Underground Burgers & Crêpes: Unusual Combo, Awesome Result
In a seemingly ideal location just off Garner St. in Calder Alley, a rotating cast of restaurants has occupied 404 East Calder Way since 2011. The profoundly mediocre Baja Fresh was followed up by the short-lived Arthur Treachers/Nathan’s, and the spot was seemingly cursed.
Underground Burgers and Crêpes, however, looks set to end that curse. With the Nathan’s decorations repurposed and a new chalkboard wall added in the back, the vibe inside is laid back and open, calling back to sister restaurant Pita Cabana Grill. In a town plagued with a lack of originality in its fast casual restaurant scene, UBAC has bucked the trend, and is worthy of joining your regular meal rotation.
With food worthy of putting up some serious competition with the likes of Chipotle, UBAC might take State College by storm. Although it are currently open from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m., it is considering beginning late night hours as well, which might put them right up against some stiff competition from Ken’s Best Wurst. For those looking at UBAC as an alternative, four of our writers made the trek to check it out.
Here are their thoughts:
Jack Lukow: A loud, informal, and greasy atmosphere at Underground Burgers and Crêpes might be what you expect from a place named “Underground Burgers and Crêpes,” but it’s not what you want. The music volume is at the perfect level to incite loud conversations and speaking up to your co-eater across the table no more than five feet from you, but not loud enough to mask the fact that everyone else in the place is doing the exact same thing, causing a cacophony of mumbles and voices. This might seem like a small gripe to have, but routinely through our meal we had to stop, repeat ourselves, and carry on. Pair this with a cheap paint job over the Nathan’s decorations, and one would be severely put off when first entering the new restaurant.
But don’t be. Although its atmosphere might be closer to the mayhem found when trying to make small talk at a party than a comfortable eating environment, some of your world really melts away when you bite into one of the burgers. Not to say that these are artisan burgers that you have not lived until you tasted — far from it — but there is something so alluring about a burger being nothing but its true, simple self. These burgers are unabashedly burgers, thick and juicy; they are how the gods intended them to be. Sure, the fries are basically mashed potatoes with texture and the noise is close to unbearable. But if you’re walking downtown and you crave ground beef pressed into patties, fried, covered in a slew of toppings (because who are we kidding here, really?) then I recommend giving this place a try. Hell, you might even like it more than Five Guys.
Ted Hozza: My two trips to UBAC (yes, I consider myself fat) were very different, but equally delicious. The first time I stepped into the former Nathan’s, I was deadset on ordering a burger and fries. I opted for the “build-your-own” burger with lettuce, ketchup, mayo, and the best bacon I’ve had in a long time. Although the burger was sloppy after the first bite, it brought back memories of the restaurant that my grandmother grew up in. The burger itself had a distinct meatloaf-like taste, but the bacon was the real star of the show. I didn’t know until I started eating that the bacon wasn’t from a pig. It was beef bacon, and oh was it good. On another note, the portions were huge and needless to say, I only ate about half of my burger. The fries were fries, but they complemented the burger nicely.
Alex Robinson: Jack is right, the music was really loud (but my favorite Prince song was on the in-house playlist, so who cares?) and I did find myself amused by the Nathan’s artwork still on the wall. But when a place in a college town serves food like this, does it really matter?
I also ordered the “build-your-own” option and chose a half-pound beef burger with Cheddar cheese, barbeque sauce, and a fried egg. At $10, it was a bit pricey for a “fast food” place — the base burger starts at $8 and each “major” add on adds $1 — but I wasn’t disappointed. The burger was juicy and flavored well, the sauce was good, and the egg was cooked to perfection. But the star of the show was the beef bacon. It sounds weird at first, but that damn beef bacon may just be better than the pork bacon we’re all used to having.
While it may not be an every day stop due to the price, I’ll definitely be back to UBAC on payday. Hopefully it’ll sell me beef bacon to go?
Noel Purcell: I spent my summer traversing Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood, and the Village Creperie become my drunk food restaurant of choice. Never did I think I’d have a better lemon, butter and powdered sugar crepe in my life, but I was wrong. So simple but so perfect, the crepe was both crunchy and chewy, the lemon providing the perfect contrast to the richness of the butter that helped impart vanilla flavor as well. Perfectly done crepes are hard to find, and even harder so in Central PA, but I’ve found one, and I’ll be back for more. The lamb burger and tender but crispy fries were excellent as well (order the burger with tzatziki and no cheddar cheese), and the shake was thick and rich. Not one to be missed, UBAC should be a mainstay for years to come.
TH: Now on my second trip just a day later, I opted for a crepe. I didn’t expect much in State College; boy was I wrong. I added strawberries, bananas, and whipped cream for about a $9 crepe, which was pretty high, but worth it. The crepe itself had a great consistency, with the fruit bringing it to a whole ‘nother level. This was seriously one of the best breakfast foods I’ve ever eaten, and that’s saying something (see Billy’s Diner). Although the restaurant opens at 11:00 every day, it is definitely a better alternative to the ungodly lines of The Waffle Shop. I consider myself an early-bird, so 11:00 is no issue for me, but the place can open a little earlier for those of us that hate sleep.