Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Two All Beef Patties...

What better way to start off the new food blog for America's city than with a post dedicated to America's meal, the hamburger.

The Post finally picked up on the emergence of establishments dedicated to the patriotic sandwich. In just the last week (to coincide with most patriotic of holidays, no doubt), we've seen the much anticipated Good Stuff Eatery and Ray's Hell-Burger open their respective doors. These two follow on the heels of several other recent additions to the emerging market, including Big Buns in Arlington, Z-Burger in Tenley Circle, BGR in Bethesda, Urban Burger in Rockville, and Elevation Burger in Falls Church. Wow, that's a mouthful, of beef.

So far, I've only tried Big Buns, and I'm hoping that is not an indicia of the entire genre. While the top-your-own concept creates a niche, the burger just isn't enough to trek it out to Ballston again. Other offerings in the vicinity, including Ted's Montana Grill, a chain, but a chain with really good buffalo burgers, are more tempting. The meat itself is the problem at Big Buns - it just has no flavor; the bun and fries are forgettable as well. And if I want pineapple, or an egg, or salsa on top of my burger, I can go to Red Robin and find a comparable alternative.

A visit to Good Stuff is planned for next week, after the throngs of women throwing themselves at cute little Fedora-wearing Spike settle down a bit. I'm hopeful, and pleased to see the toasted marshmallow shake on the menu. While I understand the burger purest perspective (obviously, the quality of the meat is important), ingenuity in a now saturated market is appreciated. Hopefully, Spike's ego doesn't get in the way of a hometown boy making good.

The Post, though late to the punch, does raise two interesting questions in it's piece; (1) whether these joints can surpass the now readily available Five Guys, and (2) whether this trend is correlative to the struggling economy.

The truth is - Five Guys started early, and then they started often, expanding rapidly. It's not an overstatement to say that Five Guys owns the take-out burger market in and around DC. Back when I was a recent DC transplant, and in desperate need of a burger, Five Guys was really the only option. I quickly found one of the five original Five Guys, enjoying my first taste at the Old Town location. Now, however, I don't have to walk much further than the nearest Starbucks to find the nearest Five Guys close by. I've never really been one for a fast food burger, and my occasional West Coast trysts with In-and-Out and Fatburger (rumored to be opening semi-locally soon) are not enough to unseat Five Guys from it's rightful place. There is a time and place for Five Guys - I don't see these new gourmet as competition, but entirely different dining experiences. Five Guys has its own market - it is the once and future
DC casual "burger king".

Now, as to whether the currently stagnant economy is the driving force behind the recent carnivorous trend, I'm going to take this proposition with a grain of salt. In the midst of summer, the temptation to grill out is ever-present and usually less expensive then eating out, even for a casual gourmet burger. I also had to wait well past my reservation at my last visit to Central, where the burger costs as much as three courses at more casual outposts. (In a piece devoted to the almighty burger, I should note that I do think Central's, though a bit snooty, is undoubtedly the best in town.)

I'm going to posit that the driving force behind this trend is just that, the culinary need to be trendy, a la the artisan pizza blossoming (Comet Ping Pong, Mia's Pizzas, American Flatbread Kitchen, Cafe Pizzaiolo, Red Rocks) of the last year and a half or so. As DC becomes a more refined and current culinary marketplace, it's only natural that trends will run their course.

Perhaps I'm getting a little carried away for my first post. So, I'll wrap this one up. One last note before I go - while trends are fun, don't forget the classics. Ollie's Trolley - a dive, and a tourist trap, but always good for a bite of DC burger heaven.

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