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Thursday, January 21,2010

Thunderbird beats the chains

By Clay Fong

Thunderbird Burgers & BBQ faces the formidable challenge of being a locally owned business in direct competition with big multinational chains. To effectively compete, it needs to be at least comparable in price and, ideally, superior in quality. For the most part, this eatery succeeds in rising to the occasion, although there are a few small areas for culinary improvement.

Thunderbird has two locations in Boulder — one on the Hill and the other on 28th Street, which is where friend Andrew and I stopped in for an early dinner. This venue features a sun-filled interior, juxtaposing modernistic corrugated metals with images of retro pop icons ranging from Sinatra to Betty Boop. A big screen TV allows diners to watch a game while eating. Unlike fast food joints, this T-Bird features a full bar, which enables one to enjoy Fat Tire Ale with his or her meal. Take that Mickey D’s!

Thunderbird offers a surprisingly varied menu, with reasonably priced items such as a $4.99 hamburger. That’s not bad, considering that Thunderbird’s beef is of the fresh, never frozen variety. The priciest burger is the $12.99 better-call-your-cardiologist-ASAP “4x4,” which features a heart-stopping stack of four 1/3-pound patties accompanied by four cheese slices. Healthier options include chicken sandwiches, veggie burgers and salads for all appetites. The barbecue menu offers ribs, chicken, brisket, pork shoulder and hot links.

Our opening gambit consisted of 10 chicken wings for $7.99. These plump appendages offered hearty flavor and moist texture. However, the hot sauce carried an overwhelming vinegar aroma that detracted from the bird’s quality. Blue cheese dressing helped take off the acid edge, but I couldn’t help wonder if the wings would have been better with either the teriyaki or barbecue sauces.

Andrew’s $6.50 Baja burger came dressed with a roasted poblano chile. Andrew expressed his happiness at discovering a burger that wasn’t drenched in melted cheese, and the vegetable garnishes of lettuce and tomato were remarkably fresh. The pepper exuded real heat, but in a manner complimentary to the robust taste of the fresh beef.

My $13.99 half slab of six tender pork spare ribs came with a choice of two sides — in this case, cole slaw and beans. The slaw had a nice crunch, although the nearly ice-cold temperature of these shredded vegetables proved that it had just been retrieved from the fridge. As the slaw came closer to room temperature, the flavor improved. I was less enthusiastic about the barbecue beans, which consisted more of distractingly sweet sauce than protein. The ribs acquitted themselves well with pleasingly smoky tones, although it would have also benefited from less salt. The sauce nicely balanced spice and sweet, and a little went a long way in enhancing the meaty ribs. I’ve certainly paid more for ribs that were much less satisfying.

The bones, so to speak, of Thunderbird’s offerings are solid. Room for improvement exists around things that are relatively easy to fix, such as the wing sauce. But the burgers, such as Andrew’s spicy selection, outshine those from similarly priced fast food choices. Andrew’s $6.50 burger was an excellent value, and I suspect I would have been equally satisfied with the $8.99 rib plate versus the half slab.

Clay's Obscurity Corner: Boop the bombshell

Betty Boop is the animated equivalent of Jean Harlow, with both being bombshell icons whose work is underappreciated by modern audiences. Which is a shame, because the Boop cartoons, especially those made before the enforcement of the Hays Production Code in 1934, are truly eye-opening. Take 1934’s Ha! Ha! Ha!, a truly surreal short combining animation with live action. In this cartoon, Betty trips out on nitrous oxide while treating a clown friend for a toothache. The gas then seeps out into the city where both humans and objects have their consciousness altered in something resembling a Salvador Dali painting.

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