Bell Hall is the new burger joint in town. And it’s huge. Like, physically huge, to an extent you wouldn’t expect from the outside*. Upon entering their main doors, you are faced with a cool bar. Then you look to the right and the building just keeps going…and going…then you think it’s the end, but it’s not! You’ve just reached the private party room. The overall vibe is upscale casual, with wood floors, industrial aluminum light fixtures, and workers in matching denim-style shirts. At the time of our visit, they had been open a paltry two weeks. The excitement of the staff was palpable and contagious, and we were pretty stoked to sit down and dig in.
The menu was interesting and varied- we decided to start with the wonton nachos ($10), followed by the Bell burger with fries ($13), with additional sides of the mac ‘n cheese and roasted brussel sprouts ($5 each). Our server was delightful, and she told us about the intense two week training the staff had undergone prior to opening. She was familiar with all of themenu items, which was great- I love it when the staff is knowledgeable about the food they are serving. She strongly recommended the wonton nachos, which came with BBQ pork, pepper jack cheese, tomatoes, scallions, and sour cream, so we went for it. The wonton chips themselves were great- they were crispy and strong enough to hold the toppings, but easy to bite through and added the perfect texture. However, the
topping didn’t do the chips any favors. The meat was tender enough, but I’ve had more flavorful pulled pork.The cheese sauce seemed to be house-made with actual cheese, which I really appreciated. However, it seemed to have broken and had a grainy texture. Plus, as is always the problem with nachos, there just wasn’t enough cheese. If it was pepperjack, as advertised, it was an odd pepperjack- it had a yellow color and no discernible heat… The tomatoes, scallions, and sour cream were all fine. Overall, definitely not the best plate of nachos I had, but not the worst. I’m hoping this is a growing pains issue (same as the other issues I’ll discuss below), but I’m not sure…
Next came the burger and side dishes. I’ll start with the mac and cheese. It was a mixture of rotini noodles, rich yellow cheese sauce, and chunks of smoked duck. The cheese sauce was more gummy than I would have liked (likely also affected by the release of the starch in the overcooked, slightly mushy pasta). At first, it reminded me of Kraft mac and cheese (in a good way), but as we continued to eat, it became more and more of an unpleasant texture. The smoked duck was good, it actually had a denser texture, and the smoked flavor reminded me of a hot dog- it made me think of being a kid and eating a bowl of hot dogs and mac and cheese (again, in a good way). But as with my last comment, this became unpleasant over time- I ended up unable to finish, and I very rarely leave mac and cheese uneaten…
The brussel sprouts were nice and crispy, with a sweet glaze (sadly, I managed to miss getting a pic 🙁 ). Unfortunately, they were undersalted, and by the time you reached the bottom, the sprouts in the sauce puddle were cloyingly sweet. I wouldn’t write them off, a majority of the bowl was tasty, they were just flawed. This does bring to mind the portion size- you can see the bowls in the pictures, they were medium-sized ramekin portions. For $5 each, I would have anticipated larger portions of the mac and the sprouts.
Now on to the burger. There are many, many options- but we wanted to try the basic version first. It came with skin-on fries, which were unfortunately just shy of lukewarm when we received them…plus there was an oddly small portion of them. We chose to chalk that one up to growing pains, as well. The fries, even though they were cold, were pretty tasty. Nothing to write home about, but good. The burger itself was pretty similar. The meat was a little tough and crumbly, but the patty was thick and the cook was nice. The bun was actually great- it had been griddled on the flat top in butter or meat drippings and was super crispy and delicious. The burger came with cheese, LTO, and “bacon jam.” The bacon jam was a combo of bacon and onions cooked down, but wasn’t really cooked down to a jam consistency, likely in part because of the larger size of the bacon pieces. I didn’t mind the semantic issue, but T disliked their use of the word “jam…” Jam or not, it was a nice salty-sweet complement to the burger.
So overall, the food wasn’t bad, but it did not live up to our hopes and expectations. The space is great, the staff is enthusiastic, and the menu is cool. The execution currently leaves a fair amount to be desired, so the hope is that they are motivated to make what is currently average food great.
**Update: we returned recently (July, 2016). We had wings, a Cobb salad, and a burger….and things haven’t changed where the burgers are concerned. Ours was very undercooked (more of a rare when a medium was requested) and fries were cold. Interestingly, our two friends both ordered their burger well done. One was very clearly well done. The other was clearly medium. Consistency = not their strong suit. Wings actually weren’t that bad, we had a sweet chili sauce and requested extra crispy. Cobb salad was a Cobb salad- can’t really go wrong there. Service was not great- very slow and inattentive. We were seated in the back, and couldn’t tell if our server was possibly in the weeds in another section of the restaurant, or just not paying attention. We gave him the benefit of the doubt, but overall, this visit did nothing to change our original opinion of Bell Hall.
Food & Drink: 14/20
*Yes, yes- it is bigger on the inside…