Piro: Nothing is quite as you wish it to be

I had been to Piro about two months back to check out their lunch deals. There were several decent options under 50rmb, but since I found better ones elsewhere, I ended up not featuring them. Recently though, the restaurant was crowned for having one of the best burgers in Shanghai AND offering something they were calling the In n’ Out Animal Style.  You know, that thing Californians go absolutely apeshoot for. So I invited my brother (USC. USC.), who enthusiastically agreed to go try the place out with me and a buddy.

While waiting for my brother to arrive, I enthusiastically perused the menu, which was chock full of hard-to-find North American comfort food. This – I thought – was a good sign: if it was done right, then I’d have next week’s food review in the bucket. Buddy, being Canadian, was especially excited about poutine. As easy a dish as poutine sounds (french fries, beef gravy, cheese curds), there are no real deals here. Our expectations were already pretty low and easy to meet… at least that’s what we thought.

Black pepper is NOT beef gravy

After taking a bite, Buddy’s face crinkled up in a mix of astonishment and disappointment. “Why,” he whimpered. “Why would you use black pepper sauce instead of beef gravy?”

“Does it taste bad?” I asked.

“No. But it’s not poutine. Why would you do this and call it poutine?”

Unfortunately, this was just foreshadowing for the rest of the night. When my brother arrived, we found out that the Burger and Beer deal (50rmb for the combo) actually only pertained to the Cheeseburger and a Tiger beer. Okay, but we’ll have you know that Malone’s same Monday night special includes ALL their burgers. I ended up opting for the original Cheeseburger (you need a benchmark after all). Buddy got the Jalapeno burger and, of course, my brother ordered the In’n’Out. While we were waiting, I asked for a half-order of Charlie’s Crazy Nachos (55rmb).

Crazy combo, but delicious

They weren’t bad at all. I think the craziness comes not from any spice  but rather from their use of a sweet Italian beef bolognaise in place of the beef chili. Weird, but not offputting – and I’ll thank them for giving me an idea for Italian Mexican fusion. Parma ham tacos? Jalapeno chili lasagna? I am on this shizz.

And then the burgers came. Oh man. I didn’t want to be a dick, but after looking at my cheeseburger and at my brother’s Animal-style, I had to call over someone to ask what justified the price difference? I mean, look at it:

Guess which is which

Versus

Hmmm.

“Animal-style means there’s mustard in the bun,” the guy, an Asian-American (and so, probably, somehow related to the owners of the restaurant), “As you can see, this patty is slightly yellower than the other one… oh, and there’s our special pink sauce too.”

“I have the pink sauce as well,” I showed him the top of my bun.

“Yeah, all our burgers do,” he replied, leaving me to ponder the mystery of him pointing it out then in the first place.

The burger did taste of mustard, but my brother, who has gorged at many an In’n’Out, denied that it was anything close to what he recognized as “Animal Style.” I ended up looking up what Animal Style meant. Apparently, it involves actually dicing onions cheese and pickles INTO the special sauce and then covering a mustard-cooked beef patty (a patty cooked while smothered in mustard) with the results. The flavor profiles and textures then causes everyone in the Golden State to collectively orgasm.

Once again, the burger wasn’t bad – in fact, my brother quite liked the bun and the meat patty, a medium bordering on medium-rare, was juicy and well-seasoned.

“But it’s not Animal Style. I would’ve just ordered the cheeseburger and gotten that extra beer if I had known,” he sighed.

I so wanted this place to be a hit. And I feel like, with a couple changes to the cooking, it really really could be. But for now, it was just… well… baffling. These guys have obviously lived in America, so why are they delivering weird twists to American classics without telling anyone who might order those classics first?

Other points that were worrisome:
– There was no drinks menu, and the waitresses were easily confused about what was on happy hour and what wasn’t. The Asian-American dude had to come out twice to explain which beers were 2-4-1 and their prices.
– In fact, the waitresses were generally poorly trained and clueless.
– Buddy arrived to see two cats eating raw meat off the floor in the middle of the restaurant. I don’t mind cats in restaurants. I know why they generally aren’t allowed (allergies! my brother haz it!), but I don’t particularly care. BUT cats feeding off RAW MEAT in a restaurant has to be a violation of half a dozen health codes. Also, one cat was a kitten and those things have a penchant for accidentally running underfoot when you’re drunk.

Things that  make me think I can try it again in two months and get a much better experience:
– They respond to criticism.

At any rate, here’s their address: Piro // 89 Changshu Lu near Changle Lu 常熟路89号

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