« Haute Dog adding a second cart | Main | Caesar's Den for lease, owners hoping to retire »

March 30, 2011

The (last?) dinner at Hollywood Burger Bistro

hollywoodThis started with a Tweet I received this morning about a memorable dining experience at Hollywood Burger Bistro.

Below is the extended version. I took out the final paragraph, which draws a conclusion about the future of Hollywood Burger Bistro that, however warranted, is mere speculation.

About the experience, the author says: I believe the adjectives my friends used were 'unparalleled, memorable, and unforgettable. I would call it sad. :-(

And just now (5:37 p.m.), I called to get a response from someone at Hollywood Burger Bistro. No one answered the phone.

Here's the letter:

Thanks for encouraging me to email. I feel like an in-depth explanation of my and my friends’ experience last night at Hollywood Burger Bistro is warranted given the number of bizarre things that occurred, and tweets or DM’s just can’t convey it all. First, I must say that I never vent about bad experiences in restaurants, nor do I think of myself as being a difficult diner to please. Our experience last night was so bizarre that it deserves some attention, if only to provide other reader's with some funny entertainment on this gloomy afternoon.
I had my reservations about going to Hollywood’s in the first place, given the number of less than stellar reviews on both Yelp and FourSquare. As a social marketer I do my research on new places and generally think the crowd gets it right. But I figured “what the heck, it’s in the neighborhood, I’ll give it a whirl, " and I was a big fan of the spot when it was Red Fish. Plus one of my dining companions claimed to have heard good things about it. From whom these “good things” were heard, I have no clue, they clearly were talking about a different restaurant.
We were seated in the back dining room, where I believe only one other table was occupied. We order drinks, which come pretty quickly, however all of the sodas were flat. Problem #1.
We then ordered our appetizer. We went with the fries, but added on truffle oil, demi glace, and cheese curds to make them more poutine-like (as we all love the delish poutine at nearby Jack’s). Five minutes later fries arrive. Plain. With a plastic cup of ketchup on the side. No cheese curds, no demi glace, no truffle oil, no poutine-ness. Problem #2.
We tell the waiter this is not what we ordered he insists this is it, the toppings are buried inside the pile of fries. We think “Hmmm, that’s weird,” and dig deeper in the fries. But still don’t find any yummy toppings. Problem #3.

We call the waiter back again to tell him this. He takes the plate back into the kitchen and returns with a plastic cup with shredded parmesan cheese and tells us these are the cheese curds. Clearly that is not the case. Problem #4.
Our waiter comes back to take our dinner order. We get through three of the four burger orders, when my friend mentions the plainness of our fries and describes what demi glace and cheese curds should look like. The waiter than swiftly picks up the plate and takes it back to the kitchen, without taking the fourth order. Awkward problem #5.
Five minutes later he returns, apologizing for the mistake, fortunately this plate of fries resembles what we ordered. Our fourth diner then had to ask if he could order. Awkward problem #6.
Ordering finally complete, we dive into the fries, which were actually delicious. This is a good thing since it took 30 minutes to get them right and we were starving. We were then joined by two other friends who pulled up a table and joined us. One orders a lager and is told they don’t have any. Seriously? Problem #7.
Another orders a Stoli Razz drink and it told they have no Stoli. Problem #7.
We were amazed that a place with such a big bar could have no light beer of any kind and no top shelf vodka, but they order other drinks and are satisfied. Our two new guests were given menus and here’s the kicker… wait for it… told that the place had “run out of beef.” Problem #8.
Given the fact that there were only maybe seven other people in the place the entire time we were there between 7:00 pm and 9:00 pm, there is no way that they had a run on burgers before we came in. Also burgers make up 75% of the menu, once you knock those out of consideration you are left with pizza or pasta for dinner. Fortunately, our friends are told that it happened to be two-for-one-pizza night. So they order two pizzas and dinner marches on… and on… and on. We wait over an hour for our burgers, which keep in mind were ordered 20 minutes before the pizzas, yet still somehow the pizzas arrive first. Problem #9.
We had our suspicions that they had actually run out of beef before any of us had ordered and ran over to Safeway to get some. Finally an hour and fifteen minutes after we sat down, our burgers arrive. Problem #10
Had the experience leading up to us receiving our food not been so negative, I may have been okay with the mediocre burger that I was served, but the burgers my friends got were terrible. My Princess Di burger had limp wet bacon on top, my friend’s medium burger was so overcooked and dried out he couldn’t eat it, and my other friend’s burger with an egg on top had a huge piece of egg shell in it. Problems #11-13.
I won’t even get into how long it took to get the bill once we had finished attempting to eat. Problem #14. Once we got it, we were charged for two pizzas instead of one as we were promised. Problem #15. After some conversation with our waiter that was fixed and after some additional urging and our reminding him of the ridiculous things that had happened, he cut our bill in half. A very nice gesture, but it still does not salvage the situation.

Baltimore Sun photo/Algerina Perna 

Posted by Richard Gorelick at 5:08 PM | | Comments (26)


WOW! That sounds like a place to avoid at any cost. At least you got an interesting story to tell.

Richard, is it time to set up a poll on how long this place can stay in business?

Uh oh....that doesn't sound good. YIKES!

how long this place can stay in business?

It will just reopen with a new name and theme. I live across the street and had a great meal there when Russell Braitsch was cooking but subsequent visits have been rapidly downhill.

wow! this sounds eerily similar to a dinner we had at zella's a few weeks ago. sounds like they're on their last legs, too!

It's interesting that you should mention Zella's. I knew they changed management, but I had ordered since that happened and my pizza was fine.

But last week I made an order for delivery that was supposed to have been delivered within an hour. At 6:09 pm I placed a delivery order online, which told me that it would be delivered by 7:09.

At 7:08 (all times confirmed through email or my phone's records), I called to check on my order, and was shunted to a full voice mail box. Follow up calls to that number were placed at 7:10, 7:13, 7:14 and 8:33. At all times the no one answered and the voice mail box was full.

At 7:52 the driver called me (note that this was 50 minutes after my order was to have been delivered) asking how to find my house. I told her how.

Apparently, having no access to GPS or maps, she called again at 8:01, 8:17, 8:26 and 8:33, close to 90 minutes after my order was to have been delivered, at which time I told her to forget it. It's just unacceptable to leave me wondering about my order for 2 and a half hours with no way to contact the restaurant. Also, my house is on a major street. It's really not difficult to find at all.

Incidentally, I didn't type out all these times just for this post, but for an email I sent to Zella's complaining about the incident. You guessed it, the email bounced.

Never again.

pigtown*design: is Zella's not doing well? I don't get there as often as I like, but it is worth the occasional drive from Hamilton.

I went there with a bunch of friends when it first opened. Weird things happened then too......for example it took forever to get our food. Mainly because they didn't have anything, so they had to run out to the store to get it. I ordered avocado on my burger, and it was hard as a rock. obviously the chef has no idea what they are doing. It's like they had a good experience at Abby Burger Bistro in Federal Hill and just copied the idea for the most part - but with poor execution. I have a hard time getting past the name of the place....such a terrible name.

i also had a TERRIBLE experience at this place. the burgers took over an hour. the outside of the patty was hard as a rock while the inside was barely cooked. i ordered the reeses peanut butter burger, instead of melted resses peanut butter cups, they used peanut butter. i will never go there again.

I live in the neighborhood and I have been there once to eat. I was not impressed with their burgers at all. Our waitress was very nice but also very slow for how few people were in the restaurant. I really want my neighborhood to have a great burger joint, but it's not coming together. I sent an email to Kitchen Nightmares to see if they could help out this place when they film in Baltimore. Care to pile on?

Email them:

I live in the neighborhood and I have been there once to eat. I was not impressed with their burgers at all. Our waitress was very nice but also very slow for how few people were in the restaurant. I really want my neighborhood to have a great burger joint, but it's not coming together. I sent an email to Kitchen Nightmares to see if they could help out this place when they film in Baltimore. Care to pile on?

Email them:

It also doesn't help that it's in the "Death Location". There have been a lot of restaurants in that building.

Zella's has definitely suffered under the new management. SLOOOOOOOWWWWWWW and they've clearly changed where they are sourcing their ingredients. We had our last pizza there about a month ago. We're done.

Funny thing is we were there with another couple two weeks prior to that and the fiance of the owner sat down at our table when my husband told him that the wings were definitely different and quite bad (he asked, hubby was honest). He proceeds to talk on an on for like 20 minutes about how they haven't changed a thing, they are doing much better business - he named $$$ - and how they paid cash for the business...blah, blah, blah. Finally I couldn't take it anymore so I stood up and put on my coat and told my daughter to get her coat. He literally held us hostage talking about bunch of BS that was clearly lies. I guess he thought he was impressing us?

I am actually kind of glad to hear that Zellas changed, just because, I used to order there all the time and it was awesome, then it started to go down hill, they were out of a couple of things and their pizza didn't taste as good as it used to. I used to tell everybody about Zellas and good it was and now I don't. it's a shame.

Maybe the Abbey can take over Hollywood's. Great burgers.

In fairness to Zella's, posting that reminded me that I needed to call them and try to get the charges reversed. I did so and the owner was very apologetic and is emailing me a coupon for the value of what I spent in addition to refunding the charges.

I hope things work out for them. They really are the best delivery pizza to Federal Hill. It was a very frustrating experience, but if they're willing to correct it I'm willing to give them another shot.

Very big of you, Jon Parker! (Me, I tend to bear a grudge for years ... )


Uh oh, Hollywood was dark tonight -- 9pm on a Thursday...

I can be put off by repeated problems, and that situation was particularly annoying, but running a restaurant is hard work and anyone can have a bad day. It's being willing to fix it that counts.

It appears that the same owner ran Meridian 54 and Hollywoods. I don't know if he was connected to Red Fish or Tangier. This may have more to do with the success or failure than the building or location.

There are lots of choices in Canton.

Same owner. He also owned red fish which was really good when ted from jack's bistro ran the kitchen

OK. It's time I came clean.

They're doing this on purpose! It's their schtick! The whole "Hollywood" thing is an allusion to the fact that all the diners are being filmed via hidden cameras for an upcoming reality show tentatively entitled "Disaster Dining" (formerly "Turn the Tables").

For those not in the know, "Disaster Dining" is the result of a partnership between Barry Levinson, John Waters, and Duff Goldman who got together several years ago after a chance meeting at "A Chocolate Affair" in The Belvedere. After a couple of chocolate martinis they realized that nobody had ever dared to ask the question "how much crap will people put up with in a restaurant?" "Disaster Dining" was born.

Over the past 15 months they've partnered with Yelp and several local food bloggers (who will remain nameless) to turn Baltimore's booming restaurant scene into their own laboratory dedicated to examining people, the food they eat, and the dining experience. Enlisting the help of local chefs, they took over some financially-troubled restaurants (and even opened a few new ones: i.e. Hollywood), installed hidden cameras, and worked relentlessly to test out a wide range of Dining Disaster scenarios on clueless Baltimore diners.

The scope of the project has been huge, covering dozens of restaurants in town. In fact, they've "DD'ed" (as they like to call it) so many of Baltimore's hip dining spots that if you've eaten out in the past year or so and have encountered unpalatable food, astonishingly-bad service, rude fellow diners, watery drinks, or flat beer you're probably going to be on our show.

While I'm not at liberty to reveal the names of all the restaurants (we decided to "out" Hollywood because it's become so glaringly obvious what's going on that we figured you were going to find out anyway), you may recognize some of these scenarios:

* At one hip, "locovore" restaurant located near some train tracks we set it up so some diners were made to wait at least a half an hour past the time of their reservation before being seated while others who arrived later (who the hostess pretended to know) were seated immediately. This one worked better than we'd ever anticipated thanks to a brilliant "astroturf" social media campaign designed to whip foodies into a froth. We even got many of them to start referring to "dinner" as "supper!"

* We replaced the wait staff at a number of popular restaurants (don't worry...we paid them!) with art students. Hilarity ensued!

* One of our favorite tricks was to place actors with extra loud voices at the center tables of "romantic" restaurants. We'd then have them pretend to have loud, obnoxious conversations on their cellphones while they ate. The looks on the faces of the other diners made for some priceless TV moments!

* One of the best ideas came from Duff (notorious for his dislike for children) who suggested that the combo of unruly children + fine dining equaled belly-busting laughs. We enlisted several of our production assists who were parents and had them go out to dinner at several expensive Inner Harbor East restaurants with their kids and then -- this is the best part-- let the kids do whatever they wanted!

* When we needed some quick "bumper" material, our operatives (placed in several well-known kitchens) would randomly substitute key ingredients or (we pulled this at Hollywood several times) completely leave them out! It's amazing what people will put up with before they start complaining! Can anyone say "Dude, where's my reduction?" :)

* Another related trick was to use the "wheel o' ingredients" to invent new dishes. The weirder the combo, the better. It turns out that kim chee is one of the best "secret ingredients" to throw in if you want to elicit some really funny facial expressions from most diners. We enlisted a team of Johns Hopkins Linguistic Psychologists to create names for our "creations" that would appeal to snobs, bores, and hipsters. They did a good job, too.

* I'll tell you one thing: Barry's quite a jokester and sometimes his "jokes" get out of hand. We should have known better than to allow him to bankroll a local restauranteur's foray into trademark law. Talk about blowback! We got some great stuff outta that one!

* Probably our biggest coup was our experiment to see if higher prices made people think food tasted better. It took some pretty intense lobbying by myself and several other producers but eventually we were able to enlist almost every restaurant in Little Italy. We convinced them to substitute frozen entrees from Stouffers and sauce supplied by Ragu (one of our sponsors) for the food they'd been serving. We also got them to jack up the prices by 20-25% percent on the day our little "experiment" started. The result? You're gonna have to watch...but I will say "it's in there!"

Believe me: there's a heck of a lot more. And we're not finished filming yet. We're currently in negotiations with a major cable network (cough...the one that has a lot of food shows, if you know what I mean) and it looks like we're set for a Summer 2011 debut. In the mean time we're going to keep on gathering material through the rest of the Spring, so keep an eye out for "unusual" situations next time you head out to dinner. ;)

Baltimore, you've been "Dined!"

I loathe "candid camera", the same way that I loathe every type of game.

April Fools, tee hee...

Hon - too soon. I was hoping to see more comments.

Mr. RG - why??

TVGuy - nicely done.

I would watch that tv show as long as they didn't edit it too much!

"Frank" is correct about the owners and their previous failures,which also include Hunters Lodge/Stone Cellar in Howard County. Maybe it is time for a new profession

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About this blog

You are reading the archives. For updated blog posts about the Maryland food scene, see Richard Gorelick's new Baltimore Diner blog.
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

Top Ten Tuesdays
Most Recent Comments
Baltimore Sun coverage
Restaurant news and reviews Recently reviewed
Browse photos and information of restaurants recently reviewed by The Baltimore Sun

Sign up for FREE text alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for dining text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Food & Drink newsletter
Need ideas for dinner tonight? A recommendation for the perfect red wine?'s Food & Drink newsletter is there to help.
See a sample | Sign up

Stay connected