Twisted Root carved out its niche in better burgerdom by offering its guests ground critter exotica like camel, emu and, uhh, beaver among other wacky proteins stuffed between the buns. Founders Jason Boso and Quincy Hart expanded their reach throughout Texas before the allure of franchising beckoned. Now, amid the coronavirus outbreak, all the corporate-run Twisted Root burger joints are shuttered, while the ones that remain open for takeout, curbside and delivery are the four franchised locations in Birmingham, Shreveport, San Angelo and in Winter Park.
Glenn and Jennifer Pilson opened Twisted Root back in November inside the Grove plaza off Aloma Avenue. They're no strangers to franchises either, having run a handful of Five Guys around Central Florida as well as a couple of Chicken Salad Chicks. But the pandemic threw their budding burger joint for a loop, and the effects are being felt by Twisted Root's employees.
"You wouldn't be able to find an empty seat in here four weeks ago," says the manager when I pick up my order. "The bar area is always hopping, we've got live music, and now ..." She shrugs and lets out a sigh in the direction of the only customer in the place – me. Corporate-backed restaurants and chains may be in a slightly better position to endure the downturn, but not so for franchisees like the Pilsons, who say business is down 95 percent since they opened. The pandemic has halted booze service, limited their meat offerings, shut down the pickle bar and frozen sales of their custard shakes. (They have opened a market selling staples like flour, sugar and TP.)
"Thank you so much for coming in and supporting us. Please come back again!" The plea had an air of desperation about it and I just felt so horrible for them – feeling horrible for restaurateurs has been a common practice for me of late. Even as I bit into their Le Wagyu ($12.25) burger, I thought of their plight for survival. The burger itself, touted for its use of local beef (I wasn't able to ascertain from where exactly), is Dijon-crusted and topped with Gruyère. Didn't see the thyme caramelized onions the menu promised, but it's a burger I'd really like to enjoy at the restaurant itself one day. Same goes for the buffalo burger ($10.75). Getting it in the classic manner (with lettuce, tomato and cheddar cheese) let the unadulterated flavors of buffalo come through. I liked the toasted brioche bun as well. Didn't disintegrate into a mess even after the 20-minute drive back home.
As I alluded to earlier, exotic meat options aren't being offered, at least not until this whole thing blows over, but you can have cheese fries ($4.50) – hand-cut fries (or hand "punched," as the menu says) topped with a whole lot of melted cheddar cheese – with your burger. For $4 more, you can get those cheese fries topped with brisket, bacon and a fried egg, which is practically a meal in itself.
If I'm being honest, I'm not one to get better burgers to go. They seem to depreciate a lot quicker than other foods, and reheating them for me is out of the question. But when you get a craving for one during these times, there's little option. I can't wait to get the full Twisted Root experience – beaver meat, sweet-and-spicy pickles, boozy shakes and all. I just hope that when the pandemic is said and done, there's no twist ending.
This story appears in the April 29, 2020, print edition of Orlando Weekly. Our small but mighty team is working tirelessly to bring you news on how coronavirus is affecting Central Florida. Please consider supporting this free publication with a one-time or monthly donation. Every little bit helps.