Restaurant review: Inferno Burger

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

"Deluxe fast food hamburger chain" is a viable and expanding genre of restaurant popular in Central Ohio these days. With the opening of an Inferno Burger in Pickerington last week, yet another beefwich sizzler begins vying with Five Guys and Graffiti Burger for your better-than-drive-thru-quality but still cholesterol-be-damned dollars.

Inferno Burger is a Medina- based operation owned by the Romeo's Pizza people. After visiting its Pickerington outlet, I'd say Inferno is different enough from its competitors to carve out (burn through?) its own niche.

First and second of all, the place provides table service and thankfully serves beer. There are also plans for liquor and "Ultimate Rock Star" cocktails soon (with "Snickerdoodle" and "Key Lime" in their titles), but for now it's just the suds ($4 a pint).

Inferno's sales pitch proudly proclaims its burgers are flame-cooked, so along with a rock-n-roll leitmotif, this place emphasizes fire. Its brick walls - which hold a couple of guitars and framed rock albums - are painted incendiary red, orange, yellow and charcoal black. Servers also sport sunburst Inferno logos on their black wife beaters. Toss in flatscreens and '80s music videos, and the overall vibe comes off like tiny Hard Rock Cafe (think Bret Michaels, not Bon Scott) meets strip mall burger joint.

Prominent on the menu - where they're graphically presented as arena ticket stubs - are "Tour Stop" burger options ($8) named after American cities and detailed with appropriate toppings ("Buffalo" has wing sauce; "Hollywood" features guacamole). These offer sloppy good fun, but are all based on Inferno's signature hamburger patty.

To me, that big beefy beast didn't bring much seared or smoky character to the table. No, it was largely distinguished by a distinct seasoning blend - starring salt, black pepper and garlic powder - that resulted in sausage-y, even hot-dog-like flavors.

Instead of picking Tour-Stop city style toppings, you can design your own sandwich from scratch (there's a selection of buns and proteins, which include chicken breasts and veggie burgers) or enhance a "city style" with Inferno's free salad bar of garnishes. Utilizing the latter strategy, I had good results with the soft pretzel roll, Austin style (chili, Tillamook cheddar, sour cream) chicken breast (thick and juicy) embellished with giardiniera from the fixins bar.

Sidewise, the extra-crispy but not exceedingly greasy Beer Battered French Fries ($3) were a great deal, especially considering the feeds-three serving size (hint: Eat 'em with the spicy bacon ketchup); and the wildly spicy coleslaw ($2.50) certainly lived up to its Inferno billing.

I cooled off that sting by drinking a multi-textured Campfire Milkshake ($5). Basically a sippable s'more made with chocolate ice cream, crushed graham cracker bits and lots of marshmallow cream, it was a fairly fun novelty quaff.

Inferno Burger

10503 Blacklick Eastern Rd., Pickerington