It used to be the case that a burger was just a burger. It was greasy and cheap. When did the burger become elevated to a gourmet food? And when did opening a gourmet burger shop become the new thing to do? Burgers and milkshakes are the focus of the newest burger joint to hit DC streets: Bobby Flay’s Bobby’s Burger Palace or “BBP” for short.
Recently, I hit the streets, checking out BBP, Shake Shack, and BGR The Burger Joint to see what the fuss was all about. Which is my favorite? Read on! The answer isn’t simple. Each place offers its own variations — some better than others — on the classic burger.
My first stop was Shake Shack. The menu is straightforward, boiling down to the following burger choices: burger, cheeseburger, vegetarian portabella mushroom burger, and the “Shake Stack” (beef patty + portabella mushroom). The burgers come with a few simple toppings, upon request — lettuce, tomato, onions, and pickles. Depending on whether you get a single or a double, burgers cost between about $5 and $9. Shake Shack also offers fries, hot dogs, a whole menu of frozen custard offerings (including milkshakes, beer and wine, and gluten-free options. All items on the menu are purportedly trans-fat free.
The Shackburger was juicy with a nice fat content (less fat than let’s say a Five Guys burger) and the vanilla-chocolate milkshake was thick and decadent. (In case you’re wondering, my camera freaked out and I lost the picture of my Shake Shack feast. Sometimes technology is not my friend!). It came on a buttered, toasted potato bun, topped with lettuce, tomato, American cheese, and Shake Shack’s “Shock Sauce”. My guess is that the Shock Sauce is mayonnaise based and perhaps contains red peppers. It complemented the burger quite nicely.
On to Bobby Flay. Bobby’s Burger Palace does everything with a little more splash. They offer a classic burger served with lettuce, American cheese, tomato, and onion. But where they distinguish themselves is with a menu of burgers (about $8 ea) containing toppings inspired by the U.S. cities they are named after. For example, the Philadelphia Burger, reminiscent of a Philly cheese-steak, comes with grilled onions, provolone cheese, and hot peppers. The Miami burger, similar to a Cubano, comes with ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and mayo. My friend “Fancypants” and I opted for the Philadelphia Burger and the L.A. Burger, which came with avocado relish, watercress, cheddar cheese, and tomato. We crunchified. As I mentioned in another post, “crunchifying” is a Bobby Flay-ism that means topping your burger with Lay’s-type potato chips. We split an order of sweet potato fries, and, because we weren’t consuming quite enough calories, we each ordered a “spiked” milkshake.
My favorite part of our meal was the vanilla, caramel and bourbon milkshake. Superb. I was surprised because I really do love chocolate (and my mocha Kahlua vodka milkshake was good), but my friend clearly ordered better on that one.
Both burgers were juicy, but I thought Shake Shack’s were juicier. Crunchifying didn’t do much for me. The sweet potato fries were thin and crispy. I liked the chipotle ketchup and a jalapeno hot sauce that are two of several squeeze bottle-contained condiments that decorate the tables.
BGR The Burger Joint
Ok, this one may be my favorite of the three.
The first thing that struck me about BGR was the ambiance. BGR is like the “cool” burger joint. There’s a disco ball hanging in the front, rock music blaring through the speakers, track lighting that you’d expect to see on a film set, and paintings of famous rock album covers decorating the walls. Even the machine that dispenses your favorite fountain drinks is high-tech and made me go “Ooooh!” I’ll admit it — I liked it all.
But, what about the beef?? I’m getting there. BGR beef comes from grain-fed, free range cattle, with no added fillers, antibiotics, or hormones. The beef is prime, dry aged for an undisclosed period of time, and ground fresh. The list of burgers is a list of accolades. There’s “The Cuban” ($8.99), a burger topped with roasted pork, Serrano ham, pickles, mustard, and Swiss cheese. Tom Sietsema raved about this one in his 2008 Dining Guide (Note: BGR is the only burger place listed in Sietsema’s 2010 Dining Guide). There’s “The Greek” ($12.99), which apparently won in a throwdown against Bobby Flay on — you guessed it — The Food Network’s “Throwdown with Bobby Flay”. There’s “The Lobster” ($14.99), which the Washingtonian raved about.
Finally, we get to the big mama: “The 9 Pounder” ($79.99). It is in fact made with a 9 lb. beef patty topped with two heads of lettuce, 8 tomatoes, 3 red onions, 4 whole pickles, and a whole lot of mojo sauce. The total weight of this burger, including bun and condiments, clocks in at 15.4 lbs and has been featured on several TV shows. If one person can eat this mother, than it’s free. Oh dear. I think my stomach is stretching just thinking about it! As with any self-respecting burger shop, BGR also serves up onion rings, fries, and milkshakes.
Contrary to what you might have guessed, I did not order “The Greek.” I am not THAT predictable. Instead, I went with their classic “The Burger” which comes with your choice of lettuce, tomato, pickles, griddled onions, and mojo sauce (BGR awesome sauce). I skipped the onions but otherwise got the works and threw in some cheddar cheese for an additional $1. I also ordered a side of asparagus spears. Yeah, you read that right. BGR serves its asparagus grilled and tossed with salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese.
NOW I know why the menu reads like a list of accolades. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal and I think it was my favorite so far. The Burger came with a nice juicy, well-seasoned beef patty. The beef itself had a really nice depth of flavor — undoubtedly developed through the dry aging process and finished off by charring the beef on the open grill. The mojo sauce seemed to be some variation of Thousand Island dressing. The brioche bun was buttery and toasted.
I’m intrigued by many of the other choices on the menu and would like to go back and check them out . . . after I’ve worked off my last three burger meals.
At the end of the day, I can’t say I quite get this whole burger craze. I love a good burger, but I don’t really discriminate that much. Usually, if I’m really hung over (Mom, that really never happens), I go for Five Guys. (I may even go there when I’m sober). But paying a few extra bucks to get a nice, char-grilled, high-quality burger may not be completely crazy.
Alas, my work is not over. I do this for you, my lovely readers! Rest assured, I’m working my way through the DC burger world which means I still have to hit Good Stuff Eatery, Ray’s Hell Burger, , and Thunder Burger, among others. And, I have not forgotten that Top Chef All Stars winner Richard Blais announced in 2009 that he would be bringing Flip Burger Boutique to DC’s Penn Quarter. Recently, he told the Washington Post that he still plans to open a DC location but that negotiations for the Penn Quarter space fell through. He’s hoping to lock down space and possibly open by the end of this year. Ambitious. I guess I’ll have to add that to my list of burger places to try.
Send me your recommendations! Who makes your favorite burger? Where should I go next? Stay tuned for updates on the DC burger wars! (Off to take a nap now!).