If you aimlessly drive through downtown Durham you may miss a delicious, vibrant and progressive food joint: Queen Burger.
To be honest, I am not a hamburger connoisseur. Growing up, I craved Five Guys cheeseburgers with extra-extra ketchup. However, after an intense middle school bet that I could not go burger-free for two weeks, I showed up my challenger by becoming a vegetarian for a year and a half. Although I never got the prize — a pack of Trident peppermint gum — I lost the indulgent juiciness of a burger. I recently reclaimed it, however, on a visit to Durham pop-up restaurant Queen Burger.
Located on 321 East Chapel Hill Street, Queen Burger hides behind The Durham Hotel. The best way to map out its location is to follow the blasting lively music and the smell of freshly grilled burgers.
The outdoor venue is decorated with dangling lights, a vibrant graffitied wall and a turf-layered ground. As soon as I walked through the alley, I felt a rush of energy exuding from Queen Burger. My eyes were immediately drawn to the grilling station that took center stage of the venue.
A wooden stage lies at the forefront of the pop-up where a man grills the burgers. Each burger is made on the spot. A wooden menu offers a choice of three burgers: classic, veggie and vegan. All burgers are decorated with onion, pickles and their speciality sauce. The classic and veggie, however, have hoop cheese while the vegan substitutes the cheese out.
For those who are not cheese enthusiast, hoop cheese is a traditional cow’s milk cheese that is prepared by separating the whey from cottage cheese curds. It has a cheddar cheese-like orange hue but a sharper taste. Hoop cheese is more common in the South, but it is still rare to find. Outside of burgers, Queen Burger offers an array of deliciously crafted ice cream sandwiches by Rose's Dumplings and Sweets. Whether you are in the mood for a fruity flavor, such as the lemon verbena and raspberry, or you are craving some chocolate (try the cookie dough with chocolate wafers), Rose’s ice cream sandwiches are the perfect after-burger treat.
When it was my turn to order, I went for the classic burger and was delightfully surprised to find that they have gluten-free buns. It is rare to find tasty gluten-free alternatives for bread, but I thought I would give it a go.
I waited for my burger at one of the circular high-top metal tables placed around the venue. Each table was placed six feet apart, of course, to adhere to COVID-19 regulations. After five minutes, my number fourteen was called. I picked up a red tray with my neatly wrapped burger lounging in the middle. I unfolded the paper wrapping stamped with the Queen Burger logo to find a juicy, voluptuous burger. Hoop cheese and the speciality sauce oozed from the sides and the gluten-free burger was in full disguise. When comparing my bun to the others who had classic buns, I would have never guessed my gluten free bun's true identity.
Each bite of the burger was extremely flavorful. The salty golden cheese, tangy cream colored sauce, crunchy green pickles and sweet charcoaled onions all complimented the juicy and tender burger. Although the ingredients of the condiment slathered on to the burger may be a mystery, Queen Burger’s speciality sauce was creamy with the perfect thickness; it sat perfectly on the hamburger buns without making them soggy. The orange sauce had a hint of a sweet mayonnaise flavor that reminded me of ranch combined with thousand island dressing. Each bite of my burger was accompanied by the blast of dance-worthy pop music in the background — transporting me to a backyard barbecue.
Next up on Maddie’s Menu for the evening was the cookie dough ice cream sandwich. The sea salt-decorated chocolate wafers complimented yet contrasted the creaminess of the cookie dough ice cream. The sandwich was perfectly sweet and extremely fresh on the tongue. Both the ice cream sandwich and burger maintained a perfect balance of flavors where one was not dominating the other.
Not only does Queen Burger provide a lively atmosphere and delicious food, but it also contributes to the local community. Fifteen percent of all profits are donated to the we are organization, which provides students, parents, and educators knowledge and skills to understand the complexity of racism in order to dismantle systemic racism.
Let me leave you with this food for thought; do not allow COVID-19 to force your tastebuds and adventure yearnings to suffer. Instead, take a short journey to the lively flipped parking lot of Queen Burger where you will devour delicious burgers, listen to pumping tunes and help an amazing cause all while staying COVID-19 safe.
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