. After a weekend which included a free birthday cup of ice cream from Baskin-Robbins, I chose to beat the heat by visiting Columbus Park Crossing at 4:00 p.m. on a Monday. The fact that the car air conditioning didn't work well made the trip even more necessary.

Red Robin was almost empty, even though it was "Happy Happy Hour" time. When you hear the ESPN ads in the fall asking "Is it Monday yet?", the question probably is coming from sports bar owners.

"Red Robin Gourmet Burgers" is the proper name for the restaurant - and the menu lives up to that title. The simplest "Natural Burger" starts at $7.79. And does it sound more upscale to serve "Steak Fries" with a hamburger?

I used my coupon for a Red Robin Banzai Burger. It includes cheddar cheese, grilled pineapple and a teriyaki marinade. Maybe that last item explains it was greasier in my hands than Fuddruckers - making me a little concerned at times the meat might squirt away across the bar where I sat.

The server at Red Robin offered me more Steak Fries after I finished my burger. I didn't realize they were "bottomless" and all-you-can-eat, so I said no. That was probably a mistake - because salt from the fries could replace what I'd lost by sweating in the car.

Red Robin received a tip deduction when I asked for a soda refill for the road. They were out of standard 12-ounce cups, so I had to settle for a little five-ounce foam cup. You know, like the ones they use at church coffee hours -- as if to remind everyone that starving children need mission donations.

With the tip, my Red Robin receipt showed $4.36. But I drove home a bit baffled by this restaurant. It tries hard to attract children - yet a bar is front-and-center when you walk in, and the "Happy Hour" discounts were only for alcoholic beverages. The "Red" in the name might as well refer to the wine they serve.

We have one more big burger to go - but we're going to allow some digestion time and make this a two-part topic. So please come back Friday for the third course. Now let's offer some news highlights for dessert....

+ The overseers of the "All Over the Valley" website confessed what we suspected -- that "photo" of a shark in the Chattahoochee River was created as a hoax/publicity stunt. And in a mild surprise, it was NOT ordered by Phenix City's Mayor to protest the whitewater rafting project.

+ A campaign manager admitted he produced a bogus picture suggesting a candidate for mayor of Bessemer, Alabama was endorsed by football coach Nick Saban. The manager has resigned - but candidates in the upcoming Auburn city election fear he might move there.

+ Spirit-Filled Ministries Pastor Wayne Baker confessed to WRBL he's a reformed gambling addict. I'm not sure the son has learned from the father here - because there's only a 25-percent chance that Zeph Baker will become mayor.

(Baker's comment came after Georgia gubernatorial candidate Nathan Deal told a forum in Savannah he'd consider legalizing casino gambling. With a last name like Deal, does that really surprise anybody?)

+ Columbus State University unveiled a new sports logo, which Athletic Director Jay Sparks said reflects a "new agenda." I wasn't sure at first what he meant by that -- but then I studied things. The old logo only showed a cougar's head. A full-bodied cougar is much easier for a national rifle champion to shoot.

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