New burger bar not perfect but surpasses expectations

Black Cow opened recently in the location that was formerly home to Sonny`s. With the same owners and a completely different theme, they’ve gone from Latin flair to simple burgers and fries, housemade soda, shakes, and cocktails. We made time to pay them a visit for a Saturday lunch. While I didn’t prep for the affair by checking out their menu online, I had heard through the food grapevine that it wouldn’t be a great hangout for a vegetarian.

There was a cashier at the front and seats could be taken at any open table or the bar after ordering. While my wife parked, I took a look at the menu above the register and then peered at a paper menu which was easier to read and described the food in more detail. When she arrived, we hopped into the line and made our final choices.

I decided to stick with the basics for my first visit, ordering a Peanut Butter Shake and Cheeseburger Sandwich – beef patty, American cheese, iceberg, pickles, mustard, onion, c.t. mayonnaise (c.t. is caramelized tomato). Then I added a regular-sized Potato Fries and Pickles. Yes, they really do call the cheeseburger a cheeseburger sandwich and the fries potato fries. She ordered the Fried Chicken Sandwich – chicken patty, iceberg, onion, pickle, American cheese, honey mustard.

We sat at the bar where my wife requested a Citizen Cider and I sipped water. My shake came out before all else in a tall, slender glass. I was excited to try it, but felt a little disappointment at my first sip. It wasn’t terrible, but it sat half way between a vanilla shake and a peanut butter shake. I definitely needed more peanut butter flavor. Nonetheless, I steadily slurped it until the rest of the food arrived.

Our entire food order showed up on one tray just before I started wondering what was taking so long. As I began to divvy up the goods, I realized it all had to stay on that same tray which necessitated that I position it between us. It wasn’t a big deal, but since there weren’t any plates, it would have been better if we each had our own tray so we could each have had the food directly in front of us. Maybe next time I’ll think to ask for that.

My burger wasn’t exactly big, but at only 6 bucks, the price was right. I tried a bite and was quite impressed. I was immediately pleased with the quality of the meat. It was tasty and cooked to about medium – I assume that’s their regular. While everyone enjoys different toppings on their beef, I was quite happy with the standard offerings, particularly liking their take on mayo, which to me brought the whole concept together.

If I was pleased with the burger, I was super-pleased with the fries. Were they incredibly well seasoned or overly special in some way? No, but what they did right – which is both so easy and seems so impossible for almost everyone – is they cooked them long enough that they were all very crispy. That’s probably my most frequent food complaint and they absolutely nailed them like I hadn’t had in a while.

The house-made dill pickles were also quite tasty – thinly sliced and potent. There were a few on my burger, but it was nice to have a little cup of them to pick at throughout my meal. My wife didn’t have any complaints about her sandwich, mentioning that it was plenty delicious. We finished everything we had, even considering their dessert options – tin roof sundae and banana split – before deciding against it.

Lunch came to an easy $35 plus tax and tip, $14 of which were the shake and cider. Even though I really didn’t expect much from a burger joint, I think Black Cow is a winner. Their menu is no frills, but what they offer is very good (and they do have a grilled cheese for vegetarians). If you’re really hungry, get a second patty on your burger for an extra two bucks. I left not quite satiated, but next time I’ll know better than to go with a single.

Black Cow will be a Portland institution soon. They’re sure to make people happy by keeping things simple and smart. They also have online ordering available which I’ll be using in the near future when I just want to take a couple burgers home. They can definitely spruce up the peanut butter shake, but they hit the nail on the head with the fries and the burgers are solid. Cheeseburger, cheeseburger sandwhich…fries, potato fries…call them what you will, just make sure you try them soon. You’ll be happy you did.

Black Cow 83 Exchange St.

Stay hungry.

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