Dave Rector’s first piece of Coca Cola memorabilia was a mirror his mother bought for him at an estate sale more than 25 years ago. That mirror hangs in the dining room of the Thrill of the Grill, the tiny walk-in burger restaurant he and wife Anita Rector opened four months ago on Tacoma Avenue. They’re just a few blocks from another newly opened restaurant, Hot Rod Dog. I’d say that block now has burgers and dogs covered.
Tucked onto shelves that span the small dining room of the Thrill of the Grill, dozens of other Coca Cola collectibles catch a diner’s eye – from old bottles of the famous soda pop to toys carrying the Coca Cola logo. The collection once filled an entire room of the couple’s Spanaway home. They sold that house to fund the Coca Cola theme burger diner.
The restaurant got a big makeover from its previous life as El Pollo Express. Gone is the jarring yellow paint, and the chicken caricature on the exterior. Now the building is a crisp red and white and looks much more like a burger stand than a chicken hut. They also painted over the chicken mural inside. The interior looks crisp, clean and all red and white. A few tables offer eat-in dining. They also do a fair amount of take-out business.
Anita runs the counter, along with the couple’s 25-year-old daughter. Dave is the grill master (it’s a gas-powered open-flame grill, because such things do matter in burger making). Together, they developed their burger methods and recipes on a grill in their Spanaway back yard.
Their approach to burger flipping is pretty straightforward: Start with good beef, then add gas flame and fresh, crisp toppings. Serve fresh-cut fries on the side. Dave uses only fresh beef from Puyallup’s Butcher Boys. The couple considered frozen patties and thought about a bulk food provider, but Anita said they prefer to source their meat locally from a small butcher.
The patties were hand-formed, flame licked and charred around the edges. Toppings were crisp, shredded lettuce, sliced onion shards, thick-sliced tomato and sliced dill pickles, finished with house sauce. Dave makes his own special sauce, a tart dressing much like Thousand Island, but with just an extra bit of kick (presumably mustard, or it tasted that way).
Check the reader board by the cash register for the weekly burger special. Last week it was a barbecue onion burger ($4.75). A slightly dry, but charred, patty came piled with a very large crisply-fried onion ring and cheddar cheese, but the promised barbecue sauce was missing in action. It needed the sauce to moisten the dryness of the patty.
A blue cheese bacon burger ($4.75) also suffered from just a bit too much char. The menu does warn that the burgers are cooked well done. That may be best for safe food practices, but it can dry out the meat. Blue cheese crumbles zigged sharp while chewy bacon crumbles zagged smoky rich. Crisp veggies and a soft sesame seed bun made for a noshable burger.
A chili burger ($4) was served open faced. This is not a burger for holding, it’s a burger made for strategic silverware attack. Although the flavor was right, the texture had very little chunkiness. It was more of a sauce. Chili burgers need and want chunky texture.
For fries, choices were waffle or hand-cut. The waffle fries ($1.75), were a big tray full of crisp, heavily seasoned fries with a large surface area, yielding lots of crunch on every bite, and a creamy interior. The home fries ($1.25) were hand-cut, and deep fried. As Anita described them, “The home fries are your typical greasy, old fashioned fries.” Indeed, they were. The potatoes had a fresh, natural flavor. They were crisp around the edges, but soft in the middle, a little limp (that didn’t bother me a bit; but if you’re a fan of crispy fries, order the waffle fries). The couple is working on a recipe for onion rings. “We have all kinds of menu plans,” said Anita. On the horizon: more grill specialties.
The menu: The menu is fairly micro focused on burgers and fries, but a few other offerings – corn dogs, fish and chips, salads and a few sandwiches – round out the menu. They’ve also got shakes, smoothies and other drinks. For the morning commuters, they offer egg sandwiches, burritos and coffee drinks.
Upcharge warning: On our visit, we were asked if we wanted sauces to go with the fries. We got the sauce, but we were also charged a quarter each.
Thrill of the Grill
Where: 1402 Tacoma Ave. S., Tacoma
Hours: 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays and 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays. Closed Sundays.