As promised, I've ventured out a few more times in the hot summer weather to try the various burger joints popping up around town. I'm sure glad that I did!! Both Ray's Hellburger and Good Stuff Eatery live up to the hype. Both offer a mouthwatering sandwich, though my vote (and I'm as surprised by this as anyone) goes to Spike Mendelsohn's Good Stuff.
I first tried Ray's...As an Arlington resident, I was excited about the prospect of walking to dinner to be fed by carnivore-pleasing chef Michael Landrum without a ridiculous reservations policy. I ordered the soul burger, which was delicious, but perhaps a bit over-topped. What left me smiling was the juicy, salty goodness of the generous 10 ounce patty. In the future, and there will be future visits, I'll likely go with simple toppings; lettuce, tomato, and a slice of cheese from the impressive selection offered. By the time I return, however, I do hope that Ray's is serving up a new bun...This seems to be a pervasive complaint. The sogginess, which led to a complete collapse of my burger, left the only tarnish on an otherwise enjoyable dining experience.
While I originally questioned the decision to not offer fries, the watermelon and buttered corn were perfect accompaniments. If not enough, there are numerous bottled soda and bagged chip offerings. The line was lengthy, but we were able to take home our meal within 15 minutes (finding a seat may have been more of a challenge). The crowd was varied, from extended families to the usual Arlingtonian yuppies picking up dinner after work. All in all, a nice place to either gather or take out.
In the end, I was left with newfound respect for Landrum's bovine prowess. Even with a burger, he serves up the same quality and consistency we've come to expect at Ray's the Steaks. Here, Landrum's meat is king!
Across town, a week later, a friend and I waited out the line at Good Stuff Eatery for a weekday lunch. Even at 1:30, it took about 25 minutes between standing in line and being served. Can you imagine the noontime rush? My first impression was wow, this place must be raking it in. I soon found out why people are willing to wait. I ordered Spike's 5 napkin burger, complete with maple bacon, cheddar cheese, a fried egg, brioche bun, and Good Stuff Sauce (which, as usual, is a "secret sauce" of thousand island dressing). Indeed, about 2 minutes in, I looked down and laughed because donning my lap were no less than five napkins. Five napkins soaked in deliciousness!
OMG, Yum....and as if the burger weren't enough, the toasted marshmallow shake, served up by Spike himself, was pure childhood delight. At $5, it's a bit pricey, but large enough to split. I really have no complaints, including the village fries, seasoned with rosemary, thyme, and ground pepper. Flavorful and crisp! My dining partner, a vegetarian, was busy raving about her portobello burger, stuffed with cheddar and muenster, or as she called it, a "volcano" of cheese. I tried a bite, and while scrumptious, I think that the mushroom was actually heavier than my burger!
Customers tended to be professionals, though some tourists had found their way over. We had to laugh, as they seemed a bit overwhelmed by the scene. The space is cozy, but with outdoor seating, there are ample chairs. Mendelsohn runs a tight ship, and the system works efficiently. And even though I wanted to hate this celebrity poser, I couldn't. He was friendly and working diligently, busy mixing shakes and sorting orders (even more so than Landrum who more holds court while forming burger patties). In fact, the entire staff managed to be friendly while processing all of the customers running through the line. The experience as a whole, plus the comparable strength of my brioche bun, wins the hamburger prize.
I have to say, this is a trend that may add to my waistline, but of which I'm a fan. The varied offerings, with the added bonus of less stomach pain that I usually experience from Five Guys, make me happy. Simply happy.