Wed 3 Jun 2009
Back in March, Washingtonian magazine ran an NCAA-style tournament pitting some of the top burgers in the area against one another. Though the Burger Brackets had their share of detractors, they brought an interesting phenomenon to our attention: the popularity of Elevation Burger.
With their first location only open since 2005, you’d think a place like Elevation might make a decent showing…but they were giant-killers! Good Stuff Eatery, Palena Cafe and Central were all defeated by Elevation Burger’s fiercely loyal supporters, who turned out in droves to vote (and to rave about everything from the burgers to the corporate ethos in their comments). We were skeptical, but intrigued.
Fortunately, our restaurant break-up dragged out for as long as it did – a little over a month ago, one of the new Elevation Burger franchises opened up in the Lee-Harrison Plaza off of Lee Highway in Arlington. We knew we had to give it a try to see how the organic, grass-fed burgers stacked up to some of our favorites. Sure, we supported the concept…but how would all those slow-food-sounding words work in a fast-food environment?
Burgers, fries and a self-inflicted milkshake fail after the jump.
We walked into the storefront restaurant and were immediately struck by the way the decor seemed to fit with the chain’s “Ingredients Matter” message. Soft blues, greens and yellow helped to put us at ease as we waited to place our orders. Signage extols the virtues of grass-fed beef and other environmentally-friendly practices. Even the menu boards gave off a low-key vibe.
The first thing we noticed as we looked over the menu were the prices. $3.59 for a hamburger? Less than four bucks for a cheeseburger? $2.59 fries? These were honest-to-goodness fast food prices…for grass-fed beef and fries cooked in olive oil! We weren’t sure if we should be rejoicing or bracing for disappointment.
I ordered a cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato and balsamic mustard – another apparently upscale offering. Elizabeth opted to forego the cheese and had a hamburger topped with caramelized onions and Elevation Sauce (which she likened to a milder, mayo-free version of Thousand Island dressing). My father - our companion for the evening, went for a cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato and ketchup. We split two orders of the olive-oiled fries and we splurged for two of the milkshakes made with Blue Bunny ice cream.
The burgers were good – the flavor of the beef was definitely stronger (meatier?) than in many fast food establishments, standing up to the condiments and easily overpowering the overly soft and chewy buns. Everything was fresh and crisp, though the tomatoes were ill-advised so early in the season. Our biggest complaint was that we were not consulted on how we wanted our burgers prepared. They all came out somewhere between medium and medium well, without a trace of pink. They hadn’t dried out, but they weren’t the juicy patties we prefer.
The fries? They were a hit: skin on and slightly crispy on the outside, but soft and creamy on the inside. Lightly salted, their olive oil cooking medium gave them a richer flavor that I much prefered to that of fries cooked in peanut oil (like at Five Guys). They cooled quickly, losing some of their initial crisp, but they were still a pleasure.
Not everything was a hit – though Elevation Burger bears no responsibility for the colossal failure that was my choice of milkshakes. “Get whatever you’d like and I’ll share it with you,” were Elizabeth’s words as she left us in line to secure one of the few outdoor tables for us. No problem! With only three ice cream flavors and ten add-ins, I had a pretty easy task ahead of me.
Or so I thought. My brain short-circuited when it noticed the coffee ice cream – one of my all-time favorite flavors. I knew I wanted a coffee shake; but what to blend in? Looking over the list, I was drawn to the black cherry, but then I noticed that the strawberries and bananas listed above it carried the modifier “real.” It seemed odd to call only two fruits “real” if they all were, so I froze up. Finally, with our order drawing to a close, I pulled the trigger and ordered a coffee shake with real strawberries.
You can stop laughing.
I would tell you not to knock it until you’d tried it, but I don’t want to inflict that upon you. This was hands-down one of the worst flavor combinations I’ve ever experienced. As Elizabeth put it, “With thirty possible shake combinations up there, I think you managed to find the single least enjoyable one.” Even so, I committed myself to finishing the bitter pairing while Elizabeth took a few consolation sips from my father’s chocolate shake with chocolate syrup.
Overall, our experience with Elevation Burger was positive, but I doubt we’d drive all the way out Lee Highway just to get these burgers. The price was certainly right – three of us ate well for less than thirty dollars. Did we notice all of those little touches that make Elevation Burger so much more responsible a fast food option than its competitors? Not really…but those that we did we appreciated, and maybe it’s not so bad if some of the others slipped by unnoticed. They’re still steps in a positive direction.