“Deep in the heart of the engineering faculty there is this hole in the wall cafe which does beside-the-highway quality burgers, perfectly grilled, complete with beetroot, shredded lettuce, BBQ sauce. The lot. The perfect burger. I paid $8, got that, a cup of chips, and a big coke. Amazing.”
– Text message from Ryan Hunter, received 7 August, 2014.
Nine months after I received that text message, I found myself south of the border, west of Seymour, in the concrete Escher that is Engineering. Engo Grill— formerly, I can only imagine, something else—has since been subsumed by the chalk-on-blackboard/white tiled aesthetic of the USU. From a distance, it gives you a sense of controlled hedonism, the kind of place you’d die to eat in. Make no mistake: Engo Grill gives literal meaning to the phrase “eating to live”.
The name Engo Grill might trick you into thinking the grill is in use, but the speed with which you’re served from the funeral procession of a line suggests something else is up. Engo Grill takes that feeling of purchasing something fresh from the BBQ after your Under-9s sporting event and lets it wilt in packaging beneath fluorescent counter lights. Each burger is a corpse waiting to be withdrawn, tagged, and identified.
We began with the Classic Engo Burger—beef, cos lettuce, pickles and sauce on bun—and, at this point, I have to commend the USU for the price point. At $6.90 ($5.85 ACCESS), the Union is finally gesturing towards a sustainable price for students and, now that they’ve proven they can, they would do well to apply a similar discount to the sandwiches they serve elsewhere. How do I know they won’t? Well, the Classic Engo Burger isn’t particularly good.
The patty is a dense, round colon of meat, in which onions are half-heartedly embedded, the way you might bury an animal in a shallow grave. The bun, which is positively Saharan in both colour and texture, absorbs all moisture from the sauce and then your mouth. But I’m glad I ordered another one: the Chicken Burger, which comes with a smokey sauce, lettuce, and “bell peppers” is fine and flavoursome, and only held back by that bun-dryness which, if it hasn’t been emphasised enough, is akin to dissolving packaging peanuts on your tongue.
Each refurbished USU outlet seems to be built around one signature dish, and while you would be forgiven for thinking the burgers are Engo’s, it’s actually the Ribs. Here, I have to take back what was said about value, as these ribs are $13 ($11.05 on ACCESS), which in my case worked out to roughly three bones and a humiliating sleeve of meat. Worse, the side coleslaw and chips are served draped over to conceal the anaemic portions of meat, almost embarrassingly so, as if the servers are conspiring with the chefs to minimise everyone’s guilt. The meat surrenders itself limply from the bone, less the way succulent meat should, and more like how an elderly relative passes away in the night. The menu promises “southern” flavour, which is accurate so long as you adjust your expectations for our continent. Engo Grill’s ribs taste like Adelaide and, like that city, the venue is a Monument to Nothing: an exercise in straining comfort food through a flavourless layer of muslin, and then having the gall to charge for it.
 This Americanism proves once and forever that the USU’s menus are focus- grouped in some far away nation and imported as written to be distributed among the slovenly masses. I guess what I’m saying is they’re capsicums, fuck!