/Rome's Open Baladin: Good Beer, Bad Burgers

Rome's Open Baladin: Good Beer, Bad Burgers

open_baladin

I will start with the pros of this newish place near Campo de’ Fiori in Rome before launching into the cons. The crocche’ cacio e pepe (fried mashed potatoes rolled in pecorino and pepper) were really really good. They were nice and crispy with a liberal amount of grated cheese that added a pleasant saltiness. Second, there is a huge selection of artisinal Italian beers, nearly 140 between their draft and bottle offerings. (I should mention that Piedmont-based Baladin is the leading Italian micro brewery). Finally, the food is undeniably cheap. This latter attribute is why we didn’t leave the place fuming. At least we didn’t pay a lot for what tasted suspiciously like a frozen burger.

I have to say that I was skeptical about finding a great burger in Rome but was encouraged when my friends at Food in Rome and Rome Photo Blog recommend Open Baladin. Blinded by hope and brimming with expectations, I visited the place last Sunday evening. Things started off with a bang with the crocche’ then started to go downhill with the potato chips. They had been fried in oil that was not quite hot enough, leaving them soggy and oil-logged. Next, the disappointing burgers. The meat tasted like it had been frozen and defrosted. It was tasteless, gummy, there was no blood, and no Malliard reaction.

Call me a purist, but I define a burger as a patty made from freshly ground meat, ideally with a little extra fat added. Said patty is then grilled to the specified cooking temperature. Grilling fresh meat creates a charred protein layer, rich in flavor (this is the Malliard reaction). Frozen meat loses flavor due to a change in lipid composition and the Malliard effect is inhibited due to deterioration of amino acids. Freezing and defrosting also affects the texture of the meat, perhaps contributing to the gumminess we detected.

Open Baladin’s novelty means that it will most likely be viewed positively and its poor excuse for a burger will be overlooked. In the meantime, I will stick to their crocche’ and beer. I still have 137 brews to try.

Update! New post on Open!

2016-01-09T13:25:51+00:00 December 10th, 2009|Categories: America, Beer, Meat, Restaurants, Rome & Lazio|21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Hande December 10, 2009 at 4:13 pm - Reply

    Thank you for confirming that the burgers are crap – couldn’t persuade food in rome and rome photo blog otherwise on twitter!
    The search continues (the best in Rome were till now at home)

  2. Elizabeth December 10, 2009 at 5:06 pm - Reply

    You must have gone on a bad chip night, since when we had them they were crisp, tasty and addictive. And I would very much doubt the burger was frozen because, as you point out, where else in Rome can a restaurant serve something frozen and not state it. Well, they can’t, according to the law. And in general they stick to this very rigidly since the fines for not complying are so high.
    But in terms of the quality of the burger? Hey, it’s Rome, giv’em a break, at least they’re trying!

  3. Jessica December 10, 2009 at 6:00 pm - Reply

    I stand by the fact that I liked my burger. Was it as good as one I would get at home…no….but it was still satisfying to me. But that’s why I’m a photographer and not a food critic πŸ™‚ PS. the chips were nice and crisp when we got them as well.

  4. Katie December 11, 2009 at 11:55 am - Reply

    I have heard good things about the chips so I’m open to trying those.

    On the frozen meat issue, I have stated evidence supporting my case. I have been judging hamburgers critically since I was 9. I know what I’m talking about here.

    Should we really trust an Italian government entity to ensure the quality of food served in restaurants? The Italian government can’t even protect their most important food products from falsification (mozzarella di bufala and Brunello di Montalcino come to mind) so why should we be surprised when we are served frozen food that isn’t labeled as such in a restaurant. Additionally, many restaurant wine lists are routinely in violation of the law by not listing all of the legally required info. And should we talk about restaurants that allow smoking in their dining rooms (against the law since 2003). The moral of the story is, Italian businesses do not always adhere to the regulations the government sets forth, so we should think critically about what we are eating before assuming the menu is telling the truth.

  5. Lindsey December 11, 2009 at 2:34 pm - Reply

    I have lived in Perugia for 5 years and have still never ever had a good burger in Italy! They just don’t exist. I initially got so excited seeing the picture of what looks like a big juicy burger and started to think about going down to Rome as soon as tomorrow even, but then your blog confirmed my suspicions… still, a good burger will forever remain elusive in Italy (except in the comfort of my own home, of course). Keep up the great work sifting through all those restaurants in Rome!

  6. petulia December 11, 2009 at 4:05 pm - Reply

    I don’t normally get into these discussions, because I am not a food expert. Just someone who loves food, loves to cook and was lucky enough to grow up in a family where food is extremely good and extremely important. However, since my name and my country were brought into the conversation, I felt the need to intervene.
    I personally like Open Baladin, went there 3 times, had excellent service and very good food. If other people don’t like it, it’s a personal choice. That said, I think it is not fair to accuse a restaurant of something without having the proof.
    So I called Open Baladin and asked. They get their meet every day from Vicere’and are about to add another supplier (La Granda a presidio Slow Food).
    Of course, you can say they lied to me, but I like to think that a place that is recommended by the founder of the Gambero Rosso probably sticks to the rules.
    I also think that this is not the place to judge Italian business and their adherence to the law. It’s a great food blog, but not a political platform.
    Again, these are my 2 cents.

  7. Rob December 11, 2009 at 4:30 pm - Reply

    It does sound like you were there on a very off night, Katie. The crisps I’ve had there have always been, well, crisp (perhaps one slightly soft one at the bottom of the stack, but I think that’s not particularly damning). The burger also seemed fine to me, from what I remember. Certainly, it wasn’t the disappointing cardboard that’s so often served in pubs (everywhere).

    I appreciate that off nights aren’t an excuse, but this is a new place run by young people, and it’s going to take them a while to iron out the wrinkles. I think maybe you should go back and give this place another try, or at least reconsider. The damning tone of this post would probably be more suitable for one of Rome’s nastier tourist traps, and I don’t think Open Baladin deserves it. (It’s also not great to imply that anybody who disagrees with you must be dazzled by the novelty of the place.)

    Finally, I’m sorry to hear that your mallard had a bad reaction to the burger. That said, should a duck even be eating beef?

  8. Kelly December 11, 2009 at 9:31 pm - Reply

    Curious what you meant by:

    The Italian government can’t even protect their most important food products from falsification (mozzarella di bufala and Brunello di Montalcino come to mind)

  9. Hande December 13, 2009 at 2:10 pm - Reply

    Oh, I feel like I have to say something more…

    I sure do not want to get into a political discussion, but it is a fact that certain food & wine related laws have been violated / are being violated lately. This certainly is not a unique Italian phenomenon, but we can’t close our eyes to the fact. I am not Italian but love the country, its people, its food and wines, chose to live here and chose to make it (wine) a profession, so do think I have the right to, and an interest in, being critical of anything that can undermine certain good things!

    I really can’t judge if the bad quality of the hamburger I ate there was due to being frozen. But the fact, as I ate it, was: the patty was gummy, dry and void of taste; the tomato sauce had an off taste to it, and the chips were semi-cold sagging sorry things. I understand it can be an off-experience. I actually want to love open baladin. I will sure go there again because I want the beers, I like the space and I have friends who love it and want to meet me there. I might even try the hamburger again. But the fact remains that I once had a terrible hamburger and it seems like Katie did, too. So the owners/chefs need to do something if they are having misses like that, they need to ensure more consistent quality.

  10. Nonna December 13, 2009 at 2:57 pm - Reply

    I think if you have a bad experience at a restaurant, before anyone writes about it, wait a month and go back a second time. Your experience may be better. Especially a new place, you must give them a chance to work out the kinks.

  11. Katie December 13, 2009 at 2:55 pm - Reply

    @Petulia Food is political and ParlaFood would be negligent if it avoided politics altogether. We rely on government-enforced appellations like DOP, DOC, and Bio to inform us about our food, its quality and contents. In Italy, the way our food is grown, produced, prepared, and distributed is subject to government regulations. One should not blindly trust a government’s ability to protect us or enforce their laws when it comes to food. Before the days of Slow Food and Michael Pollan, this would have been a controversial statement. I was not attacking your (our?) country with what I wrote, but communicating a now mainstream idea that we should not be surprised if governments or businesses are not 100% effective or honest.

    The fact that Stefano Bonilli endorses the place doesn’t mean a thing to me. Call me the eternal skeptic, but one person’s stamp of approval does not ensure the offerings of another. I do not doubt that Open Baladin has a great meat purveyor. The fact remains that they are doing very bad things with very good meat. As a person who values great food like you do, I question how the right ingredients made the final product so awful and stated my opinion.

    @Rob Ducks need burgers, too. I’m perfectly willing to return to Open Baladin with you guys in January but I won’t eat a burger there. Can’t do it. I’d like to try the other menu items anyhow.

    I don’t think everyone who disagrees with me is blinded by the novelty of the place. Just some of them.

  12. Katie December 14, 2009 at 11:45 am - Reply

    @Kelly when I spoke of Brunello and mozzarella di bufala adulteration I was referring to the scandals in which Brunello di Montalcino (a wine that is supposed to be made from 100% Sangiovese Grosso grapes) and mozzarella di bufala (a cheese made from buffalo’s milk) were found to contain substances not allowed in the products by law. Last week, Italian authorities confiscated 10 million litres of Tuscan wine suspected of similar adulteration. This does not bode well for the Made in Italy label and is especially damning around holiday season. Consumer confidence in Italian products, particularly abroad, plummeted after the Brunello and mozzarella fiascos. We’ll see how this new scandal plays out.

  13. Mick P December 16, 2009 at 1:05 am - Reply

    I’m surprised that so much has been written here yet with so little comment on the beer. As far as I can tell, Open Baladin should be seen primarily as a beer-lovers’ bar rather than an eatery.

    I went there for the first time last Friday and had an excellent bitter ale in the English style that would have been right at home in any self-respecting English pub – fragrant, hoppy, bitter, not too strong and served cool rather than chilled. My other half had a strong Christmas ale which was equally good. My only real complaint on the beer front is the price. At 4 euro for 33cl (make that 5 euro for the specials, such as Christmas ale) it’s not the sort of place my pocket could stand for a proper session. Pity.

  14. Jeremy Parzen December 24, 2009 at 4:02 pm - Reply

    Blinded by hope and brimming with expectations…

    I can’t tell you how much this post resonates with me, on so many levels… Every American, like you, like me, who has lived in Italy, has felt that pang of gastronomic nostalgia for the taste of a great burger (or taco, quesadilla, or refried beans!) and been left disappointed and unsatisfied by blind hope and overflowing expectation… great post and yes, I agree 1000%: food is by its nature political AND ideological… every choice is driven by ideology… great post and great comment thread…

  15. Lola December 26, 2009 at 12:25 pm - Reply

    For a good burger, try bars and cafes that prepare hot lunches and have a griddle. There are 2 unexpectedly interesting burgers served in Parioli – the upturned nose district north of Villa Borghese – and they are cooked, seasoned and garnished to perfection at Bar Fiorelli, on Viale Parioli 38/b; and Bar Hungaria, in Piazza Ungheria 7. These are not restaurants, so perhaps on a busy lunch break, the few available seats will be taken and you’ll have to eat standing up.

    Ask for “the complete” with sauces and grilled onion option and please report back. Ive never been disappointed in both these places (although Fiorelli is a smaller joint, more genuine, bigger patty and better bun), and I’m curious to get Katie’s critique, because maybe I’ve been living in Rome and eating its neighborhood burgers too long.

    Eleonora

  16. Kim January 5, 2010 at 5:47 pm - Reply

    I’m getting hungry over here…

    When I was in Rome last year I used following website: http://www.diningcity.com/rome on which you can find more than 90 restaurant in all different kind of price categories. Very useful, for somebody who does not want to eat burgers! πŸ™‚

  17. Neil January 11, 2010 at 4:32 pm - Reply

    Okay, here’s the deal Miss Katie: You’re right and you’re wrong. But that makes you more right, I suppose.

    After discovering Open Baladin here and reading your (thorough) assessment I did the only thing I could do — and that was head down the street and check it out myself. Thrice.

    First trip: Beer (IPA, Rehop 5%, 4 euro) and crisps (fatate classiche, 4 euro) excellent. The beer, on tap, was delicious. The crips were hot and crisp. Few soft ones in there, but overall very good. Home made ketchup a little sweet, but good as well. (Would need to try burger on next visit. At least that was my excuse for going back the next day.) Service very good.

    Second trip: Beer (various) — all good. Scrocchete (mashed potato balls of joy, 5 euro) very, very good. Fatate classiche — not as hot as first visit, but still very good. Cheeseburger (8 euro): Very much on the rare side, bleeding, great. No hint of funny-business. Only wish they would serve condiments on the side — but otherwise excellent burger for Rome. All four of us got burgers and all were cooked the same. Service okay, mainly good — one beer mix-up.

    Third trip: Beer (various) — all delicious. Fatate classiche good. Burger, surprisingly not like previous visit. Well done (ugh!) — essentially as you described it above. Crazy disappointed, but not enough not to go back. Other person also received his burger in the same sorry state. Service was fair – first ones in for lunch and had to look around for server to place order.

    Spoke to other friends who have gone back and had burgers and they had good, rare, bloody, delicious burgers each time. Not sure why there’s an inconsistency, but I hope it gets fixed. Until then, I’ll drink more beer.

  18. Neil January 23, 2010 at 4:56 pm - Reply

    Final assessment: Been back a couple more times (it’s just so close) and Open Baladin is now going out of there way to warn their customers in both writing and verbally that they use only fresh ground beef for their burgers and it’s cooked on the rare side. And burgers both times have been very pink and delicious.

    Worth pointing out too is that the beer prices have jumped to 5 euro (for 33 ounces) from 4.

    Also, service remains inconsistent (but friendly). One time it took more than 20 minutes to receive our first round of beers. In fact our food order starting coming out before them. And that, my friends, is criminal. Yes, they were busy — but very well staffed. And this was before the evening rush.

  19. Katie January 23, 2010 at 5:37 pm - Reply

    Hey Neil, Thanks for keeping us updated on it. I admire your bravery going back again and again. I get worked up just thinking about going back, though I probably will once i head back to Rome. Shame about the beer price rising. There are a number of brewery owned pubs in London that sell their beer for a very affordable price, as it helps build brand loyalty. I can’t shake the idea that Open Baladin is more interested in earning a quick buck. Or euro as it were. I guess they have to pay the rent…at the consumer’s expense, of course. Bummer about the service, too, but not shocking.

  20. […] you go to Italy, do you order hamburgers, that quintessential dish of Americana? I know of at least one ex-pat blogger who has probably tried (perhaps inspired by nostalgia?) every hamburger in Rome. At nearly every […]

  21. […] Baladin: I didn’t have very nice things to say about this place in a previous post. Not much has changed. What is this place trying to be? A pub? A restaurant? It fails at […]

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