Busy Bee Cafe did me a huge favor, it made deciding where to take my mother for her birthday a no brainer. When Mom is not climbing mount Kilimanjaro, helping kids get through school, traveling Europe, swimming with dolphins, falling asleep before 9 o’clock, taking yoga classes, quitting yoga classes, calling herself a golden indigo, learning French, traveling to France, or deciding whether or not she is a druid, you can find her doing her latest hobby, which for the time being is bee keeping. Even though she has more hobbies than there are hobbies to have, she is exceedingly difficult to shop for. So lately, I have been buying her dinners, but where to take the mother who has eaten it all?
I read that the Busy Bee was a landmark of Raleigh, that it is nationally renowned as a great bar for beer because of their aging process, and it has a good score on UrbanSpoon, so I figure why not. Bee is in the title, Mom will love that. When I got there, I realized just how much of a bar it was. Lines of beer taps, a bar long enough to house 4 bartenders. Limited seating towards the back, but an entire upstairs for large and loud parties. When I think of “Busy Bee” as a restaurant title, I think of a place that probably sponsors NPR, hosts book clubs, and has one little old lady running the place with experience that longer translates to impressive speed, but this place is a legit bar ready for the working class to buy quality beer, wine or liquor.
After reading more about this place after my first visit, I guess their stand out item is their aged beer. I don’t think I have ever tasted aged beer. I have a can of beer that has been loitering on my back porch for a little over a year, but I think Busy Bee has a better system than that. Sadly, I cannot talk about the beer today, just the food and their signature Queen Bee martini, which my girlfriend agreed must be for the Disney princesses in the audience. This drink was so sweet that I think most kids would have a hard time finishing it or getting drunk off of it.
Bars that are known for their spirits rarely lend themselves to an expansive or entirely appetizing menu, and in this case, their menu has 4 salads, 6 entrees, and 9 burgers to chose from. Maybe the left the old lady in the kitchen to satisfy the one customer looking to order food for their meal and not an imperial stout. Either way, it is clear that they did not want their menu to become a formidable read for any drunks in the house.
For the food, my mother, who insisted that I call her Golden Indigo for this review (she assured me that my readers will know what that means), ordered the Arugula Salad. She wants you to know that she gives it an A, but she had a list of complaints that made me curious why she ate as much of it as she did. I think she was just happy to be at a restaurant that had goat cheese, but she wants everyone to know that the salad needed more goat cheese. I think it needs a dressing that is worth a damn, but that’s just me. We all agreed that the lettuce to toppings ratio was dreadful. I will never pretend to like salads built off of a fruit and a vinaigrette, so no one should be offended that I would give this salad a 1/5. HOWEVER, my girlfriend who said she would give it a 2/5…that’s a fruit and vinaigrette expert.
Let’s get to the meat of the matter. I ordered the drably named American Burger. Saying my order out loud almost depressed me. I thought American Burger as a name was out of fashion, kind of like…Chicken Nuggets. I expect my burgers to have no less than three adjectives in their name: “Blue Cheese and Bacon Burger” or the “Zesty Kung Pow BBQ Burger”. If that fails, give it an exotic name that sparks interest like the Skinny Dip Burger, the New Mexico Burger, or the Golden Indigo burger, that sounds…nevermind, I would never order that (what the hell’s a golden indigo?). I am slowly beginning to realize that a name means nothing in the food industry, because this burger rocked my world!
I want everyone to know that there have been times in my life where I have ordered a burger and wanted my first bite to consume me in a Jimmy Buffet song. Dear readers, I am happy to report that this burger has done just that. In my first bite, I was eating the burger that I have hoped for at every burger joint I have encountered. I found the meat incredibly flavorful, the bun perfectly toasted, and it was of such a size that I could easily eat the thing without 1/2 of it falling on my plate, but it was incredibly filling all the same. I’m dropping an extremely satisfied 5/5 on this burger. It’s definitely in the top 5 best burgers I have ever had.
My girlfriend’s Chicken “Philly”, had everyone’s senses aroused. The cheese was oozing off the bun, there were hearty chucks of meat and vegetables, and it was partnered with a polite mind of well seasoned and crisp, but not greasy, fries. I need to wipe my brow just thinking about it. Unfortunately, my girlfriend got pretty stingy when it came to sharing this dish. I managed to get one bite and though it tasted good, I had some portion problems, so I’m giving this sandwich a 4/5. My girlfriend would give it a 5/5. And Golden Indigo judged us harshly for finishing our meals of blubber instead of ordering salads.
Was there any trouble in the hive? Quite a bit: First of all, the service was embarrassingly absent, and I say embarrassingly because we were there at two in the afternoon. Competition for our server’s attention was not an issue. Now, to be fair, our server could have been trying to avoid Golden Indigo. After hearing that I had a food blog that was doing well, Golden Indigo must have concluded that I inherited the skill from her, because she became a geyser of suggestions. When I’m tuning someone who is talking about food out, we have a problem. At one point, I think Golden Indigo brought up ice cubes…so I retract my statement. Stay gone waitress.
That being said, several of Golden Indigo’s complaints were valid. For instance, I got fried green tomatoes as my side item, thinking Golden Indigo would like them (she normally does). These were inedible. Plain and simple. They were way too tart. And when they got poured from the fryer, I don’t think there was enough oil left behind to submerge a pickle chip. These tomatoes get a first ever 0/5 and between the three of us we could not finish one and when the server came by we told her she could take them. As someone who worked as a server, I just want to say that when I saw something like this or when a client asked me to take away an item that had three bites from it, I always offered to get the customer something else, but I was never an attractive blonde.
UPDATE: Since the first visit with Golden Indigo, I have returned to Busy Bee and I was yet again faced with an unsavory side item, this time in the form of broccoli potato salad. I would give this a 1/5 and, yet again, the waitress took it back largely unfinished. When she asked how it was and I told her that it was not very good, she asked if I would like something else.
I do want to thank the service at this bar, because a group of drinkers with a teenager’s mentality and a child’s ability to control their voice was causing a scene and this is not that type of a bar. They are not playing techno, they don’t cater to loud groups. Thankfully, the staff asked this group to keep their voices down and eventually the group left, before too many diners could beat them to it.
This time, I ordered the Fish Tacos and I was pretty letdown. They carry less flavor than most fish tacos and less fish for that matter. So they get a solid 2/5. There was no appropriate side item to order with them (fries, tots, potato salad?) and my $11 plate only came with two tacos. So we are talking tapas portions here.
My girlfriend ordered the Bacon Jam Burger, or something similar in name, and it was pretty good. Topped with a hearty onion ring, bacon, and jam. I still maintain that these burgers are the perfect size, only this one (in the few bites that I had), definitely could have used more jam, because the bites that I got were pretty one note.
My girlfriend wisely ordered Tots with her meal and they were damn good tots. Very crispy, well salted. I mean, I didn’t think the day would come where I would be impressed by potato tots, but here we are: 4/5.
Taste = 4/5
Quality = 3/5
Portions = 2/5
Price = 2/5
Service = 3/5
Atmosphere = 3/5
Total Value = Definitely worth a try
If Busy Bee’s Chicken “Philly” got you hot and bothered, let me save you a trip to downtown Raleigh. My friend Torre has a recipe for you!