Crush the Chili Dogs, Beware the Burger at Vienna Inn
This marks the debut post from Burger Days’ Matty Saps. A longtime eater, Matt’s been with Burger Days since the beginning,Â participatingÂ in just about every meat-filled adventure the Crew has embarked upon. We’re thrilled he’s now decided to wipe the grease from his mitts, put pen to paper and share his experiences with the beef.
You know on “Diner’s Drive-ins and Dives” where Guy Fieri walks into a “funky” little dive bar and discovers the place is doing it up gourmet style, with shit like duck confit or scratch made Beef Wellington? You know how there’s always some talented young chef, usually covered in tattoos, who’s decided to eschew the world of fine dining, and instead infuse his years of culinary learning with the comfort food he grew up eating? It’s punk rock gourmet. Rock and roll on a plate.
And you know how when you finished watching one of these episodes you think to yourself “wow, I really wish we had something like that around here!”? Located in the heart of Vienna, along a busy and congested stretch of Route 123, the Vienna Inn is not such a dive– not by a long shot.
Opened in 1960, the Vienna Inn is a dive in every sense of the word. It’s a watering hole where people can escape the pressures of their daily 9-to-5 grind. It’s a place where blue collar and white collar can sit back, knock back a beer (or three), and argue over whether or not the Redskins will ever make it back into the playoffs. It’s a place where the decor hasn’t changed in the past 30 years, and neither has the clientele. Quaint, greasy, comfortable– there are many words to describe the Vienna Inn, but gourmet? No sir!
Truth be told, I’ve been going to the Vienna Inn since I was playing Babe Ruth baseball at Water’s field, so I have a home-grown bias towards the place. And as much as any place from my youth, the Vienna Inn represents a feeling of home. Hell, up until a few years ago they essentially operated under the honor system. You’d walk up to the counter to pay your tab, and a surly woman would ask “How many dogs did you have? How many beers?”
They’ve since upgraded to a computer based register (which seems oddly out of place sitting atop the wood-paneled bar) but the joint still feels like it’s sitting inside of a time bubble, isolated from the modern world of iPads, Foursquare and robots.
I love the Vienna Inn. I love the mismatched tables. I love the booths that look like they were made in some high school’s woodshop. I love the local sports trophies lining the walls. I love the 70’s wood-paneled rec room decor. I love the feeling of small town USA found in the middle of one of America’s busiest counties. Dammit, I love it all–with the exception of the burger. In the name of all things beefy, please do not order the burger.
I’ll expound upon the burger in a minute, but let’s stick with what the place does right: chili dogs and beer.
Feed me enough boozers and I’ll spend hours going over my love for chili and its tasty versatility; it can be an entree, it can be a side, it can be a topping– chili can morph and adapt to any situation. While the chili at the Vienna Inn is more adept a being a topping,* great googly moogly, what a topping it is. Thin and finely minced, the chili is reminiscent of a Cincinnati style but without the hint of cinnamon. It won’t overwhelm you with heat, but it won’t leave you wanting when it comes to flavor either. Match it with warm and melty nacho cheese and it makes one of the best chili cheese dogs I’ve had the pleasure of stuffing into my face.
Oh, and let’s not forget about the fine offering of fried shits: onion rings, seasoned fries (which can be topped with chili and cheese or gravy– that’s right gravy fries!), mozzarella sticks, fried mushrooms, zucchini and even red chili peppers (though these are a recent addition and I’ve yet to test them out). They even serve up a decent hummus, if you’re in the mood for something lighter.
The prices? Dirt cheap! Chili dogs are just under two bucks and a Bud Light draft will run you about the same (though drafts are poured into 10-ounce mugs, but for two bucks, we’re not exactly complaining).
Watered down American lager not your style? Well excuse me, Mr. High Class. Fortunately for you beer snobs, the Vienna Inn also has a decent selection of craft brews, which they rotate every few months (they even carry Sierra Nevada’s Celebration on tap when in season). For me though, it doesn’t get any better than filling my belly with chili dogs and a slew of cold beers, and then waddling up to the counter to pay for the entire meal with a $20 bill.
So about that burger…where does it go wrong? Even topped and covered with chili, cheese and onions, the 1/3 lb. hunk of meat is seriously lacking in flavor. The menu boasts certified Angus beef, and while that’s probably the truth, the burgers come out so overly well-done if they swapped out the beef with cardboard, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
You know that friend who always invites you over for a cook out but his idea of grilling burgers consists of dropping a half-dozen frozen patties on the grill, then forgetting about them for half an hour, and then when he eventually remembers to pull them off, you’re stuck with little more than a hockey puck on a sesame seed bun? Yeah, that’s kind of what we’re talking about with the Vienna Inn burger. But you know what, that’s just fine, because the chili dogs and gravy fries more than make up for any burger shortcomings.
So let’s try to wrap it up with a succinct tag line: the Vienna Inn is a comfortable shack frozen in time, serving up Grade-A chili cheese dogs, cheap beer and offering safe haven from modern society, Twitter and robots. Swing-and-a-miss where it comes to the burger, but double down on the gravy fries and nostalgia and everything will be okie dokie.
*Vienna Inn does offer up a vegetarian chili which works as a side or an entree. It has great flavor, but doesn’t have any beef, which is why we’re bringing it up way down here. Meat is good.
Vienna Inn | 120 East Maple Ave | Vienna | viennainn.com