In the beginning there was McDonalds, and it was good (fries, anyway), and McDonalds begat Burger King, and Burger King begat Wendy’s, and Wendy’s begat a flood of burger joints griddling two-by-two from California (In-n-Out, animal style!) to Virginia (Five Guys), and eventually there came to pass the Shake Shack, but only in New York, and now in DC, and also BGR “the Burger Joint” and also brgr:shack, and with all these acronyms and shacks and joints and sizzling the philistines were sore confused.
All of which is to ask, is this 21st Century burger proliferation like manna from heaven, or is it more like a plague of french-fried locusts? Or does it depend on which translation you buy? If a hotel chain starts putting Gideon’s Burgers in the bedside table, I would give that chain my business, at least once.
I am on record as liking Shake Shack (though not if I have to stand in a long line) and BGR, and last week we finally caught up with brgr:shack (4215 Fairfax Drive, Arlington) (does that make them the holy ghost in this scenario?). There have been rumblings of lawsuits among these three entities, who share pieces of names (coincidence?), but their food is pretty different in style, as different as upscale burger joints can be, anyway.
brgr:shack wins on sides, especially their thick crunchy onion rings in peppery batter; unlike most onion rings, the coating stays on the onion, and you can take a series of bites without dragging the onion naked and flaccid all over your plate. There’s a secret to great onion rings, and evidently brgr has found it. Fries are also excellent, crisp outside and fluffy inside, well-seasoned, thin-cut and probably from frozen but who cares, they taste great. It all comes with “Shack Sauce” for dipping — now there’s a Shake Shack lawsuit waiting to happen.
I wasn’t as crazy about the brgr itself, which looked all right: big, with perfect bun-to-beef ratio, fresh tomato and lettuce and fully melted cheese. But the grass-fed beef was dense and chewy, with less-than-expected flavor, and while juicy enough to soak the bun with grease, it was simply overcooked (well-done; we were not asked how we wanted them). BGR’s burgers are better for their willingness to cook genuinely medium-rare; if brgr can do that*, I will call them the overall superior restaurant, especially given that BGR costs nearly 50% more than brgr (or SS).
* maybe they can and we just hit them at a bad time or got unlucky — such is the danger of a review based on a single visit.
Anyway, brgr:shack has promise. The space is clean, white, modern, sparsely decorated. It would be loud if it were crowded. Good happy hour specials, something like $2 Yuenglings from 3-8pm weeknights.
We finished with a shake (menu says: “delicious shakes”!) from coffee ice cream for $5, and it was pretty good (to non-profanely paraphrase Vince Vega) but I don’t know if it was worth $5. Speaking of which, if a Jack Rabbit Slim’s opens around here, I will so be there…