Updated: February 14, 2014 at 12:04 pm
Sometimes you want a simple, soul-satisfying burger, something beefy and juicy that satisfies your primal spirit. But then comes the time when you want something different. A burger so outrageous that it takes brave taste buds, a large stomach and a sense of adventure to attack.
Crave Real Burgers serves up burgers for adventure-seekers, and possibly those able to dislocate their jaw like a snake. The burgers are built so high, with toppings so creative, that all you can do is roll up your sleeves, grab an extra napkin (or three) and dive in.
The basic offerings are hand-formed patties of ground chuck, with a good char from the grill. The buns, when they use regular buns, are toasted and sturdy enough to hold up to the overload piled on them. The fries on the side are good but overshadowed by the burgers.
While Crave does offer a basic plain or cheeseburger ($7/$8), the beauty of this restaurant lies in the constellation of crazy, oversized toppings they've put together. Take the Fatty Melt ($11). It's a bacon cheeseburger, at heart, topped with plenty of crispy bacon, pickles and tomato. But this burger is slotted between two grilled cheese sandwiches, the golden grilled squares oozing with melted American cheese.
You see the same grilled cheese as the foundation for the Slopper ($11). This cheeseburger, which is perhaps a nod to the famous Pueblo concoction of the same name, is topped with lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, sour cream, onions and a heavy dose of grilled poblano peppers. The burger is smothered in green chili, and that's the one point where the burger lacks. If you're a true green chili fan, this version isn't going to cut it. More of a gravy, it's slightly sweet and heavily accented with black pepper. The finely diced chilies are just one component instead of the star.
The Sin City ($11) is a bit unbalanced, and not just structurally. The burger is topped with a thick slab of tempura-battered cheddar. So far, so good. Avocado and lettuce add freshness. The bourbon-glazed onions are earthy and sweet, but the candied bacon is rendered almost too sweet to be identified as a pork product. The onions and bacon together add a cloying note to the burger that even the fried cheese can't combat.
You can take your favorite vegetarian to Crave, because every burger can be made with a tasty black bean patty instead of beef. I don't know why this isn't listed on the menu: You have to know to ask. The vegetarian version of the Popper ($10) rocks. A big slab of beer-battered and deep-fried cream cheese is so very wrong and so very delicious, layered with similarly treated rings of fresh jalapeno. The lettuce, tomato and avocado help cool things down a little, but then there's the sneaky, smoky heat of the chipotle mayo keeping things interesting.
There's also a small menu of sandwiches, which are just as good as the burgers. The Boulder ($10.50) is a big, juicy deep-fried portabello mushroom cap crowned with avocado, mixed greens and provolone cheese, plus a swipe of the chipotle mayo. The Thai Peanut ($10) is bright and refreshing, thanks to the sliced carrot, lettuce and cilantro. The chicken breast is juicy, too, topped with Jack cheese and Thai peanut sauce. Other nonburger options include pulled pork, smoked turkey and grilled ham.
If you look on Crave's website, you can peruse the Craveyard, burgers that are no longer on the menu. I'm still mourning the loss of the Dim Sum Daffy, the first Crave burger I ever tried. The bun was smeared with ginger garlic cream cheese. The toppings included a rich, intense, roasted duck, hoison sauce and crispy wonton strips. What a glorious, delicious mess it was.
Two other features at Crave deserve mention. Possibly the most talked about burger is the Luther ($10.50). The bacon cheddar burger is topped with a fried egg and sandwiched between two yeasty, puffy glazed donuts. You might think this is an item for teenage boys or professional football players, but I have a diminutive female friend who ate all but the last two bites on a rare date night with her husband.
The other is the Big Bad Wolf challenge. Contenders are presented with three loaded Little Pig burgers, piled with ham, bacon, pulled pork, cheese and fried onion strings. You've got 45 minutes to eat everything on the plate. If you win, you get a free T-shirt and your picture on the wall of fame. If you fail, you pay $25 for the privilege of trying and get your photo posted on their wall of shame.
Restaurant character: An open, airy joint with burgers that defy common sense and gravity with a plethora of creative and (usually) tasty toppings. This place is a Colorado original, so it's a great place to take out of towners.
Rating total: 3.75 out of 5 stars
Food: 4.25 out of 5 stars
Ambiance: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Service: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Address: 7465 N. Academy Blvd., 80920, plus locations in Castle Rock and Highlands Ranch
Contact: 264-7919, craverealburgers.com
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. on Sundays
Credit cards: Yes
Vegetarian options: Yes. You can substitute a black bean patty for a beef patty on any burger. This isn't advertised on the menu, but all you have to do is ask.
Wi-Fi: Yes what's online
As of Feb. 5:
- 86 percent of 229 voters "liked it" on Urban Spoon
- 4 out of 5 stars based on 111 reviews on Yelp
- On Facebook but not active; search "Crave Real Burgers"
- No violations requiring follow-up were marked after a January inspection by the El Paso County Health Department.