Red Robin is a restaurant I usually go to at least nine times per year to enjoy lunch with a good friend of mine. He lives in Davis, so we meet in the middle at the Red Robin Folsom location. We haven’t eaten there since early in 2020.

My mother and I have also eaten there a few times when we’ve shopped in Folsom. I eat at Red Robin often enough that I have a Red Royalty card, and they recently e-mailed me to let me know I had a free birthday burger waiting. I had to run some errands in Folsom last week, so I decided to pick up an early dinner at the Folsom Red Robin before I drove back to Jackson.

But wait, you say. Red Robin is not an Amador County restaurant. Why is this interloper here? What is this blasphemy?

I decided to eat at Red Robin because I wanted to discover how well our Amador County restaurant burgers compared to those from a national, higher-end burger chain. Red Robin was founded in Seattle in 1969 and now has 570 restaurants in the U.S. and Canada, with its headquarters in Greenwood Village, Colorado.

Red Robin has a strong presence in the Sacramento area with restaurants in Elk Grove, Woodland, Roseville, Citrus Heights, and Folsom. The dine-in family dining experience is key to Red Robin’s success, with large open dining rooms and birthdays celebrated by staff members singing at your table.

Like many restaurants big and small, the closing of some or all of indoor dining during the pandemic has caused Red Robin to pivot. Red Robin announced in the spring that they were limiting their menu to what they normally offer, as opposed to offering seasonal burgers and drinks to keep people coming in during the year. They also streamlined their existing to-go business to keep money coming in.

Contactless Ordering

At about 12:15 in the afternoon on November 5, I called Red Robin from the parking lot at Safeway in the Amador Ridge Plaza shopping center after I picked up some provisions. I told them what I wanted and told them I was driving from Jackson, so the man who took my order said that he would have the order ready in an hour. I parked in one of the four designated pickup parking stalls near the restaurant a little after 1:15.

Once I turned off the car, I called the number on the sign and another man answered the phone with a groggy “hello.” He gradually recovered in time to confirm that I was talking to someone at Red Robin and I had an order to pick up. A couple of minutes later, a young woman came out to my car with a mask on, and I explained that I had a free birthday burger and gave her my Red Royalty card.

The same woman came out after a couple of minutes with a large plastic bag filled with plastic containers of various sizes. She told me the total with the free birthday burger applied, but she wasn’t exactly sure about the accuracy of the order. She took my money and double-checked with her manager, and then returned a minute later with my change and confirmation that everything I ordered was in the bag.

I ordered a Master Cheese burger as well as a side salad with balsamic vinaigrette dressing. My mother ordered a BLTA (bacon lettuce tomato avocado) Croissant sandwich with a side salad and ranch dressing. We both ordered a Jump Starter Double appetizer with fried cheese sticks, which I like, and sweet potato fries, which my mother likes. I decided to splurge and order five fudge-filled chocolate chip cookies for dessert.

Red Robin Master Cheese burger

My Meal

I started with the cheese sticks, which is the appetizer I usually eat when I dine at Red Robin. Usually, they provide six sticks, but this time they provided five. I decided to eat only two because I was eating the cheese sticks with my burger, and I put the remaining three in the refrigerator.

The sticks had cooled quite a bit even in the sealed plastic appetizer container that had the cheese sticks in one partition and the sweet potato fries in the other. The interior of one stick had melted but one partially solidified.

The spicy-sweet breading on the outside was the same as I remembered, and the marinara sauce in the lidded plastic cup complemented each dipped cheese stick well. I ate the last three cheese sticks for lunch the next day, and the breading and cheese held up well even after 45 seconds in the microwave.

I could choose from burgers in one of three categories: Finest, Gourmet, and Tavern. The Master Cheese burger is in the Finest category and boasts a larger patty and higher-end ingredients. The burger comes with melted slices of cheddar and provolone cheese, two large slices of dill pickle, two large slices of tomato, and bistro sauce.

I talked about the overwhelming dill pickle taste from this burger in a past review, so I wanted to see if this burger still had the sharp pickle taste. To my pleasant surprise, the pickles weren’t as strong and they didn’t interfere with the overall taste of the burger. I suspect the reason is that the slices were so thin that one of them split in half as I started to eat the burger.

The beef patty was cooked medium-well as I ordered and it had a seasoned beef taste that I noticed in the very first bite. I also noticed that the patty wasn’t as large as it was the last time I ate a burger in the Finest category. It seems Red Robin also decided to use the same size patty for all its burgers as a cost-saving measure.

The cheese itself added little if any taste to the burger. The lettuce and tomatoes were crisp, but the tomatoes were a bit bland. The bistro sauce had a light taste and seemed to me to be a watered-down thousand island dressing. The brioche bun was the biggest disappointment, as the top bun started to disintegrate as I was about 80 percent through the burger. The bottom bun was about the same thickness as the patty, so it had no problems holding together.

Mom’s Meal

The BLTA came with sliced turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato slices, and avocado slices, and mayonnaise tucked in a large croissant tucked in half. Each half of the large sandwich was kept together by a large wooden toothpick, which my mother had a hard time getting out of each half before she could start eating.

My mother wasn’t sure what the A in BLTA stood for, but she was pleasantly surprised to find the avocado in her sandwich. At first, she thought the turkey in the sandwich was ham, but it turned out that the strong spices in the bacon overwhelmed the mild taste of the turkey.

She also ate some of the sweet potato fries with her meal. Each fry had a medium-sized cut that was larger than shoestring fries but much smaller than the steak fries Red Robin touts as one of its specialties. The fries were properly cooked with soft interiors and crispy coatings.

Red Robin Sweet Potato Fries

Salads and Dessert

We both saved our salads for the following night’s dinner when soup was on the menu. The salads were kept in separate plastic containers and included plenty of romaine lettuce, chunks of tomato, sliced cucumbers, and shredded cheese. When I dined in and ordered salads in the past, the salad always came with croutons, but our salads didn’t. The dressings were kept in separate lidded containers.

The containers kept the salads fresh, and all the vegetables were just as crisp the next day. The cheddar cheese also stayed firm and flavorful. Though the tomatoes were mild, they didn’t interfere with the dressings. The balsamic vinaigrette had a strong vinegar taste, but not too much to interfere with the herbs or the salad. The ranch dressing tasted a lot like the Hidden Valley Ranch dressing you can buy at the grocery store.

Red Robin offers a variety of desserts, and when I picked up dinner at the Elk Grove Red Robin restaurant in August, I ate one of the new desserts Red Robin introduced just before the pandemic: fudge-filled cookies. Red Robin decided to keep them on the menu, and they offer one individual cookie or a pack of five cookies. The latter is a better deal, so I ordered five that came individually wrapped in plastic and all of them were inside a plastic container.

In August, I discovered the wide cookies were so thin that when I warmed them up, they fell apart when I picked them up. This time, the cookies had cooled enough that my mother and I split a cookie and each half was easy to pick up and eat. A thin layer of fudge is in the center of the entire chocolate chip cookie, so you get a consistent fudge taste from the first bite to the last.

Red Robin Fudge-Filled Cookie

The Verdict

The Master Cheese burger doesn’t make the list of the top five burgers I’ve eaten in Amador County so far. The Highway House patty melt, Bistro49 bacon cheeseburger, Brickhouse Brews Animal Burger, Mel and Faye’s Old Timer burger, and the Sutter Burger from Hotel Sutter are all superior to the Master Cheese.

My mother enjoyed her BLTA Croissant sandwich so much that she said she’ll order it every time she eats there in the future. Though the sweet potato fries weren’t crispy when they came out of the microwave, my mother likes sweet potatoes as they are. She ate the fries for lunch two days after our meal, and they still had the same sweet potato taste.

I have problems eating large chunks of thick food like fudge and peanut butter, so I appreciated having a thin layer of fudge in the cookies so I could eat them easily. And the two layers of protection around the cookies kept them fresh when we ate them two nights later.

In sum, green light, but I won’t go out of my way for a Red Robin burger when there are better burgers locally. The menu options from Red Robin may give local restaurants some ideas for future menu items, too.

Want to Try Them?

If you go to Folsom and want to stay for lunch or dinner, especially if you have a young family, Red Robin is located in the Palladio at 360 Palladio Parkway. Red Robin serves burgers, sandwiches, entrées, desserts, and drinks. You can order from their website, or call them at 916-983-1173 to pick up your order or get on the waitlist for a table.

And next week’s review will be of food from an Amador County restaurant. Watch this space.

Amador Business Ticker food reviews are adventures in local dining with Editor Eric Butow and his mom.