6261 Transit Rd., East Amherst, NY 14051
Web: Ruzzine's Rock Bottom Eatery
Rating: [learn more]
See More Restaurant Reviews For:
American Amherst Clarence Hamburgers
"There's no doubt that the burgers here are worthy of their reputation - certainly more hype than the menu offers, or the better-known Grover's across the street might lead you to expect."
If Ruzzine's Rock Bottom Eatery in East Amherst lacks for anything, it's certainly not self-confidence: the menu's first page touts its banana peppers, mussels, and wings alike as "the best" or "perfection," immediately causing us to wonder if they'd be worthy of the old saying, "it ain't bragging if it's true." Yet the hyped peppers weren't what actually impressed us at Rock Bottom - rather, we fell for humbler items that the menu makes no effort to hype: burgers recommended to us by Buffalo Pundit as possibly the area's best. The take-away lesson from our experience here was that it's probably a mistake for a restaurant to set expectations that might well be impossible to meet; we've always preferred genuine grass roots buzz to marketing puffery, anyway. Updated: Following a return visit in May, 2009, we added a rating and additional details to our original review, preserved below in its entirety.
We're not giving Rock Bottom a final rating yet, as we prefer to make multiple visits or sample a bunch of the menu before issuing stars, and our first attempted visit months ago was thwarted: we visited on a day when the place was low on servers and were told that there would be a half-hour to hour wait for a seat in the relatively empty, converted house-slash-tavernish restaurant. So we left. But Pundit's recommendation, noting his lack of excitement over the considerably overhyped Grover's - a notable local burger joint directly across the street - got us to go back. Using Rock Bottom's online menu, we placed an order and quickly picked up the food rather than risking another extended wait in the dining room.
Our order was simple: three burgers, each done differently using the menu's stated choices, and the Stuffed Banana Peppers ($9), which the menu pitched as "absolutely the best in town." Frequent Buffalo Chow readers will know that we've been hunting down the area's best banana peppers for months, so we can say with some confidence that we've had better ones at The Left Bank, Buffalo Chophouse, and elsewhere, but perhaps Ruzzine's is referring only to the Town of Amherst - even if so, it still has plenty of good local competition. One of us liked the plentiful plate of Hungarian peppers, thanks to their garlicky and peppery flavor, plus the combination of bread crumbs, parmesan, and bleu cheese stuffing; the other didn't, citing something off-puttingly soggy in the stuffing.
On the other hand, all three of the burgers we tried were cooked and dressed exactly to order, and as Rock Bottom's menu contained no claims about them other than that they were made fresh daily, the only expectations we had were that they'd be good. They were better than that. The portions were huge, and the meat - "choice ground beef" - was unquestionably and consistently tasty, standing on its own flavor rather than requiring bits of vegetables or other elements to make a positive impression. All of the white Costanzo rolls were fresh, as were the included toppings, lettuce, onion, tomatoes, and side sliced pickles. In short, even if someone could definitively prove that these aren't the best burgers in this area, they do so much right that no one would turn them away.
It's worth noting at this point that Buffalo Chow's editors should be understood as burger skeptics. The one of us who was born and raised here is a grilled burger fan who has never cared enough about "great" burgers to go on a quest for the area's best; the one of us from California and Washington loves burgers, and thinks of the famed Southern California chain In-N-Out as a gold standard for freshness and satisfaction. Despite the hype, we both found Grover's massive, undercooked burgers to be almost nauseating, and getting us to agree that a burger is great requires something special.
But that's what we had at Rock Bottom, which offers burgers in two sizes - 7 or 12 ounces - and three main flavors, "grilled," "cajun," and "BBQ." We tried all three flavors, two in 7-ounce sizes, one in 12 just to see whether this place cooked its burgers more completely than Grover's. It did.
Our 12-ounce Grilled Burger ($6.50) was perfectly grilled with a slight outer crust and exactly medium interior, which we feared might render it a little dry and hard to swallow. It wasn't; the burger came out wonderfully tender, moist, and tasty, thoroughly beefy and with only a little salt and pepper for flavor. We ordered it with added bacon ($0.75) for the sake of making it a little more interesting, and found the bacon to be reasonable in quantity and just right in flavor and texture - not especially greasy or brittle.
The outside of the 7-ounce Cajun Burger ($6) was stronger in flavor than the standard grilled version because it had been rubbed with cajun spices, and developed a more significant blackened crust in the process. To our spice-desensitized tongues, the outer cajun coating was good - a little smoke and salt flavor, a lot of pepper - but inside, it tasted very similar to the grilled burger.
Finally, there was the 7-ounce BBQ Burger ($6), which we designed to approximate Red Robin's Blue Ribbon Burger, a $10 chain restaurant offering that combined crumbled bleu cheese, steak sauce, and onions. Adding the bleu cheese to Rock Bottom's version cost an additional 50 cents, and the sweet, tangy BBQ sauce helped it to taste even better than the Red Robin version at a lower price. All that was missing was Red Robin's crispy fried onions, but we'd eat this one any day.
While Red Robin serves its version with "bottomless steak fries," Rock Bottom's burgers come only with free potato chips unless you order fries as a $1 upgrade. We tried both with our burgers, and though the chips were very good, the fries were actually great - like Burger King's fries, only thicker. We ate the entire load of them despite feeling stuffed from the burgers, which we quickly agreed were the best we've had locally. You can find very good, cheaper alternatives at certain fast food restaurants, but by "six-dollar burger" standards, these are very impressive.
There was only one real surprise in our meal: the prices listed on Ruzzine's web site are currently wrong - too low, of course - and we were charged the higher prices listed on the restaurant's printed menus, in each case around 50 cents above what the web page suggested. On top of that, we were also hit with a $1 take-out charge, which was never disclosed on the menu or on the web site. We weren't impressed by this; the web site needs to be updated and the surreptitious take-out charge needs to be disclosed or dropped.
For now, we're holding off on rating Ruzzine's Rock Bottom Eatery, but there's no doubt that the burgers here are worthy of their reputation - certainly more hype than the menu offers, or the better-known Grover's across the street might lead you to expect. If you can get yourself a table here, or are willing to cough up a surcharge for take-out, we think it's safe to recommend these belly buster burgers as a Western New York highlight.
Updated May, 2009: A return visit to Ruzzine's enabled us to sample more of the menu and experience the service at its rear patio; notably, a line formed for patio seating as we ate, and we were very pleased by our responsive, friendly server. This time out, we tried a couple more of the menu's highly touted items: the "you haven't had the best 'til you have tried these" Rock Bottom Mussels ($12), the "best in town" Beef on Weck ($8), as well as a custom-ordered BLT Sandwich ($5) and a grilled Burger with bleu cheese and bacon ($6.49). We also re-ordered the Stuffed Banana Peppers we'd tried before, and found them to be fine rather than exemplary.
Though the "best" Mussels and Weck boasts again turned out to be a lot of hype, both of these dishes were memorable, particularly the Mussels. The large bowl contained a pound of mussels that were on the small side, but soaked in an unusually sweet wine, anise liqueur and garlic sauce that we found to be nothing short of addicting - these mightn't have been the best we've ever had, but they were plenty good. Ruzzine's Beef on Weck arrived with a baked kummelweck bun that we found distractingly dry, alongside a fair portion of fine meat and an unusually tangy pickle. We wouldn't put the Weck in our top 10, but it was a nice enough sandwich, and went well with the $1 fries.
Both the burger and the BLT came with surprisingly generous quantities of bacon, thrilling the members of our group who ordered both items; here, the toasted bread and buns was a better fit for the ingredients, and as with our prior visit, the burger was pretty close to unimpeachable. Caramelized onions and bright red tomatoes sat atop the golden bacon and a thick layer of soft cheese, all adding to the perfectly cooked 7-ounce beef patty. Our table went silent shortly after the food arrived, something that only happens when we're all too busy taking in what we're tasting to discuss the experience of tasting it.
When the meal was finished, we all concurred on a three-star rating: Ruzzine's Rock Bottom Eatery makes outstanding burgers and serves other items that fall generally into the "good" category, all at prices that are reasonable aside from the issues we noted above. Having finished our review, it's our intention to return in the future with friends - thanks to the patio, service, and whatever magic's going on in the kitchen, this is the sort of place we'd consider a must-visit for summertime fun, and far better for burgers than anything we could muster at home.