I finally got a chance to experience the phenomenon that is Wahlburger’s. I had been to the massive grand opening for the Orlando location that included appearances by Paul Wahlberg, who founded the burger franchise, and his brother Mark, the heartthrob actor. The restaurant was packed to overflowing that night.
Turns out that it’s just about as packed most nights, even on a rainy evening midweek, before the hordes of young people start descending on the nearby bars.
I waited inside the door while a young woman with a tablet device dealt with the people ahead of me. Visitors to Wahlburgers have the option of ordering at a counter or being seated for full table service. It didn’t seem that anyone was opting to order at the counter, and all were being told that the wait would be lengthy.
I was finally greeted by the young woman. No, greeted isn’t the correct word. When the couple in front of me moved out of the way, she looked at me, completely unsmiling and without a word of welcome. It was apparently up to me to initiate the conversation. (Everyone else I had contact with was friendly and helpful, so why they put someone so dour at the door is a wonder.)
I was given the standard wait time — don’t remember what it was but it fell beyond my tolerance level to wait for food. But then I was told I could take a single seat at the bar. Fine. I like sitting at the bar anyway.
Heck, I like bars, and I was particularly anxious to try one of the signature cocktails, the Creamsicle. I’ve always had a soft spot for Creamsicles, which were my favorite treat at the movies when I was a kid. (We’d go to the Paradise movie theater in downtown Moline, Illinois, just about every weekend when admission was 15 cents; yes, I’m that old.) It’s a flavor that is ingrained in my memory.
But the drink that was placed in front of me bore no resemblance to a Creamsicle. It tasted no different than a basic vanilla milkshake. When I shared that information with the bartender he immediately removed the drink and asked what I would like instead. None of the other cocktails appealed to me, so I requested a pint of Stella Artois. But the tap was tapped out. So I wasn’t doing too well in the drinks department.
But things were much better with the food, which is why I was there ultimately. I ordered the BBQ Bacon Burger, which the menu helpfully points out is “Donnie’s Fave.” (Donnie, for the uninitiated, is the other celebrity Wahlberger brother, a former boy-bander with arguable heartthrobbishness of his own.)
For the record, Donnie’s thumbs up did not affect my decision. I just liked the way it sounded compared to the others: a third of a pound of beef with white cheddar cheese, a couple of rashers of bacon, a bit of avocado, always a good selling point, and some slices of jalapeno. Oh, and some barbecue sauce to justify the bbq in the name.
And when I placed my order with the young fellow behind the bar, I was delighted that he asked how I wanted the burger cooked before I could request it. Even better, it was delivered at the preferred medium rare. And it was quite a tasty burger. The bacon slices were thick and added a nice bit of saltiness, and the raw jalapenos gave it a kick.
I also got an order of the Sweet Potato Tots. Have you noticed that totted potatoes are a hot thing right now? I don’t know if that’s because consumers really want them or that restaurants like the favorable food cost. Seriously, $3.25 for potato tots is a bit dear. For the record, the sweet tots were good, but I think I prefer the regular ones, which I had sampled at the grand opening.
By the way, I thought the $8.95 for the burger was an appropriate price.
Needless to say the atmosphere is ebullient and bustling. This is not the place for a nice, quiet bite to eat.
Wahlburgers has built in marketing via the popular reality show starring the Wahlberger family. The real test will be when that program ends, as all tv shows must. Will people still flock here? I think they will.
Wahlburgersis at 200 S. Orange Ave., Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-293-7777.