‘Quite possibly the best veggie burger ever made’ — I agree

It’s been a while since I’ve written about burgers in this blog. They used to appear on a regular basis here, but then I got simultaneously better at eating and worse at blogging. So, let’s catch up, shall we?

The best burger I ate in 2014 was the brisket burger at Collins Quarter in Savannah. The place initially turned me off with its airs, but a second trip put the food front-and-center (and the service was friendlier). The brisket burger was a revelation. For a while now, I’ve loved both brisket and burgers. I’ve never thought of them together. The Collins cooks got the done-ness just right, I’m sure, but the choice of brisket contributed mightily to one of the most tender, juicy burgers I’ve ever tasted.

In other news, Shake Shack arrived in Washington. Or, I should say, arrived in a more accessible way in Washington. The long lines at Dupont and the ballpark were never for me, but the size and speed of the Shack’s Union Station outlet was just right. I liked their burger but didn’t love it. I would put it a close third behind Five Guys and then Elevation Burger. (Shack fries, any style, do not come close, sadly.)

But — the reason for my posting today — one area where Shake Shack has won my heart (and slowed it a little until I go for a run tonight) is veggie burgers. I’m no fan of veggie burgers, but I do love mushrooms. I tried Shake Shack’s ‘Shroom Burger today and came away wowed. The burger is a fried portobello mushroom with cheese stuffed inside. Yes, let me be clear: the ‘Shroom Burger is not a health food. Half your daily saturated fat comes inside it (terrifying PDF of Shake Shack nutrition). But it’s healthier than most other Shake Shack options. If that helps.

I’m glad Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me‘s Sandwich Monday team has covered the ‘Shroom this month. I like Sandwich Monday a great deal, and my only knock on the feature is that it sometimes fails to express a clear option whether a food is delicious or not. (This is the occasional price of humor.) But there’s no such trouble this time. Final graf: “The verdict: quite possibly the best veggie burger ever made. If a veggie burger were going to start a cult with a devout following made up of other, lesser veggie burgers, the ‘Shroom Burger would be the one to do it.”

Returning to the depths of Hell Burger

Forgive me. It has been more than a year since my last Hell Burger. To make up for my great burger failing, I went big during last week’s visit.

1. October 2008. Burger of Seville.
2. September 2009. Regular mushroom-and-swiss burger.
3. January 2010. Soul Burger Number One.
4. February 2010. The Dog Catcher.
5. September 2010. B.I.G. Poppa.
6. December 2011. Fat Joe.

Yes, the Fat Joe. “Seared Foie Gras with a Balsamic Glaze, White Truffle Oil, Crispy Shallots, Vine-Ripened Tomato.” The burger was somewhat reminiscent of the late Burger of Seville, from my first visit, which had seared foie gras, sauteed mushrooms, bordelaise sauce and truffle oil.

With Fat Joe, the shallots and tomato made for a lighter experience. I wasn’t sure whether I ordered the right size or not, though. Since my last trip, Ray’s added “Big Devil” and “Little Devil” sizes. I don’t recall which size they used to give to everyone. I got the Little Devil, a third-pounder, which was plenty big, but I wasn’t sure it was big enough.

Burgers I have yet to try on the list: The Mack, The New Jack Zing, Big Punisher, and Grilled Vegetable Stack. Zing is spicy, and Big Punisher’s even more so. Lori, who loves spice, didn’t beat the Zing without her eyes watering. These burgers scare me. But one day they too will fall.

Ladies and gentlemen, Ray’s Hell Burger #5

We can now update the list. Every burger has a story:

1. The $20 Burger of Seville, October 2008.

2. A regular mushroom & swiss burger,  September 2009.

3. Soul Burger No. 1, January 2010.

4. The bone marrow-laden Dogcatcher, February 2010.

5. “B.I.G. Poppa (We Love It When You Order B.I.G. Poppa),” last night, yes. “Au Poivre Burger With Black Peppercorn Crust, Aged Danish Bleu Cheese, Cognac & Sherry Sauteed Mushrooms, Grilled Red Onions.”

Friend Anne and I caught up on all things USAT, NPR and otherwise. As you’d imagine, there was a lot to say. (Another post-USAT moment this week? Showing up in the Gannett Blog, for only the second time ever. Thanks, anonymous Internet commenter!) I was a little disturbed not to see the “Let’s Get It On” on the menu — it’s likely my next burger there — but maybe that’s because the menu is slightly different at…

Top five new things at Ray’s since I last visited:

1.  Ray’s Hell Burger Too. A more spacious, sit-down dining room, a few doors down from Ray’s proper, but I think where Ray’s was previously.

2. They now ask you if you want lettuce and tomato. I’d deferred to my waiter, who said lettuce on, tomato beside. And they have waiters.

3. More characteristics of Hell Burger Too: They take credit cards. They serve beer. They have napkins. We paid cash and drank milkshakes.

4. Milkshakes. Pretty darn big ones too. Our waiter even warned us.

5. Wild burgers, like venison, on the menu. A sub for Ray’s The Game? If so, Jess, as we discussed long ago, this is where we’re headed.

Great day in Delaplane (which is also fun to say)

Days ago, looking for Memorial Day weekend plans, a few minutes of Googling turned up all kinds of potential goodness in Delaplane, Va.

We took to the highway today. Goodness was had. We stopped first at Barrel Oak, possibly my new favorite Virginia winery. Who knew land just off I-66 could be so peaceful? Just as importantly, Barrel Oak had all kinds of winning wine tastes. I may have purchased five bottles.

The winery was celebrating its second anniversary, and crowds grew bigger as we tasted and ate. But the staff had all running smoothly, and everyone was in a good mood. Between the broad porch and all the dogs in attendance, the occasional clouds didn’t matter a bit.

And about that food. On Saturdays, Local Sixfortyseven comes to the winery. Local Sixfortyseven is Derek and Amanda Luhowiak’s food cart.

Local… organic… amazing.

The Post touted their burgers as some of the area’s best, and we were overjoyed to find the Post dead on. My order came up in minutes, and it became an instant classic on my list of top burgers. Somehow, some way, it gave Ray’s Hell Burger a run for its money in my heart. Cooked to perfection. At this hour — the Local Sixfortyseven burger is winning.

Did Amanda know what was coming? No. Neither did Sheri or I. But we believed. Then we ate our burgers and dogs and cole slaw and melt-everywhere chocolate chunk cookies at a picnic table next to the vines.

Then we went inside, downstairs to see the production facilities. We saw giant Wizard of Oz-style doors, and a kind manager appeared out of nowhere to take us behind closed doors and show us a barrel room. She explained their plans for the place — big — and we thanked her.

From there, it was up the road to Delaplane Cellars, right on Route 17 and even younger than Barrel Oak. Only open since winter, Delaplane had live music going and beautiful windows and a porch overlooking the valley. This stop was a quick one, but I acquired two more bottles.

Were we in a hurry? No. Were we excited for our next stop? Yes. Were we headed to the annual Delaplane Strawberry Festival? You bet your strawberries we were. What did we do there? We went on a hayride, my first since kindergarten. We ate strawberries and whipped cream poured over pound cake. We watched kids throw rocks into puddles.

We petted animals. We met a park ranger. I walked on stilts, with the help of a man with 40 years of stilt-walking experience, and Sheri got a picture. Amanda bought about two million strawberries to take home.

Leaving work late Friday, after strange hours where no one else was in my wing of the building, I stopped by new colleague Heather’s office.

We talked about weekend plans — happy anniversary to her and her husband! — and she asked me which wineries I was visiting. Because, she said, “have you ever been to Barrel Oak?” She endorsed it whole-heartedly. On a separate topic, she gave me a copy of a book named The Art of Possibility. On a separate topic, but apparently not entirely.

BGR and questions

Walking into BGR early Wednesday night, the music was Springsteen, and I was sold. Playing was Tunnel of Love. Next up was Rosalita. I’d never heard that double-shot before in my life, and chances were this was the first time it had occurred outside of New Jersey since 1989.

Born to Run hung on a wall between Prince and plasma. ‘Nough said.

The burger place, subtitled “The Burger Joint,” next to The Italian Store — Lyon Village is so very declarative — was still working out the kinks. The kitchen was overcrowded, and orders were slow, even to the beer tap and back. The burger itself was decent, not yet of Elevation or Five Guys quality. The music was too loud to talk easily when we came in.

But they fixed the volume shortly. The bun and the toppings — lettuce, tomato, BGR-ordained mojo sauce for me — were delicious. The beer, while slow, was “Come back for refills” because there were no pitchers yet. (Sold.) The kinks were there, but in the words of The Animals, the intentions were good. The staff — some to stay, some to head back to the Alexandria franchise, some due for a coming Baltimore franchise — were uniformly friendly. I was glad to have them in Arlington for now.

I like the idea of it. Drive to Lyon Village shopping center, stride across the parking lot and road abutting those stores and ask oneself, staring at two doors, “Good Italian or good burgers?” How can one go wrong?

So, good stuff. A return visit is going to happen. In the restrooms, the music was the the Schoolhouse Rock take on the Preamble. Good stuff.

After, Emily and I made it to 31 Cent Scoop Night at the Baskin-Robbins up Lee Highway, 15 minutes before close. It was a good cause, aiding the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. The line had been out the door until an hour earlier, the clerk said, and he was smiling but beat. We got scoops and talked about the firehouse up the highway. When staff urged us out the door soon after, we left happily, without issue.

But a question. In BGR, there were two pictures we couldn’t identify. I e-mailed four music-loving friends for their guesses, with no luck. How about you? Midnight Oil — Beds Are Burning — was a guess on the first, but there seem to be one too few people. Just who are these people?

Transcendental burger

Yesterday brought trip #4 to Ray’s Hell Burger and my third burger off the house-special list, The Dogcatcher. A description is short but clearly hard-driving: “Roasted Bone Marrow, Persillade, Lettuce and Tomato.”

Persillade is just seasoning, Google tells me. Bone marrow, Wikipedia says, “has fallen out of favor as a food in the United States.” The brief “bone marrow as food” section manages to pass without a description of taste. To take a stab at one here… Hell Burger’s bone marrow looks like a jam made of crab meat, tastes like a butter sauce that magically lightens a burger’s flavor, and sounds like you have to go down to the junkyard, throw down your dogcatching net and fight snout to snout.

Or, as America’s most famous bone marrow-eatin’ literature declaims:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartanlike as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.

Thoreau concludes we bear a “strange uncertainty” about whether life comes from the devil or from God and “somewhat hastily” decide to go with God. Yesterday’s burger — yesterday’s Hell Burger — was similar.

The only failure of the trip? No photos. Four times now, I have taken a camera and planned to capture my Ray’s burger. And four times, I have forgotten. Eyes and gut have consistently beaten mind and processes. Unphotographed so far are the Burger of Seville in late 2008, a regular in September, a Soul Burger No. 1 in January, and now the Dogcatcher.

Seven specialty burgers to go at Ray’s. Next — the Let’s Get It On?

Working my way through the Hell Burger menu

Trip #1, October 2008.
“The Burger of Seville (Yes, you’re next. You’re so next!)”
Seared Foie Gras, Sauteed Mushrooms, Bordelaise Sauce, Truffle Oil.

Trip #2, September 2009.
Standard grilled, red center, with Swiss and Sauteed Mushrooms.

Trip #3, January 2010. Today!
“Soul Burger No. 1 (The Hardest Working Burger In Chow Business)”
Applewood Smoked Bacon, Swiss Cheese, Cognac and Sherry Sauteed Mushrooms, Grilled Red Onions. Introduced my parents to Hell Burger.

The meeting went well. Parents said the burgers among the best they had ever eaten. Next up? We continue our D.C.-area lobster roll hunt. Coastal Flats faired decently for us in October. Can Carlyle do better?

Next up for me on the Hell menu? “Let’s Get It On (We Are All Sensitive Burgers with So Much to Give)” because I’ve sung along at least twice in the car in the last week, “B.I.G. Poppa (We Love It When You Order B.I.G. Poppa)” because our work cafeteria has begun ripping off this one with delicious results, or maybe “The DogCatcher (Bow wow wow yippie yo yippie yay)” because I’ve never tasted bone marrow before.

First trip to Good Stuff: Let the burger battle begin


I didn’t want a war, particularly not in my mouth. But then I met friend Monica for lunch at Good Stuff Eatery and ordered Spike’s Sunny Side. Blurb: “Dairy Fresh Cheese, Maple Bacon & A Farm Fresh Fried Egg on a Brioche Bun With Good Stuff Sauce. 6.89 + lots’a napkins!” With the first bite, Ray’s Hell Burger had competition for my taste buds/hunger.

Not sure how I’d never made it there previously, but Good Stuff places itself squarely between Ray’s and Five Guys (and equally beloved, for me, Elevation Burger) on the fun end of the trouble-to-normal scale.

The day seems normal on the surface but is sci-fi underneath, like the moment of realization Will Smith has before he inevitably fights aliens or creatures or whoever. Except, in this movie, the creature is you.

Tribune continues its mastery of burger coverage

Metromix compiles an annotated photo gallery of all the things it loves about a classy new Chicago burger joint, DMK. Every frame is delicious.

On buns, saying something by being item #1: “Developed specifically for DMK over four months of trials, these toasty rounds, griddled up with sweet cream butter, are perfectly fitted to the 5-ounce patties.”

On cocktails: [Picture of pink drink.]

On mac and cheese, with an amazing picture: “Our pick: The No. 2, gruyere and rigatoni served over a thin layer of charred balsamic-marinated onions and topped with crunchy bits of bacon.”

On fries: “Our server declared the sweet potato variety with lemon-Tabasco aioli ($2) an early frontrunner, but we’d find it hard to resist ordering the parmesan-topped fries with truffle cream ($3) again.” … Parmesan-topped fries with truffle cream. Tremendously distracted.

On ice cream sandwiches: [Picture of ice cream sandwich.]

Hard truths about cheeseburgers

Kevin Pang concludes his service as Chicago Tribune Cheeseburger Bureau Chief with a gallery of recommendations and revelations.

“Look out, bacon. … Egg with runny yolk is the new sexy topping.”

“Ketchup and mustard are overrated as condiments. Too acidic and pungent, respectively. If you must, add a little. Underrated: mayo.”

“Steer clear of feta, bleu and brie as cheese options.”

I’m at a lot of losses these days, but among them I’m at a loss on my favorite burger. In the last few months, I’ve had Five Guys, Hell Burger, Elevation Burger, Counter Burger, GoodBurger, and a couple others.

Preparation has generally gone one of two ways — lettuce-tomato-mayo-American (with local red sauce if available) or mushroom-Swiss. The former has been exceptional more than the latter, but I haven’t taken the treatments head to head any place. I may give the edge to Five Guys. Pang points out the importance of the bun, and I agree. Probably need to go back to Hell and Elevation for more research.