Category Archives: Burgers

Bobby Flay Live! (But Not In Person)

Bobby Flay Burger and Fries Live!

Bobby Flay Burger and Fries Live!

Of all the Food Network celebrity chefs, Bobby Flay may be the most ubiquitous.  He was one of the first, and he’ll be one of the last — after the nuclear war, it’ll just be Bobby, grilling radioactive ancho-rubbed steaks for his merry band of roaches.  He’s hosted more than a dozen FN shows, including the forthcoming Beat Bobby Flay, not to mention being an original Iron Chef (America).  Although usually when I turn on FN these days, Guy Fieri is yelling at me through his peroxide-bleached, grease-slicked goatee.  Maybe I need to watch at different times.

Anyway, one might hope that a Food Network all-time-great would own great restaurants.*  Mesa Grill is supposed to be good, or at least used to be, I hear.  Haven’t been there.  One of Bobby’s newer endeavors is the Bobby’s Burger Palace chain, of which there is one at the Maryland Live! Casino in Hanover, across the driveway from the Arundel Mills outlet mall.  Bobby’s Burgers Live! It’s all so charming, there in the shadows of the discount shopping and the bleeping and blooping and bedazzling of the “slot machines” (21st Century slot-free).

* One might sometimes be disappointed.  Speaking of Mr. Fieri…

When you put “Burger” in your restaurant’s name, it had better live up, and I’m not sure Bobby’s burger does.  It looks good, sitting in front of you; all the parts are there, but deconstruction reveals flaws.  Like, the thick beef patty is insufficiently charred and lacks flavor.  Mrs. Me ordered medium and got medium; I ordered medium-rare and got medium.  Beats well-done, but still, I expected hoped for better accuracy and more juiciness.  Toppings are okay, nothing special.  And the sesame seed bun is the biggest fail, not nearly big or sturdy enough to handle the large burger and burger accessories.  We didn’t try the “crunch burger” (potato chips inside the bun), which is part of Bobby’s burger shtick.  I don’t think potato chips would have helped much, although the extra salt would have been welcome.

Maybe you are supposed to drown the burger in sauce.  There are five to choose from: ketchup and mustard, plus the (1) creatively-named “burger sauce,” kind of ancho-flecked bbq, our favorite of the five but still not really my preferred burger moistener; (2) “chipotle ketchup” because Bobby = chipotle, but it didn’t taste much different than regular ketchup ; and (3) “jalapeño hot sauce,” not particularly hot and also weirdly pale and glutinous, like the chef whipped up a big batch of corn starch gastrique and infused it with just a few jalapeño shards.

The best sauce is the sixth sauce (I see hungry people!) — the “fry sauce” which is like Shack Sauce (or 1,000 Island dressing) but with a nice chili kick.*  Fry sauce is what I want on my burger, as well as my fries, if only there were more of it (I probably could have asked for more).  It comes in a little dish next to the fries, which are pretty good themselves, thin-cut, crisp outside, fluffy inside, appropriately salted, and presented in a nice metal pot.  I suspect they may be from frozen, though.

* I should disclose that I am naturally biased in favor of creamy orange things: fry sauce, creamsicles, Dutch speed skaters.

Oh, each burger comes with a big dill pickle slice — those are good.

Should have tried a shake? Maybe. I might have tried a margarita, but the only one listed on the menu was some foofy frozen prickly pear situation, and homie don’t play that.  Around the corner, at least at the Maryland Bobby Flay Live! location, there is a full bar, so I could have had a regular margarita, but by the time I figurered that out, the moment had passed.  You can’t see the bar from the line. I say that’s a marketing fail.

Bun fail, marketing fail…for the money, I found less value at Bobby’s Burger Palace than at the similarly-priced, superiorly-burgered Five Guys or Shake Shack or BGR.  The other main drawback to BBP is the oddly retro multilinear seating, with few (no?) real tables, just a series of zigzagging counters, resulting in constant traffic right in front of you no matter where you sit, which I found distracting.  Not distracting enough to make me forget about the problems with the burgers, but still.

They also spend quite a bit of space and effort selling Bobby Flay — books, sauces, t-shirts, burgers, Bobby Flay is omnipresent. Bobby Flay! The food isn’t bad, I’m confident there are significantly worse options at Arundel Mills, but I certainly wouldn’t rush back.  Fortunately (on multiple levels) Mrs. Me is primarily in charge of the household outlet shopping, and I don’t expect to be within eating distance of Maryland Bobby Flay Live! for a long time.

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I, For One, Welcome Our Future Cheeseburger Overlords

Bolt Burger's Bolt Burger

Bolt Burger’s Bolt Burger

Reading last weekend’s WaPo write-up on Bolt Burgers (“coming soon” – where have I heard that before? – to 1010 Massachusetts Ave. NW, bringing allegedly “high impact toppings” and “glorious sides”) and their high-tech system for allowing hamburger procurement without any human interaction (sweet!) made me wonder what other burger technology innovations have recently been perpetrated.  It turns out, lots.  The burgers will be taking over the world any time now.  They may have already taken over Congress — who could tell?

The biggest recent news is surely the world’s first lab-grown burger, created in a Netherlands lab, cooked by a Brit, and tasted by an Austrian who first said “it’s close to meat, but it’s not that juicy” and ten seconds later “this is meat to me” so, ambivalence?  She did not compare it to strudel.  The lab-burger project was funded by Google co-founder Sergey Brin, so at least the U.S. played some role, I would hate to think we are being outmaneuvered on the international Frankenstein burger front.

Although it turns out most burger innovation indeed happens in foreign lands.  For example, in Japan, Burger King is offering the Black Ninja burger, involving a blackened bun, hash browns, and a comically oversized slice of ham.  Viewed from above, it looks like a geoduck dressed for battle.  And in China, noted burger experts KFC have introduced the Beef Up, featuring six layers of thin-sliced beef, supposedly to keep it moist.  Nothing in this paragraph makes any sense.

Back to Japan, we have the Liberation Wrapper, “a burger holding device that allows women to tear into [Freshness Burger’s] largest item (the “classic burger”) with abandon.” Because, you know, women otherwise would not be able to eat burgers.  Or they could only eat abandoned burgers, or something.  Japanese culture!  This product was featured on this past weekend’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, as the one true story, I believe.

Then there is CheeseburgerTech, which has nothing to do with cheeseburgers and may not even be a real company.

Of course, none of these new burgery developments compare to classic early 1980s burger technology.  One of my favorite Apple II games.

In the Future, All Burgers Will Be JerryBuilt

Fries, Chili Dog, Cheeseburger

Fries, Chili Dog, Cheeseburger

It’s like a WWE Royal Rumble in hamburger land, with Five Guys and BGR and Ray’s and Good Stuff and so many others all smacking each other around, trying to toss one another out of the ring. Eye rake! Smashburger with a folding chair to the back of Elevation Burger’s head! But wait, what’s that?  Could it be…yes…that’s Jerry Built’s music!

We have seen the burger future and it is JerryBuilt. The first one just opened a couple of weeks ago in Houston, luckily coinciding with our visit, and it is the proverbial bomb.  A winning combination of quality food and design (a huge steel cow silhouette looms over the building), with a sleek modern facade and open, high-ceilinged interior.  Lots of glass and chrome and pendant lighting and plants and just interesting space, and you can watch them carving up the meat and frying the fries and shaking the shakes.  Sweet digital soda dispensers too, with more than a dozen options.  Service is good, the only negative is the intercom system; “Mrs. Me, your order is ready” sounds like the classic Peanuts adults’ “wawaWAwawawaaaaWAWAwawa…”

The House That Jerry Built

The House That Jerry Built

But the food maketh the restaurant, and all the food wins here. JB gets most of its ingredients locally, organically, sustainably (the usual buzzwords apply), similar to Elevation Burger but far better; we noted the potatoes were from Colorado.  But how many burger places outside of 5G and JB discuss their potatoes’ provenance?  Everything certainly seemed fresh.  Like most burger joints, the beef comes well-done, but unlike some, here the meat is sufficiently high-quality and well-seasoned that the doneness doesn’t matter.  So the beef is good, the toppings are all fresh and good — their “Ernie’s Sauce” is just another 1,000 Island variation, with bigger pickle chunks than most.  What really make the burgers are the house-made rolls, which are wonderful, eggy, just crisp on the exterior but pillowy inside, with perfect bun-burger ratios.  Great burger, a dollar or two more than Five Guys but better thanks to the bun and better toppings; cheaper than BGR or Ray’s and just as good.

Fry Salt With "Spices"

Fry Salt With "Spices"

Fries are also great, fresh, crinkle-cut and crisp, with plenty of delicious seasoning.  Exactly what’s in the seasoning is a mystery, since one of the listed ingredients is “spices” — MSG?  Heroin?  Whatever, it works. You don’t need to add extra salt to the fries, but every table boasts a big shaker just in case. Mrs. Me also tried a chili dog and said it was good but nothing special, and on the small side.  Size does matter?  The burgers do not suffer from size deficiency nor do the fries.  Jerry Built also does milkshakes, about as well as all the other upscale-fast burger emporia do them.  Still haven’t tried Good Stuff shakes, but so far, they all seem the same to me.  Then again I am not the shake connoisseur.

Anyway, the place looks great, food tastes great, prices are reasonable (like a regular fries is about 2/3 the size of the Five Guys version, just as tasty, and only $1.99; I forgot to write down burger prices and the website doesn’t say, but I think it was around $7 including bacon and cheese) (excellent, gooey American cheese…).  Only question is, how quickly will they expand beyond Houston? I am ready to open a franchise in Wheaton RIGHT NOW.

Elevation Burger Revisited

Revisited, and better than our first Wheaton Mall Elevation expedition.  This time the beef had actually been seasoned and tasted pretty good, despite still being overcooked — just as with Five Guys, we will have to learn to live with Elevation’s well-done burgers. Conversely, the fries were woefully underdone last time but this time came out nicely fried, even kind of crisp, and well-salted: much improved if still not quite Five Guys quality.  The main issue now is that the perfectly tasty but unsubstantial bun isn’t big enough to handle the big hunks of beef, not to mention the toppings, so I continue to recommend getting the “kids” burger (just one patty).  The chocolate shake, made from Blue Bunny ice cream, was good but not worth all the raves people give it and not sure it’s worth $5.  Mrs. Me liked it all better than I did, and Elevation Burger is a fine option if you’re at the Wheaton Mall and hungry and not in the mood for dim sum.  Service remains efficient and very friendly, they use healthy ingredients, and if they upgrade their buns they’ll really be cooking.

Shake Shack @ Dupont Circle

Well, almost at the Circle.  Finally made it over to the Shake Shack at Connecticut and 18th Street, and sure enough, the food all tastes the same as it does in NYC.  I know, I know, I was shocked too.  I love their charred burgers with shack sauce on a perfectly proportioned potato roll.  Fries are nothing special and yet actually better than I remembered, and with all the mayo, mustard and ketchup you can eat!  Mmmm, condiments. My friend got the shroom burger — a large fried portobello mushroom with cheese, lettuce, tomato — and said it was very good although not quite what he was expecting (not sure what he was expecting!).  I wanted to try a shake or a concrete but it was below freezing outside, we had walked all the way from the Hirshhorn, I was by that point essentially a block of ice with legs, and I just couldn’t bring myself to ingest ice-cold substances.  Although maybe that would have brought my body into harmony from the inside-out…

Elevation Burger Open @ Wheaton Mall

Today’s Wheaton Mall action began unusually early thanks to Nike’s annual release of its latest Air Jordan sneakers. Hordes gathered well before dawn at malls across the country, including Westfield Wheaton.  If people choose to go to the mall before dawn to wait for hours in a crowd, in the cold, to spend nearly $200 on a pair of shoes that in most cases will never be worn (collectors’ item!), I guess more power to ’em.  Our neighbors to the north are shocked and awed. At least there was no malfeasance in Wheaton, despite some erroneous tweetingto the contrary.

Elevation Burger Sprawl

Unfortunately, thanks to what we believe was WUSA Channel 9’s helicopter, Mrs. Me and I woke up just after 6am.  We live pretty close to the mall, and the chopper hovered low, seemingly right over our house, for nearly an hour, finally leaving at precisely 7am.  The bird was black with no discernable markings, and we did not get out the binoculars to try to get the N number from the tail (which is evidently necessary info in order to file a complaint with the FAA — which we will do next time).  So it may not have been WUSA, but both local and state police say the helicopter wasn’t theirs, and WUSA has its aerial footage online, so…not a happy way to be woken up. I’m already boycotting Nike (don’t get me started) and now I’m adding WUSA to my list.  The list only goes to three (I have not set foot in a Wal-Mart since October 1995). But I somewhat digress…

All I see is beef...

Anyway, from the can’t beat ’em, join ’em department, I went over to the (helicopter-free since 7am!) mall for lunch at the new Elevation Burger outpost, which just opened on Wednesday. I’d never been to any EB location and my hopes were cautiously high, buoyed by the sparkly new space and friendly efficient employees — EB has done a good job hiring and training, at least. I’ve been eager for an “upscale fast” burger joint to open in  Wheaton, and in theory at least EB would qualify.

I wish they did a better job with their food, which is laudably fresh, organic, sustainable, etc. but also (alas) under-seasoned and poorly assembled.  Their main offering is the Elevation Burger, two (grass-fed) beef patties with choice of toppings — I chose cheese, sauteed onions, pickles, and “Elevation Sauce,” a typical burger place orange Thousand Islandy spread.  All the toppings were fine, and the cheese was both nicely melted and of a higher quality than you get at most burger places. The beef was well-done and kind of dry, but also only minimally charred on the outside, and needed salt: altogether lacking in flavor, despite the high-quality beef (although you could argue that if you’re going to use high-quality grass-fed beef in a burger, you’d better not overcook it, which is the primary problem here).  This was compounded by a poor bun-to-burger ratio: the plain, lightly toasted, standard burger bun was nowhere near substantial enough to contain the burger.  The ratio would probably be better on the single-patty burger offering, charmingly called the “Kid’s Burger” — wonder how many adults will be ordering that?  But that’s what I would do, and I would also load up on toppings, which seem to be the most Elevated part of the experience.

Elevation Fries

The thin-cut fries were also mildly disappointing, despite being fresh and having nice potato flavor: they could use a crisper exterior, and also need more salt.  The portion size is fine (520 calories!), yet considerably smaller than the similar-priced (and superior flavored) Five Guys fries.  In fact, the prices and menu options are similar to Five Guys across the board, but the Elevation food just doesn’t measure up in flavor or ultimately in value.

A final caveat: EB takeout paper bags are too thin to withstand the combination of steam and grease released by the food, mine nearly tore in half before I even got to my car (parked in a far corner of the ridiculously crowed mall parking lot — it’s almost like today was a big shopping day or something). Use two hands! Or better yet, go to Five Guys.  Or, if you have the time and money, go to BGR…or Ray’s…

Recent Returns: BGR The Burger Joint

I think I prefer the onion rings at bgr:shack — crunchier, more flavor, and $1 less per order, though the order is a bit smaller and BGR The Burger Joint’s rings are nice big slices.  And Mrs. Me and I still prefer the Five Guys fries, the freshest and potato-y-est around, though BGR’s fries have improved over the past couple of years.

But ultimately it’s about the burger, and BGR’s burger is the best we’ve had (though we still haven’t been to Ray’s Hellburger or Good Stuff).  If you ask for medium-rare at BGR, you actually get medium-rare. The beef is juicy and has the best beefy flavor of any local burger we’ve found.  Burger-to-bun ratio is excellent, and the bun is sturdy enough to deal with all the burger juice runoff.  It isn’t cheap — $6.99 for the basic plus another $1 if you want cheese, and $1 more for bacon.  Well, I guess it is cheap compared to the burger at Palena, or buying a house in Cleveland Park. Anyway, this is a case where you get what you pay for.

The juxtaposition of modern design with classic rock art/background music is also a lot of fun.