Service: 4/5 (VERY Variable)
Overall: 4/5; Amazing Burger if you’re just there for beef and their truffle fries are the best around. But everything seems like it could use some tweaking.
It wasn’t long ago that my desire for a burger meant I had to visit a fast-food establishment. Then my roomy Andrew pointed me to Five Guys Burgers. I was impressed – in his own words, Five Guys provided you with ‘The burger I would make at home if I had the time.’ That is, a simple, straight-forward burger with the toppings you want along with a bagful (literally) of fries. No more, no less. Then, shortly thereafter I was introduced to B-Spot, Iron Chef Michael Simon’s extraordinary burger joint (which has several locations, one in The Q (Quicken Loans Arena if you don’t know (Oh yeah, I’ll brackets within brackets, and there’s no telling when it will stop!)), and one in Eaton Plaza on Chagrin Blvd which I visit semi-regularly and am always very happy with). Since then, I have had my eyes opened to the myriad of higher end burger places that are around NEO. The Rail was pointed out to me last summer by Ryan, one of my favorite co-workers and a man whose opinion is not to be disregarded. He said, simply, that as far as just enjoying the beef aspect of a burger, the Rail kicked butt. I had to try it, and quickly found myself another burger bar that I find excuses to go to.
If you are the sort of person who looks around, and up, when you go places, it will quickly be clear to you why they called it the Rail. There is a rail on the ceiling with about a half dozen meat hooks descending from it at various intervals. Yes, I know, eating while recalling a mental image of the Jungle isn’t my idea of a good time either, but still, it’s clever and I can appreciate that. Further, as the upside down cow with all of the counties of Ohio prominently displayed above their kitchen window is strongly hinting, they are very proud of the fact that they serve fresh Ohio beef. That’s the sort of thing I can get behind. Aside from those two very specific aspects, it could be one of those ‘less is more’ bar and grills that you can appreciate when you just want to have a beer and watch a game. Well, except that it is not a great place to watch a game because their televisions, while large, just aren’t very well placed. It’s the sort of scenario where pretty much anywhere you sit, you will end up staring at a TV far away because the closest one to you will put your neck at an angle that only your chiropractor will enjoy. Ultimately, it struck me as the sort of quiet place to go and enjoy my meal while still keeping an eye on the game. Not for watching, but for the occasional peek sure to annoy the female in your life.
The wait staff is friendly and for the most part, energetic and knowledgeable. I’ve had some waiters there who were excellent, and a few who were duds, though that seems to be more of the exception than the rule. And their GM is a very jovial fellow who legitimately cares about the quality of your experience. I had the misfortune to get a burnt burger there once, an egregious error by my waiter considering I had ordered it medium-rare. The manager immediately spirited it away, brought me the replacement himself, and made sure to remove it from the bill. It made me pretty happy, especially because their double, which is what I ordered that day, ended up being my least favorite burger there. Long story short – the service should please you, though if it doesn’t, know you likely got the runt of that shift’s litter and that it isn’t indicative of the service normally.
The drinks and the burgers at the Rail suffer from the same malady, so I will group them together. Have you ever had a friend who was just nice? Never took anything off the table, metaphorically speaking, but didn’t really bring anything to it either. You like them fine, but you sure wish that just once they’d surprise you with something new or unique. That, for me, is the Rail when it comes to creativity. Yeah, the Burgers and Drinks are good. Their Long Island Iced Tea, one of my restaurant standards, is satisfying and well proofed. Two of them will have you happy and three will likely force you to hand over your keys. Here’s an young bartender’s trick regarding Long Islands for those of you who can’t seem to get a good one – sub out the sour mix (the uber-sweet mixer that, though cloying and invariably makes the drink worse, manages to sneak itself into WAY too many beverages) for ginger ale. Ginger ale provides you with the subtle bite of the sour mix (as well as a way to make the drink from being just a glorified shot) without hitting you over the head with its sweetness. Seriously, try it sometime. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. It may not make you love the Long Island, but I bet you’ll enjoy it more. Anyhow, let’s get away from that rabbit trail and back to the main point. The biggest weakness of the Rail is that their menu – drink and food alike – suffers from a bad case of ordinary. Their most intriguing burger topping is their tobacco onions (hint, they’re sauteed onions. Delicious, but hardly intriguing). Admittedly, their draw seems to be their beef and maybe they’re just wanting to make sure they’re not over-powering it, but…I mean…to quote the ESPN football crew – C’mon Man! Give me something to raise my eyebrows and make me wonder. Bring some mystery back to the Men/Menu relationship! That being said, whatever I’ve ordered I have been happy with. On my most recent visit I ordered the Bon Fire, a burger with Jalapeños, Pepper Jack cheese and their special sriracha chilli sauce. It deliver yet another single in a long line of singles. The difference between the Rail and other burger joints though, is that I really do enjoy their beef, even naked. In fact, I always make a point to have one bite of just beef every time. No bun, no condiments, no toppings. Just plain, grilled, Ohio grown/fed/slaughtered beef. Delicious and satisfying every time. Now imagine if I could get that with a myriad of pickles (assorted varieties please), and maybe a horseradish mayo or habañero pepper sriracha – ahh, now you have intrigued my palate!
Aside from the Burgers though, there is one dish that I order every time I go – Truffle Oil Fries. I’ve had their onion rings (need to be more crunchy) and their regular fries (delightfully plain), but I can’t ever bring myself to NOT order the Truffle fries. The good people at the Wire are firmly dedicated to dousing each batch of fries with as much Truffle oil as they can handle, then liberally add sliced Parmesan cheese, just for a break in the monotony, as if Truffle Fries can ever be monotonous! My lovely girlfriend will eschew the second half of her burger in order to maximize her Truffle Fry consumption, which makes me happy because that means pretty much every time I go there I get to try two different burgers. Everyone’s a winner at the Rail folks.
The Rail is a simple Ohio burger joint for us simple Ohio folk – it’s a no nonsense burger that you will enjoy thoroughly. Sure it could be more interesting, sure it could be more daring and sure, it could be more creative. Well, you know what, so could Ohio, but I love it just as it is. Wouldn’t change a thing. Although the Rail does provide a handy dandy suggestion sheet opposite the bill at the end of every meal, so feel free to do what I do, and frequently suggest ways to make it better. Like spicing up their avocado spread, or, like Ohio chose to do this year, cancel winter altogether. Then we can all be happy.