Wed 11 Nov 2009
A few months ago, Washingtonians had only one option if they wanted to try Mark Bucher’s inventive burger creations: head up to Bethesda and check out BGR: The Burger Joint at its original Fairmont Avenue location. It’s not a killer commute, but the sheer number of competing burger joints you’d have to pass to get there derailed more than a few BGR runs. So what’s an entrepreneurial burger baron to do?
Expand. Strike while the iron is hot. Open two new locations within a few weeks of each other. And immediately reassert your role as one of the forces to be reckoned with on the DC burger scene.
Mark Bucher did just that, telling the Washington City Paper’s Tim Carman that he was responding to “bargain real estate” by opening new BGR restaurants in Old Town Alexandria and Dupont Circle. It was time to expand the brand.
Finding ourselves in Old Town on a recent weeknight, we decided to check out BGR II to see how it measured up to the hype. We knew the hardest part would be narrowing down our choices; even so, we found ourselves standing and staring at the menu boards for a surprisingly long time before making our decisions. Should we go with the basic burger? The Greek (made with ground leg of lamb)? Or something even more exotic than that? And what about those monthly specials?
Check out our choices after the jump.
We’ve never been to the original BGR in Bethesda, but we had a pretty good idea of what to expect at the Alexandria location from descriptions. The tables are decorated with faux mosaics that pay tribute to pop culture icons like the Partridge Family. The walls are decked out with cover art from seminal ’80s rock albums like Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA and Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedos. The dark blues throughout and the open ceiling combine to give a consciously unfinished, industrial vibe.
We walked in the door and found ourselves staring at the first menu to greet us. This one spelled out the various rings and fries you can get to accompany your burger. Whether you opt for the gold standard (Yukon Gold fries), the orange standard (sweet potato fries) or the green standard (asparagus spears), you may want to pay special attention to the fine print. It turns out you can get your fries topped with rosemary, parmesan and even roasted garlic. Any or all of them would have been a welcome addition to the sweet potato fries we tried. Although they were crisp and tender, they tasted a bit underseasoned…and we only realized why after the fact.
Moving down the line toward the counter, you arrive at BGR’s pride and joy – the burger menu. Those creative options I mentioned before the jump are just the tip of the iceberg. Beyond the basic burger you can find a spicy Southwestern burger; a Wellington topped with mushrooms, onions, garlic and blue cheese; and a Cuban burger topped with ham, pork loin, pickles, cheese and mustard.
Not craving beef? Trying to expand your horizons? Bucher’s got you covered there as well, with standard options like veggie burgers and turkey burgers, but he’s also got a few seafood options on the menu. You can enjoy a ‘burger’ of seared ahi tuna topped with pineapple, ginger and teriyaki. You can also splurge and go for Bucher’s version of the New England classic lobster roll. Beverages include fountain sodas, shakes, beer and wine.
And if the regular menu is somehow not enough for you, BGR rolls out a specialty burger and specialty shake each month. For November, you’ll be able to enjoy Thanksgiving on a Bun (turkey burger topped with cranberry sauce, turkey gravy and cornbread stuffing). You can wash it down with a pumpkin pie shake that delivers on those spices.
This being our first visit, we decided to go for a decent mix of options. I indulged my love of Cuban sandwiches and was rewarded with a juicy medium-rare burger topped with thinly sliced pork loin and practically shaved ham. The mustard came through loud and clear and the pickles gave a nice tang. Elizabeth opted for the basic burger with the works, asking to have it cooked to medium. What she got was a burger with plenty of toppings and a warm center that showed next to no pink.
We were both impressed by the deep, meaty flavor of our burgers. Reading up on it after the fact, I’ve learned that BGR uses ground beef from four distinct cuts, resulting in a more complex flavor that really comes through in a medium-rare burger. They also source their rolls and their produce (as much as practical) locally.
Bucher’s team takes burgers pretty seriously, and it shows through in every aspect of the process. They cook each burger to order – and they know how to hit the right temperatures. My medium-rare and Elizabeth’s medium were cooked so as to finish at exactly the same time, and each one had the temperature and consistency we were anticipating when we ordered. It’s a little thing, sure, but it’s a skill that is lacking at many of BGR’s competitors in the area and it really impressed us.
Over the past year and a half, BGR has quickly made its mark as a go-to in the ongoing Burger Wars. Their prices are a bit high, with some specialty burgers topping $10 each, but the quality and the flavors seem to justify the expense. Now it’s even easier to check it out for yourself.