The Burger Joint (BGR) is the latest in a line of local hamburger shops trying to muscle in on DC-area institution Five Guys by offering a gourmet twist on this American staple. I went to their new Old Town Alexandria location to put these burger peddlers’ wares to the test.
There is no better food than a hamburger. A good steak comes close but really hamburgers take the title with their myriad of configurations. Easily a sit-down meal or a perfect eat-on-the-go, with a few toppings tweaks the hamburger offers all things to all comers (except maybe vegetarians). I have long been a fan of DC hamburger establishments and have been putting new offerings to the test for many years. I guess it all began back when I was accepted to George Washington University back in 1993. While quite happy to have got in, I was secretly celebrating the fact that I would soon be living less than a block from burger heaven, Lindy’s the Bone. Back in those days DC was a tale of two burger shops; Lindy’s Bon Appetit and Five Guys pretty much had you covered. For specialty burger creations it was Lindy’s and for the purist burger experience there was none better than (the now overly-franchised) Five Guys.
In the time I have lived here there have been many new burger contenders. Most notably Hamburger Mary’s (now defunct), ZBurger (not bad), Elevation Burger (yuck), and Ray’s Hell Burger (omfg!). Of those four, really only Hamburger Mary’s and Ray’s Hell Burger stand out and for good reason; Hamburger Mary’s offered truly excellent specialty burgers in a fun and funky sit-down dinner environment; while Ray’s continues to serve-up over-the-top, gourmet burgers in a real, walk-up-order, ‘burger joint’ setting.
The Burger Joint now enters into a field beginning to feel a tad cluttered. After all, Five Guys has expanded all over the city like a fungus, Lindy’s is still quietly rocking the Red Lion basement, and Ray’s is all the rage after the Obama/William’s visit. So how does a new burger shop stand-out amongst such stiff and varied competition? By offering the best pure burger in town, that’s how.
The Burger Joint has three locations, strategically covering the DC-metro area (Bethesda, Dupont, Old Town). I went to the new Old Town Alexandria location which offers a rock-n-roll themed sit-down area while maintaining the walk-up-order status that befits a place calling itself a ‘joint’. I went to this location three times to really put BGR through its paces and to see how it stacks up against my current favorite burger shop, Ray’s Hell Burger.
The First Visit: I ordered my old standby; one patty (medium-rare), pepper-jack cheese, bacon, onions. This burger was ridiculously good. Juices dripping down onto my empty tray making me regret having skipped the fries. I could tell half-way through this first burger that the toppings were merely a distraction from the hamburger patty beneath. I was beginning to suspect that The Burger Joint might be going for the ‘pure’ burger angle and before I was finished eating I was already plotting my second trip.
The Second Visit: I ordered a classic ‘pure’ burger; two patties (medium-rare), no toppings or cheese. Just meat and a roll; some call this ‘naked’ I prefer calling it ‘pure’. A ‘pure’ burger is best accompanied with fries and a milkshake, so I ordered those too. This hamburger was like finding the holy grail of sandwiches. GQ Magazine once declared that the BGR Burger is something every hamburger fan must try once before they die, and I completely agree. This second burger was pure patty and roll nirvana. It was perfection. I have always felt that a burger restaurant needed to exist where they captured in flavor the smell of someone else’s backyard cook-out. You know that awesome smell of some neighbor’s backyard BBQ that makes you wish you were having a cook-out instead of settling on whatever gruel you are eating? The Burger Joint ‘pure’ hamburger captures that smell/flavor like no other hamburger I have tried in DC or around the nation. This is the burger to get here.
The Third Visit: Although I had found their perfect hamburger, I felt to be a really dutiful reviewer I should try one of BGR’s many specialty burgers. So I ordered ‘The Southwestern’ a burger patty infused with poblanos, chipotles, onions, and chilis, topped with pepper-jack cheese, hold the black bean relish. This was a very flavorful and slightly spicy hamburger. When BGR says “infused” they really mean it! The hamburger was reddish-black in color with all the exotic ingredients that had been mixed into it. I liked this approach to specialty burger-making. Rather than working with some sloppy pile of peppers, chilis, and onions; eating ‘The Southwestern’ was a pretty tidy affair. Like the old Prego sauce lady said, “It’s in there!”
The Burger Joint offers a wide-range of specialty burgers on their menu; including a Lobster-roll ‘burger’ and a lamb burger. Although I don’t know why you would go with a specialty burger here after tasting their ‘pure’ burger. Their toppings can get fairly exotic for a hamburger joint but seem limited/restricted to the specialty burgers they are associated with. This is one area where Ray’s Hell Burger has an advantage. Ray’s pay by-the-topping menu offers a much more flexible build-your-own burger program than does The Burger Joint. Something BGR offers that Ray’s does not is excellent french fries. The Burger Joint fries are double-fried, pre-salted to perfection, and flat-out delicious. BGR fries rival Five Guy’s for best DC burger shop fries.
My final verdict is that I now prefer The Burger Joint to Ray’s Hell Burger. When you get right down to it I am all about the ‘pure’ hamburger experience and The Burger Joint has managed to make a ‘pure’ burger that has no peer. Added to which finishing one of their hamburgers doesn’t leave you feeling too stuffed or on the edge of a burger-induced coronary, as so often happens with Ray’s. I highly recommend to every DC-area hamburger fan that they try a burger sans accoutrement at The Burger Joint as soon as they can.
Note: BGR pushes a topping called ‘Mojo Sauce’ which I do not recommend. I tried it on the side. Much like Ollie’s Trolley, their special sauce is really just a glorified, creamy, orange salad-dressing that takes away from the great taste of their hand-crafted patties.
Note II: BGR milkshakes are extra-thick so don’t order one if you are short on thaw-time.
The Burger Joint is located at 1514 Connecticut Ave. NW in Washington, DC (Closest Metro: Dupont Circle, 202-299-1071); 3129 Lee Highway in Arlington, VA (703- 812-4705); and 4827 Fairmont Ave. in Bethesda, MD (Closest Metro: Bethesda, 301-358-6137).