Where can you get a three-star experience at one-star prices? Which hot new restaurant merits the scorching hype? The answer to all these questions and more can be found Tuesdays at 11 AM on Kliman Online.
From scoping out scruffy holes in the wall to weighing the merits of four-star wanna-bes, from scouring the ‘burbs and exurbs to hitting the city’s streets, Todd Kliman covers a lot of territory. Winner of a James Beard Foundation Award in 2005 for the country’s best newspaper column about food, Kliman is food and wine editor and restaurant critic for The Washingtonian. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Oxford American, The Daily Beast and Men’s Health, among others, and he has been selected four times for inclusion in the Best Food Writing anthologies. He is the author of The Wild Vine, a literary exploration of two entwined mysteries: an obscure grape that rose to prominence, only to disappear, and its present-day evangelist, a foul-mouthed transgendered multi-millionaire vintner on an obsessive quest to restore the legend of an antebellum southern doctor.
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Green Pig Bistro, Arlington
One of the best and most intriguing of the current crop of Hipster Farmhouse restaurants (dishtowel napkins, bluegrass in the air, repurposed wood and yard-sale tchochkes throughout). The chef, Scot Harlan, an alumnus of the kitchen at Inox, cooks with precision and clarity, making light of a plate of crispy pig tacos (the pig, here, is salty, crunchy matchsticks of julienned ears) and even a country-style pate. There’s a fantastic drinks menu, and a not-bad selection of Virginia wines, including a Michael Shaps Cab Franc that sells for $5 a glass; it’s a perfect match for the rich, porky treats.
You’d never find it if you weren’t looking for it. Situated in the fascinating industrial sector of Rockville, amid a slew of old warehouses and specialty supply stores, this cozy Korean mom ‘n’ pop is about as hidden as hidden gems get. The cooking is vivid and punchy–great bibimbap, served several ways, along with a parade of soups, noodle dishes and stir frys. Order a soju to wash it all down; the mango and watermelon are fresh and gently sweet, a good counterpart to the garlicky intensity of the food.
R&R Taqueria, Elkridge
Best Mexican food in the area, and it’s not even close. And–it’s in a gas station. Worth the drive to Elkridge.
Maple Avenue, Vienna
Some diners might be skeptical of splurging for $20 + entrees in a tiny, repurposed diner where the 8 tables are wedged together so closely the room can feel like one big dinner party when the drinks are flowing. Others might be skeptical of the menu, which bends in a dozen different directions, implying a kitchen with a scattered, be-everything-to-everyone vision — which is to say, no vision at all. But this is a surprisingly focused restaurant — and a surprisingly rewarding one, too, a place that feels like a personal statement, backed by an amiable staff that clearly aims to send you away smiling. The chef and owner, Tim Ma, does his part, too. He makes a mean shrimp and grits, and his beef cheek sandwich with beer battered fries is one of the best simple plates around. Don’t miss the bread pudding.
Society Fair, Old Town Alexandria
I find the room garish, the prices high, the mood presuming. I’m putting this on here on the strength of two terrific sandwiches — a fabulous baguette stacked with thin shaved ham and good mustard and lamb shoulder stuffed into a griddled flatbread with tangy yogurt and spinach — and a superlative wine list.
Fabio Trabocchi’s edge-of-Penn Quarter restaurant has put its tentative beginnings behind it. The dishes emerging from the brick-framed, herb-potted kitchen find the prodigiously talented chef moving further and further from the controlled elegance of his work at the late Maestro. They also find him cooking with a renewed confidence and conviction. The best of these plates–an astonishingly flavorful ragu of wild hare with thick bands of papardelle, a double-cut, prosciutto-wrapped veal chop with toasted hazelnuts that accent the sweetness and nuttiness of the meat, a bowl of tender meatballs in a tomato sauce that frankly puts most Italian grandmothers to shame–marry rusticity with refinement. Desserts–including a fabulous cone of sugar-dusted bomboloni, with pots of apple marmalade and cinnamon gelato–remain a rousing finish.
Sidebar, Silver Spring
Chef Diana Davila-Boldin, a Windy City native, has improved upon her Chicago dog — grilling the link, griddling the bun and overloading the ripe, fresh toppings. The result? The best dog in Washington, and better than any Chicago dog I have ever had in Chicago. I’d give this poolhall/hipster bar/cafe a spot on the list just for that, but I also love her mini-falafel, her homemade sausages, her cod fritters, and the cochinita tacos that amount to a glorious precis of El Chucho’s Cocina Superior — Jackie Greenbaum’s forthcoming “inauthentic Mexican” restaurant, in Columbia Heights.
Mintwood Place, DC
Perry’s owner Saied Azali was lucky to land Cedric Maupillier, formerly the chef at Central and before that the chef de cuisine at Citronelle, for his rusticky new bistro. The Toulon native is doing typically great work–cranking out lovingly faithful renditions of such bistro classics as cassoulet (see if you can finish it without two glasses of wine) and steak tartare (the tiny, crunchy tater tots on top are a clever allusion to his old boss, Michel Richard) as well as offering up some sly, smart takes on tradition (frogs’ legs with black walnut romesco, a lamb tongue moussaka). There’s a whole boneless dorade with picholine olives and braised fennel that’s a knockout–beautifully conceived, perfectly executed.
The largest Ethiopian restaurant in the country, according to owner Meaza Zemedu, if you count the butcher shop, grocery and banquet room in addition to the dining room itself. Which wouldn’t mean much at all if Zemedu wasn’t a talented cook who commands such a focused and consistent kitchen. Her wats, or long-simmered stews, are remarkable for their depth and length. The kitfo is superb, akin to a great beef tartare in its blending and balance of spices.
DC’s best wine bar is eating better than it has since its early months, thanks to new hire Rob Weland. The erstwhile Poste chef has brought a seasonal focus to the menu, a welcome development for all those who regard the place as a regular in their dining-out rotation. More important is his great gift for making complex combinations feel inevitable and for imbuing simple arrangements with subtle textures and touches.
East Pearl, Rockville
A superlative addition to the unofficial Chinatown of northern Rockville, this cheery, subtly modish restaurant is turning out uncommonly clean-tasting versions of standard Hong Kong-style fare, including shrimp dumpling soup, shrimp with walnuts, and soyed chicken — all spectacular. And don’t miss a Shanghai-style noodle dish that brings together angel hair, roast pork, shrimp, green onions and a generous spoonful of yellow curry powder into a light, greaseless and remarkably vivid whole.
Everyone has their own idea of what a burger should be–fat or skinny patty, grilled or griddled, soft or hard bun, cheese, no cheese, sweet pickles, sour pickles–absolutely no pickles! Today, your challenge is to argue your theory of the perfect burger. Walk us through your position on each part of the sandwich, and explain — with passion, with detail — what makes a burger great.
Feel free to bring in real-world examples (the cheese on the Shake Shack burger is perfect because….BGR’s buns aren’t quite right because…).
The winning entry wins a copy of Charred & Scruffed by grill guru Adam Perry Lang.
DC West Ender:
I celebrated my double-nickel (yep, 55th) birthday on Saturday night with three friends and had an extraordinary meal at Charleston Restaurant in Fells Point in Baltimore. I rarely if ever go to Baltimore, but I must say this is worth the trip! The food was exceptional, the service was formal yet friendly, there’s planty of room in between tables, the noise-level was quiet. I’d rank it in my top-five in the DC-now including Baltimore Region and I’m a foodie.
Have you been?
There’s a lot to like there, and I think you hit on a lot of what makes it a get-away sort of place. I just haven’t been that enamored of the food. For those prices, I want more finesse and more daring.
Anyone else out there been? I’d be interested in hearing what you have to say …
Thank you so much for doing this on a weekly basis. I’m a big fan.
My mom and brother are coming in right after I finish exams to visit. I made reservations at Blue Duck Tavern, since I love it and it’s right around the corner, and Fiola, which I’ve never done, but you seem to think very highly of. During the day on Saturday, I’m hoping to take them out towards Annapolis to do fresh crab. I’ve been to one place, I just have no idea what place it was. Do you have any recommendations for a place to have a fun experience with folks who’ve never done Maryland crab? Are they different enough from each other to make a difference?
I think the grandaddy of them all is Cantler’s Riverside Inn.
There’re a number of places in the area I like to go. Most are pretty fun places, and if the crabs are very decent-to-good you’re almost guaranteed a good time. Some are dives, like Bottom of the Bay, in Laurel, where you might think you’d just pulled into a biker bar. Some are more yuppified, like Bethesda Crab House.
A crabhouse is a pretty basic thing. You roll up your sleeves, you get a couple pitchers of beer (simple, cheap stuff, nothing with raspberry or pumpkin), and you settle in for a couple of hours of picking with friends or family.
What Cantler’s has going for it is a really picturesque view, overlooking Mill Creek, which empties into the Chesapeake. And the kitchen knows how to steam crabs; they’re almost never under- or over-steamed. (If I do find the occasional over-steamed one, I mention to a waitress and get an immediate replacement, sometimes two.)
A great place. A summertime must.
Also, it’s often the case that in summer — at least for a short window there — the crabs are actually coming from Maryland. The rest of the year, you’re most likely picking stuff from Mexico and Venezuela.
New Mexican in DC:
Do you have any suggestions for good places in the Alexandria area for Cinco de Mayo? I grew up in NM and feel the need to eat scorching spicy food and listen to mariachi music. Thanks!
The best I can offer you is Los Tios, in Del Ray.
Very, very decent.
I don’t know that it’ll satisfy those cravings, and I don’t recall ever seeing or hearing mariachis there. But as I say: very, very decent.
Chefs and fighting Obesity:
I saw an article/blurb last week on Washingtonian.com about José Andrés and NFL star Charles Woodson were sitting on panel together. Chef Andrés stated that he wished to make stadium food healthier, which I think is a noble cause and agree that as Americans we should be eating better.
At the same time, most of these chefs who want to fight obesity should take a look in the mirror themselves and help themselves before wanting to help others. Now, if José were to get himself in shape (and the chef has grown quite large over the years) and then tell people about the virtues of healthy eating and living right, I might be able to take him more seriously.
Todd, what is your opinion on the issue?
Just wanted to give my two cents this morning.
I understand what you’re saying.
I have a different bone to pick, which is that a chef with a huge platform like this — and the influence and resources to make things happen — ought to turn his attention elsewhere. Really — making stadium food healthier? That’s a cause of national concern?
Making fast food healthier, now there’s a worthwhile project. If a chef like Andrés — or Wolfgang Puck, or Jean-Georges Vongerichten, or any name-brand with multiple properties around the country and around the world — were to devote time and attention to improving the quality of fast food in this country, things would begin to change. Partner with investors and open 2,000 outlets of Fresh ‘N’ Fast, building off the Chipotle model. Get your chef friends to do the same. Make it a goal to have 25 such brands — with 2,000 quick-serve outlets — around the country in the next 10 years. High-quality ingredients (because chefs with buying power and influence can cut deals), cheap prices, accessible to all.
The food revolution has been a great thing. But it has produced a two-tier system. Many of us eat better than ever — with more variety and more excitement on the plate, and more options at stores and restaurants. And yet Americans are fatter than ever, and fast-food has never been more dominant, and in many areas it’s cheaper to get a McDonald’s burger than buy a bunch of carrots.
Slowing down, valuing what we eat, simplifying our lives — all the tenets of Alice Waters and her acolytes … these are nice things. But they require resources to begin with. Waters and Slow Food and all the other movements that are such forces today need to reckon, finally, with fast food and chain food and improve it. It’s not going away. Our world is too fast and scattered, and America is too much about speed and efficiency and mass culture to turn things back. Many, many people eat at places like McDonald’s and Applebee’s not because they don’t know better (I constantly hear folks in these movements talking about the need for “education”) but because these places are very affordable and very accessible.
I haven’t expressed this as well or as cleanly as I would have liked, aware of time constraints and the need to move on to the next question. These are quickly-typed thoughts, partially considered, and I hope they will be taken in that spirit, not analyzed as if I had spent a month constructing an argument.
Great Call on Mintwood Place! That was one of the best DC meals I have had in quite a while. My question for you is what similiar bistro style restaurant would you recommend right now? Would prefer if it is in DC. It was nice getting away from loud clubby music..
Closest to it right now is another new place, Green Pig Bistro, in Arlington.
Dishtowel napkins? Check.
Bluegrass on the sound system? Check.
Repurposed wood and tchotchkes? Check.
The other great similarity is that what looks offhand on the plate is actually the result of great care and very tight execution.
The place is right out of the box, and already functioning like a pretty vet operation.
Any tips for San Antonio? Going down there for a wedding this weekend. I’ve got 2 lunches, Friday dinner, and a burning hole in my belly for breakfast tacos that I need to do something about. We’re doing the Luling/Lockhart two-step on Saturday afternoon so more BBQ really won’t be necessary. Any ideas?
Sorry. Been a while since I’ve been.
I’d love to go back.
My advice, from last time — if anyone’s serving cabrito (baby pig), get it, get it, get it …
Not a burger post, but following-up to an earlier conversation on places worth the drive.
I’d venture to add a new category of places-worth-the-flight. My long-time list includes Arthur Bryant’s in KC, French Laundry, and the Herbfarm outside of Seattle.
A recent weekend in Nashville adds another: Prince’s Hot Fried Chicken. Quasi-seedy strip mall and fairly sketchy appearance raised our hopes that this might be the home of folks who know how to do right by a bird (I’ve never had truly great fried chicken from a white-tablecloth joint). The line on a late Friday afternoon straight from the airport was not daunting, though folks were stacked up waiting for take-out and the 6 or so booths were crowded.
The menu is short and straightforward: hunks of bird in flavors mild to extra hot plus the usual sides. Try to order the “hot” from the gal behind the counter (cash only, of course), and she’ll shake her head – she knows better and you should too. You won’t be disappointed if you go the easier route – the mild is plenty spicy, and the medium skates the fine line between on fire and stupid-hot. I suspect the extra hot might permanently remove parts of your digestive track.
You’ll wait 30 minutes plus as they fry it to order, but what comes out is poultry nirvana: chicken that’s been coated in a buttermilk/tabasco blend and then fried in a hot-spicy flour blessed by copious amounts of Old Bay, chili powder, and salt/pepper. The coating is thick and extra crunchy with a zing of spices; the underlying meat is exuberant but not greasy. It comes nestled on two pieces of Wonderbread to soak up anything you left behind, and if you’re smart, you ordered both vinegary perfect coleslaw and fries that also include a decent punch of Old Bay. A breast later, I thought I’d never eat again; 5 hours after that I was contemplating whether we could make it back over there post-marathon without risking immediate coronary disaster.
This place is worth the trip.
Runners-up from a weekend of semi-epic eating include a stop at Cantrell’s for BBQ (vinegar, eastern Carolina-based pig, exactly as it’s likely been served for the past 40 years and no pretensions), Piped Piper Creamery for hipster ice cream in all the right ways, and the Pancake Pantry for Sunday morning decompression.
None of it involved a burger, but it was pretty darn memorable none-the-less.
The meat is “exuberant”?
I mean, we all know YOU are — though hell, who wouldn’t be, reading this? You have me salivating over here.
I love this kind of experience, where you’re absolutely stuffed, can’t even THINK about another bite, wondering how in the world you’re ever going to eat again … and then five hours later you’re already scheming to get back.
Thanks so much for this very, very pleasurable virtual-meal …
Have not heard much about the Oval Room
recently. I know you are busy with a lot of the newer openings but is it still as good as ever?
Depends what “ever” you’re referring to.
The “ever” not long after chef Tony Conte arrived, and a pretty good restaurant shot to the very top tier in the city?
Or the “ever” a year or so after, when the place settled into a groove somewhere between “pretty good” and “superlative”?
Custom ground grass fed beef with approx 18% fat grilled on a Weber Kettle fueled with real hardwood charcoal. Gently form a patty about a 1/3lb and season with freshly ground sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper from a small island of the coast of India. Plantation is owned by ex sports car racer who only sells his pepper to friends. Cost about $40 for a few ounces air mailed.
Make some homemade blue cheese dressing and grill two strips of VA heritage pork bacon and some sweet Va onions in foil on grill. Throw patty on grill and salt and pepper the top.
Remove onions and bacon. Touch hamburger to gauge doneness. Please never insert a thermometer. Needs 45 secs more and then flip. Put a dab of blue cheese, the onions and let grill for another 90 secs. Lift off and put on toasted Thomas English Muffin.
Add a dallop of Heinz catchup and serve with a cold Bud. No need for some esoteric beer. A Bud is clean and doesn’t mask the flavor of your burger. Burger should be cooked to medium rare. Serve with some old school tater tots, crank James Delaney Buffett’s “Cheeseburger in a Paradise” the live version and celebrate National hamburger month.
Nothing beats grass-fed custom ground beef. You need the fat. 90% has no flavor. Charcoal adds flavor and gives you enough heat for proper crust. English muffin just enough roll and doesnt hide the burger. Blue Cheese because its meshes perfectly with grass fed beef. Grilled onions for sweetness and bacon because everything goes better w/ bacon.
You’re in the lead, bud.
I mean, you’re the first one in with this, but still — in the lead!
Seriously, though, you made my mouth water — a real accomplishment, and a real departure, too, from the usual spray of bile …
This isn’t a traditional “American” burger, but the best cooked meat puck enrobed in bread I’ve had recently was the lamb kebob sandwich in Tel Aviv’s Carmel market.
A griddled hockey-puck-sized hunk of ground lamb studded with onions and herbs, stuffed into a pita, topped with hummus, tahini, grilled onions and peppers, and chopped up tomato salad. A fantastic drippy mess.
If we want to talk DC-based, I feel the burgers at Mr. Henry’s on Capitol Hill deserve more attention than they get. I go with the bacon burger with cheddar and grilled onions. 1/2 lbs of angus beef cooked to a juicy medium rare. Cheddar gives some tang missing from American cheese and of course melts nicely into a gooey topping. Bacon – salty, gives some crunch, extra fat, and it’s bacon. Grilled onions – adds a sweet caramelized element to cut through the richness of the meat/cheese/bacon combo. Slather on some mayo to lube the whole thing up and add a side of onion rings, a much better burger compliment than french fries in my opinion.
We tend to go late on a Sunday afternoon to wind down the weekend A classic burger from a classic Hill pub. Doesn’t get much better.
I know that market, and I know that sandwich. And — damn you, Van Ness … ; )
I like the burger at Mr. Henry’s too. You’ve reminded me I need to go back sometime soon …
But — theory! Where’s your burger theory?
Naming a place, that’s okay, but what I’d really like to read is a theory of what makes a burger good.
For instance, and just to talk about one aspect of the burger … I don’t think you want a bun to be an example of great bread product. A sandwich is all about the parts fitting together, not unlike a basketball team. And too many soloists — high volume shooters, in the common nerd hoop parlance — spoils team chemistry. I like a bun to be unobtrusive and mesh into the meat a little. I don’t want it sitting up high — something you find with a lot of “gourmet” burgers. Why? Because I don’t really want to taste it. I want to taste the meat. I want to not get my hands dirty. I’d like to have a flavor of sesame seeds.
Cap Hill, DC:
Amazing how so many places around the world have their own ground meat patty traditions.
I like a good bacon cheeseburger with mayo on a toasted bun just fine, but lately I’ve been going the kofte (or kefta, or kofta…) route. I like the sweeter Moroccan varieties best. Mostly lamb with some high-fat ground beef, mint, cinnamon, cumin, salt, and definitely grilled over open flame. Moroccans might put them into small little balls but there’s no reason you can’t make a full size burger patty out of it. Some harissa on top, maybe a little yogurt sauce or a garlicky tahini, a little shallot relish.
The biggest issue is bread. The real Moroccan way would be stuffed inside a wheel of freshly baked khobz, but I find sturdier flatbread and a nice baguette work equally well.
Oh, yeah — a soft, garlicky, cuminy, minty kefte (ha) with good harissa and yogurt sauce?
As for bread — I use lavash, warming it in the oven on a pizza stone.
I’m assuming you make your own. But is there also any place in the area you go to get this?
I have a burger post for you…
This weekend I was in Fayetteville and Lumberton, NC for my grandmother’s funeral. I love, love, love NC, but this ain’t the part of the state I pine for (though, ironically, there’s nothing but pines there, but I digress…). With my family looking at the bleak food options, we knew there was one place we could turn: Cook-Out, a NC-based fast food chain that seems to be creeping its way through Virginia, and maybe will be in our neck of the woods someday soon.
These burgers, while not quite as juicy as, say, Shake Shack, really do take me back. For starters, they have that great char-taste as if your dad had grilled them up for you and your family on a warm summer evening. Further, these truly harken to my college days when I spent four years in NC and made many a late night run to Cook-Out with friends under varying degrees of sobriety. Whenever I head back for a football game or to visit friends I’m sure to visit. While the patty I had this weekend was a little dry for my liking, the flavor was still there. I go with the “Out West Style,” which adds bacon, cheese, bbq sauce, a little mayo, and for me, I sub out the raw onions for their grilled counterparts. What a great combination of flavors, and one that I return to time and time again as the best fast food burger I’ve ever had.
Perhaps the best thing about this place is everything you can get aside from the burger: great chicken sandwiches, decent bbq, great footlongs, and more than 40 types of shakes (with endless possibilities if you mix and match). Their combos are called trays and, being the South, you get your choice of 2 sides including fries, chili, hush puppies, chicken nuggets(!) and more; make mine fries and hush puppies.
Maybe not as descriptive on the burger part as you’d like, but thought it was a great venue to give a shout out to a chain that doesn’t receive the recognition it should nationally, but one that deserves it all the same from their quality, friendly customer service, and, yes, cleanliness (most of the locations I’ve seen in NC actually have ratings greater than 100).
You’ve made me really curious to go and try a Cook-Out. Great name.
It’s funny the places we pine for. They’re seldom the great places, the places we’ve acquired the understanding to enjoy. They’re almost always these sorts of places, where the burgers just have that smell — a smell that conjures up a whole world and takes you back immediately to a time and place …
Thanks for writing in and kinda-sorta playing …
(Theory, people. Theory … )
For the person looking to get steamed crabs, if you can’t get into Cantlers, try Mike’s in Riva, Maryland. They have a big deck with nice outdoor seating on the water. Weirdly, they don’t list steamed crabs on their menu but they always have them if you ask for them. There’s often a bit of a wait on summer weekends, but they have a nice outdoor area with a bar where you can wait.
The one time I tried to go to Cantler’s, it was a two hour wait just to get into the parking lot. (Admittedly, it was Memorial Day weekend and the weather was gorgeous.)
Yeah, Mike’s is a good alternative. Thanks for chiming in with that …
And you’re so right about Cantler’s — good weather and a long weekend means you’re probably not getting in. Or getting in, but waiting forever for the privilege.
I try to go on weeknights, and even then I aim to get there about 3:30 or 4 so I can be sure to snag a table overlooking the water. It just makes the meal better.
Cap Hill, DC:
Unfortunately, I don’t know of a place. Most of the North African places focus on tajines, couscous, etc. to the detriment of the region’s pretty spectacular grilling traditions. Lavash is a great call too, especially if you’re making smaller patties.
In terms of burger theory, one of the reasons I use lamb more often is that it’s all too easy to get beef without a lot of flavor. I don’t often have that problem with lamb. I agree though — the beef should be king. You don’t want to interfere too much. Certain ingredients seem to draw out that flavor a little more though: onions, to me, are the best example, but I think a little cumin helps too. Finally, no matter what, we can do better than Budweiser. Even if its grilling on one of those square public park charcoal grills, even if we’re sticking to clean lagers, even if we’re going for something pure and simple, c’mon… there are just too many better options out there.
But you don’t need better, is the thing, if you’re having a big cook-out and eating a few burgers from the grill. It’s the same with drinking with crabs. You need a lot of something. And too good a something just gets in the way. It’s unnecessary.
In other words, you’re going for a sort of cross between a soda and a beer, something that will give you a light buzz after a while, but something you can quaff. The fun of drinking beer with crabs is in the quaffing.
I wonder what José Andrés means when he says “healthy?” I am sure all of the ingredients at his restaurants are impeccably sourced, but are there no salt heavy, butter soaked, or other relatively unhealthy preparations on any of his menus?
In many ways, chefs are among the last people I would ask to speak about “healthy” eating.
(And really, shouldn’t the word be — healthful?)
There are generally a few light dishes on every big-time chef’s menu, but the majority are rich concoctions — as they ought to be; a restaurant meal is an indulgence. The chef’s aim is to send diners away sated and happy. That can happen with things like watercress and broccoli, but it’s nor the norm.
Do they know what is good for the body? I think many do.
But knowing what’s good for the body, and serving their customers what’s good for the body, are two different things.
Can you help me find the best bagel and Nova in the area? I’m a native New Yorker and am desperate for my lox fix! Thank you!
I just had it this weekend.
A light toasted everything bagel with Nova, light cream cheese, onions, tomato and capers at Bagels and …, in Annapolis.
I’ve searched and tasted around the area for years, and these are — and remain — the best bagels I’ve tried. Light and not at all dense, not doughy and undercooked like many bagels around here. The sesame, poppy and everything — my favorites — are full of air pockets inside and sport a nice crust outside.
They’re always good; I’ve never not had a good one. But sometimes they’re great, like the ones this weekend. I’d drive 40 minutes, easy, to get them when they’re like that.
Oh, and the lox — silky, silky smooth …
They were out of their excellent bialys, which is what happens when you don’t get there within an hour or two after they open. Too bad …
In defense of Andrés, I think he was saying there is a mixed message at the stadium. We go there to celebrate great health and athletic feats, and we advertise all-you-can-eat hot dogs to kids. I mean, it’s kind of an interesting point.
I think the bigger mixed message is hospitals.
A place to nurse you back to good health with food so bad that even a dog would turn up his nose. And the cafeterias of these places — which cater to doctors! — are only marginally better.
If I had to be laid up at the hospital for a few days, 10 out of 10 times I would choose the stuff I could get at a ballpark.
And here’s the sad thing — it wouldn’t be that much worse for me.
Beer quaffing calls for some Mexican beer, Pacifico or Negra Modelo even Tecate.
I was at a DC United tailgate several weeks ago and someone brought a keg of DC Brau…just way too hoppy and heavy for a parking lot down by the might Anacostia.
It’s a terrific beer, and I like what those guys’ve done. But it’s not what the situation demands.
My burger theory is more of an “If, Then” equation.
If I am making a burger at home, then I am grilling it over charcoal outdoors. Unless there is a monsoon outside, I fire up the grill about an hour or so before putting the burgers on. By the time the coals are ashed over and a molten core seethes underneath the strata, I am ready to go (also, 85/15- just enough fat to hold it together, but there’s still a clean beefy taste).
The heat, the outdoors, the powerful mnemonic of the charcoal taste- that is what makes a burger great. If I am getting a burger out, then I prefer it griddled (I know, I know, 90%+ of burgers out are griddled).
My theory, proven over multiple experiments is this: the best burgers that I’ve had out have been griddled, while all the burgers that have been charred, char-grilled, grilled over hardwood, etc. have been big disappointments.
It’s kind of like saying, if I do the grilling, it’s good. If they do the grilling, it’s not — give me the griddled.
There’s just something wonderful and evocative about a griddled burger if it’s good, isn’t there?
Thanks for playing …
Rich in NoMa:
With the rise of the gourmet burger, I feel that what makes a great burger a great burger has become more and more obsfucated by toppings and sauces and the like. Sure, a cave-aged cheese or a mole sauce that required 6 hours of simmering can make a burger better, and perhaps even make the experience exciting enough that you’ll remember it for sometime, but a burger fundamentally comes down to two things: the patty and the bun. Those two things, well done, are what make for an excellent burger. All of the culinary creativity in the world cannot change that.
Let’s discuss the patty. It should be substantial, without being overly decadent. Ray’s Hellburger might have the best meat blend, but after you eat one of those 10oz behemoths, you are done for the day. The only thing left to do is get what all of us that are carnivorially inclined know as the “meat-sweats”. Something around the size of a BRG or Black & Orange patty, 6-8oz is perfect. It’s thick enough to be meaty with a substantial mouthfeel, and with the right blend of fat (made from a mix of short rib, chuck, and sirloin) have pockets of juice with each and every bite. Smaller burgers, of the Good Stuff or Shake Shack variety, while good, lack the size to deliver that beef dripping heartiness of a bigger patty.
The bun. It must be grilled or toasted with butter to bring out some of the natural sugars of the bread, as well as to provide a “fortified” platform for the burger (and a subtle crispiness). It should be thickish, to absorb the juices of the burger and keep the integrity of the sandwich, yet airy enough that it doesn’t interfere with the mouthfeel of the star – the patty. Potato rolls, while having a great flavor, I think are two chewy. The interfere with the texture of the patty in a way. A well done brioche, such as what is used on Palena’s burgers, is right on target. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I think Fuddrucker’s has a fantastic bun (buttery, thick yet light) – and I wish places that provided superior burgers (Ray’s, BGR, etc) would use a bun like that.
Topping? That’s largely personal preference. I might like some caramelized onions, a quality cheddar, and maybe a little mayo or bbq sauce. But I think any toppings with the burger and bun I laid out, would make for a fantastic burger eating experience.
I think you make good points about the size of the patty and the importance of the bun.
In fact, I think in a lot of ways the bun is probably the most underrated ingredient in the mix. Certainly it’s the least understood. If you have a decent bun, and you swab it with butter and lay that baby down on the griddle until it gets golden and toasty, then chances are that if the patty is at least decent, it’s going to be a pretty wonderful sandwich.
You bring up Palena … I think the Palena burger is really good; the meat’s amazing; I think it’d be an even better sandwich — a better whole — if the bun melded more into the meat and weren’t so noticeable as a piece of bread.
Thanks for writing and playing … You’re in serious consideration …
Cap Hill, DC:
Re: Beverages for Crabs/Burgers:
Gonna have to agree to disagree. Maybe you don’t need better but you might as well avoid “crappy.” Lots of great lagers out there made just for these sorts of occasions.
Gonna have to disagree.
It’s a sum of the parts kinda thing. That crappy beer just happens to be absolutely perfect for the situation. Its crappiness recedes into the background, and allows you to focus on and appreciate the crabs.
Think — to reach back into the distant past — of the Sixers title team of 1982. Marc Iavaroni, small forward. A scrub. Or the Lakers of the Showtime era, who filled their PF position with Kurt Rambis. A scrub.
Were there better guys out there? Of course there were. And great teams have no problem adding to their roster — good players take cuts to go there. But Iavaroni and Rambis were ideal for what these teams needed. They were cheap, for one — a big thing when your roster is full of high-salaried stars. For another, they receded into the background, not vying for shots or rocking the boat — again, a hugely important consideration for a star-laden team. On another team, you would notice their crappiness. Here, the crappiness was a virtue. They spaced the floor — stayed away, basically, on offense — and fulfilled their function on D by scrapping and doing dirty work.
gotta have a griddled burger to get a nice crust formed and provide some texture as you bite down into a patty that’s cooked medium to mid-rare, that provides some nice contrast in the meat and allows the salt & pepper seasoning a foil to shine a bit more.
as far as toppings, make mine ketchup & mustard (yellow) coating the top bun and light-very light schmear of mayo on the bottom deck (beneath the meat). veggies should only be raw onion, tomato and pickle. you ought to have that vinegar/sour component in the pickle and the raw onion is the perfect counter weight to the sweetness of the tomato and ketchup.
Yeah, sounds good.
As for that smear of mayo on your burger — you’ve GOT to be from Maryland. ; )
Thanks for writing …
I have a burger theory too!
Group A are the juicy, fatty items – beef, cheese, bacon, onion rings, eggs. Pick up to three.
Group B are the crisp, fresh vegetables – lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles. Unlimited.
Group C are the condiments. C-1 are the classics – ketchup, mustard, and mayo. C-2 are the nontraditional condiments – BBQ sauce, steak sauce, chipotle-flavored stuff, etc. You can have as many condiments from group C-1 as you like, but C-2 condiments must stand on their own.
So, a bacon cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, and ketchup? Knock yourself out. A bacon cheeseburger with onion rings, mayo, and BBQ sauce? Overkill.
And that is my burger theory.
I love it.
Such smarts here, and such simplicity, too.
What a terrific breakdown/guide.
You really get at the delicate balance that’s required, the way one more delicious thing can nevertheless throw off the whole concoction, the way less is sometimes more, the way a controlling element needs to stand on its own.
That makes you our winner today, Kathleen. Thanks so much for playing. Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll get your copy of Charred & Scruffed by grill guru Adam Perry Lang off to you this afternoon.
And thanks to all of you for playing, too. And for ranting and remarking and sharing your tasty tips …
I enjoyed it, and hope you did, too.
Be well, eat well, and let’s do it again next Tuesday at 11 …