My friend Schuyler used to joke that every meal we enjoyed together was “upscale” because “up” was the direction his scale climbed when we finished our marathon meals. We were quite the trenchermen in our youth, bona fide threats to any all-you-can-eat buffet in town. Back then–as impoverished junior noncommissioned officers in the Air Force–ten dollar meals were near the upper end of we could afford with an occasional fifteen dollar splurge. Back then, some thirty years ago, you could get quite a bit of food for ten dollars. Fast forward a few decades and the term “upscale” has a different meaning for both of us. We have both been able to reap the harvest of our hard work and are able to (on occasion) afford upscale restaurants that features fine-dining.
Back when a dollar would buy four burgers at Griff’s, we couldn’t have conceived of any burger being considered “upscale.” Not even the most sage of soothsayers could possibly have had the prescience to predict the price of burgers exceeding ten dollars. Today, it’s not uncommon to find burgers flirting with the twenty dollar mark. That price point is justified by such labels as grass-fed, local ingredients, artisanal condiments, made-to order and organic beef. Restaurateurs have seen our demand for high-quality burgers and they’ve jumped on the opportunity. They’ve heard us rage against unhealthy franchised fast food burgers and they’ve offered a much better–and more expensive–alternative.
According to its website, Upscale Burgers & Shakes, a ghost kitchen which opened its virtual doors in December, 2020, checks all the boxes: “a much healthier option than the drive-through; everything made from scratch including brioche buns and sauces; fresh in-house ground short-rib, sirloin and chuck blend; sourcing only the best ingredients; a local restaurant with a passion for good, clean, rich food.” Unlike some ghost kitchens, Upscale Burgers & Shakes does have a brick-and-mortar presence. It’s located within the comfy, cozy confines of Lily & Liam Bistro, one of the City of Vision’s most popular up-and-coming eateries.
While Lily & Liam Bistro strictly offers breakfast and lunch Monday through Sunday, Upscale Burgers & Shakes is open only from Wednesday through Sunday and only from 2PM to 7PM. Order online on the restaurant’s website and you can have your meal delivered to your car at a time you designate. You can also have your meal delivered to your home via DoorDash. The process fits right in with what my friend Captain Tuttle calls the “new now.” While the ordering process is easy, picking up food to eat at home isn’t as satisfying as dining in–especially if you’ve got to ferry your fare half-an-hour.
The online menu is somewhat disjointed. There’s a section called “most popular” which lists four items. Then there’s a section that lists everything else and not necessarily everything of a type together. Ideally the six burgers on the menu would be grouped together, but that’s not the case. Similarly the shakes, desserts, beverages and chicken tenders aren’t grouped together. For the compulsively well-ordered among us, it takes some getting used to. Maybe the intent is to make us peruse the entire menu to see just how many delicious options are available. If that’s the case, mission accomplished.
True to the restaurant’s name, shakes feature prominently on the menu. There are four of them: vanilla, chocolate, berry, turtle custard. You’ll also find four old-fashioned floats: black cherry, root beer, cream soda and Coke. Having been acquainted with Lily & Liam’s magnificent turtle cheesecake made my choice easy. A turtle custard shake (caramel, ganache and pecans) it would be…or at least that’s what I ordered. Even after getting it home half-an-hour later, there’s no way even a Hoover high suction vacuum cleaner could have sucked it up with a straw. The “custard” was still hard. Nary a pecan or pecan piece was to be found. As an ice cream dessert with caramel and ganache, this was a pretty good dessert. As a shake, it didn’t pass muster.
The green chile double (Cheddar, green chile, lettuce, tomato, onion, Upscale sauce) was precisely as advertised. Thankfully the burger was constructed on housemade brioche buns because a standard vendor-provided bun would have collapsed under the weight and moistness of the two thick beef patties constructed from a fresh in-house ground short-rib, sirloin and chuck blend. This burger is all about the beef and this is great beef with its complex mix of fat an umami gussied up in a process called the Maillard reaction (thank you, Becky) — the browning that happens when we cook a piece of meat. Cheddar runneth over and the green chile has a pleasant piquancy. Only the Upscale sauce got a bit lost among the massivity of other ingredients.
Another way in which upscale or gourmet burgers are making their mark is by not subscribing to the age-old template that the canvas upon which to pile on other ingredients has got to be a hamburger bun. Hence the chipotle tortilla (tortilla, Muenster, avocado, chipotle aioli, jalapeño, tomato, iceberg, red onion and of course, the fresh in-house ground short-rib, sirloin and chuck blend patty). This is a burger replete with personality and flavors that go very well together. A few additional jalapeños would have made the burger even more to my liking, but not everybody is a fire-eater. As with the green chile double, the chipotle tortilla is accompanied by a rather good jicama melon slaw and kettle chips.
Decades ago, my friend Schuyler and I couldn’t have envisioned burgers as creative (albeit pricy) as those offered at Upscale Burgers & Shakes. We couldn’t have envisioned Captain Tuttle’s “new now” either. Without that new now we wouldn’t have Upscale Burgers & Shakes, one of the few good things to come out of this global pandemic.
Upscale Burgers & Shakes
1751 Rio Rancho Blvd., S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 27 January 2021
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Turtle Custard Shake, Green Chile Double, Chipotle Tortilla