My only food allergy is hype and Roadhouse has received a fair bit of it. So it was with trepidation that I arrived to this castle of carnage and overindulgence with a cultish devotion to the diabetic tip of the American food pyramid. It is akin to The Heart Attack Grill and that obese succubus Paula Deen—entities that cater to hedonistic fatsos like myself.
Most of Iceland fits into either one of two food camps—food as assisted suicide and food as medicine. The food-as-medicine crowd counts the raw foodies, the dieticians, the homeopaths and the detoxers. The food-as-assisted-suicide bunch is the reason why you can’t open a restaurant in Iceland without serving a burger and why the biggest instant success in Iceland is ‘Hamborgarafabrikkan’ (“The Hamburger Factory”).
I have no problem with burgers whatsoever but it’s getting monotonous and Icelanders need to temper their love for American food culture with something else (without swinging all the way into the other loony camp). And for that reason I am fine with places like Roadhouse—a designated, cordoned-off area where you can indulge to your clogged heart’s content.
So Roadhouse is firmly based on a Chicago/Kansas style ribs and burgers joint. The design falls between TGI Friday’s and the local KEX and Lebowski Bar. Mostly genuine American antiques are mixed with some ready-made memorabilia—a huge ’50s roadside sign outside, old timey popcorn machine, pin-up wallpaper in the ladies room and a wall of Jack Daniels bottles.
With a side order of buffalo wings (1.650 ISK), my companion ordered the Captain America burger with pulled pork and mustard sauce and I had the monstrous Empire State burger with two patties, onion rings, eggs, bacon and a whole grilled cheese sandwich in the middle.
The Buffalo wings came with a bland blue cheese sauce, but the real problem was the hot sauce itself; it was far too thick and tasted of little other than ketchup. Not worth the price of admission.
The Captain America burger (1.890 ISK) was juicy, sloppy and full of great slow-cooked pork. But again the sauce was kind of boring and could have done with some more. I’d give it an eight on the Sammy J. tasty burger scale. Oh, and the fries were fantastic.
I’m glad to say that the The Empire State (2.490 ISK) didn’t disappoint either. I have heard of the U.S. fast-food chain Friendly’s offering a burger with grilled cheese sandwiches for buns and I’d heard about the toast sandwich that the Royal Society of Chemistry recently determined the cheapest meal in the UK, but The Empire State is a first to the best of my knowledge. A double-patty burger packing 280 grams of beef, a grilled cheese sandwich, a fried egg, bacon, onion rings and jalapenos within its buns.
The main surprises were the patties themselves, which were really great on their own and I must admit that this everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to burgers works really well in this case (although it’s almost impossible to bite into). But be aware that I’d guesstimate this to pack no fewer than 1500 calories a serving.
We finished with a shared slice of apple pie (990 ISK) from the dessert cart. This was also a pleasant surprise. With a nice crust and not too sweet, it was the best traditional apple pie I’ve had in Iceland.
In sum, the sauces need fixing but the burgers at Roadhouse are good, the desserts are very good, the fries are great, the service is excellent, the music is nice and I like the ambition in the kitchen.
As I stood up to leave, I noticed four guys sitting at the next table, staring into their Empire States in silent reverence. I thought I heard a faint groan of approval, but that was all. Ron Swanson would be proud.
Snorrabraut 56, 105 Reykjavík
What We Think: A place for burgers and ribs and fatty delights with great potential
Flavour: Steakhouse and soul food. Big, bold food with less bold flavours. Smokey, mid-western diner food
Ambiance: Mostly Icelandic friends having a bite and a drink before a night out
Service: Responsive and friendly, but unobtrusive
Price (for 2 with drinks): 6–7000 ISK
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