Burger Days 2015 Burgers of the Year
One of these years, we’re going to go all out and red carpet the shit out of our Burgers of the Year awards but until then, a blog post will have to do.
This year has been a very, very good one for Burger Days. The past 12 months have been some of the best yet in our burger-eating careers and, coming from us, that’s saying a whole hell of a lot.
It’s not just because we downed more ground beef than ever before in 2015 but rather, it’s because the D.C. burger scene has never been better. Yes, there’s still a lot of beef-on-bun mediocrity – and worse – out there, but the selection of options we have in D.C., Maryland and Virginia is improving rapidly. And because of this, choosing the best burgers we eat for our esteemed Burger of the Year awards is becoming increasingly difficult. It took many a sleepless night and countless hours of greasy, meat-tinged deliberating, but in the end we did it. Because, after all, we’re eating and researching these burgers for you.
So, without further delay, on to the good stuff. Presenting Burger Days 2015 Burgers of the Year:
Brine’s Beef Burger
Brine | 2985 District Avenue | Fairfax | brinerestaurants.com
Every once in a long while we come across a burger so tasty, so wonderful – so damn good – we want nothing more than to lie down and spoon with the beefy beauty for all eternity. Like love-struck teens, we become obsessed and find ourselves non-stop doodling its name over and over in our notebooks, filling page after page of college-ruled paper with grease-laden love notes. We lie awake at night, fantasizing about our next encounter, grinning like assholes in our beds to the wee hours of the morning.
This year, the object of our unhealthy, stalker-like obsession was the burger from Brine, the Mosaic District oyster house.
It’s hard to put into words the exact feeling we get when we bite into this masterpiece. It’s everything we can do to not scarf down this salacious stack of delight in one go. The beef – a half-pound 80/20 mix of shoulder, breast, chuck and ribeye ends – is seasoned with an oniony-garlicky vegetable ash and then cooked to absolute perfection. We’ve downed this burger more than 10 times now and every. single. order. has been dead-on-balls accurate (it’s an industry term): a crunchy shell with a salty, charred crust that gives way to a juicy, flavor-bursting reddish-pink center.
The exemplary execution does not end with the beef, however. On the surface, the burger’s components sound simple – billed as red onion jam and farmhouse cheese on the menu – but the deft touch Critchley and his kitchen give to the resulting stack turns the ordinary into something even more than extraordinary. The cheese – a farmhouse cheddar from Maryland when available or Piave Vecchio when it’s not – lends an earthiness to the stack, mixing sublimely with an onion jam that’s almost equal parts sweet and sharp. The bun, a sesame-seed-studded brioche from Maryland’s Uptown Bakers, is toasted and buttered, and ever-so-slightly squished down so as to increase its diameter, a crucial step in keeping the burger and all its sloppiness in check.
And bringing everything together into a beautiful meat melody we want playing on repeat forever: a slaw-ish topping of shredded lettuce and what Critchley calls Adam Sobel’s (his predecessor at Bourbon Steak) Secret Sauce. The unheralded, unbilled inclusion to the mix gives a crunch and tanginess to each bite, resulting in an eye-closing, moan-inducing experience every time it reaches our lips. Think of it like the Jam Master Jay of Brine’s burger. Sure, Run (beef) and D.M.C. (onion jam) got all the acclaim but there’d be a big hole in the group without the dude (slaw) bringing it all together on the ones and twos.
It’s OK to shed a tear when eating this, it’s that beautiful.
The Grill Room’s Grill Room Burger
The Grill Room | 1050 31st St NW | DC | thegrillroomdc.com
When Palena closed last year, we died a little inside. Home to one of D.C.’s best burgers of all time, chef Frank Ruta’s cheeseburger was a revelation. In a time of towering meat masses loaded with toppings, his dish bucked the trend. It was restrained, yet refined. Simple but almost impossibly perfect. And then, just like that, it was gone. For close to a year, we had a giant, burger-sized hole in our hearts.
Palena may be long gone but Ruta’s simple flavor beast is back and in full effect at The Grill Room in Georgetown. And it may even be better than ever.
Tucked inside the uber-fancy Capella hotel, The Grill Room is quite a bit ritzier than the more-casual Palena, but while the digs may have changed, we’re happy to say the burger has not. Ruta’s Grill Room version is a veritable clone of The Palena Cheeseburger. Like its predecessor, it’s made from mostly chuck with dry-aged steak trimmings thrown in (usually from the rib loin, Ruta tells us) from Shenandoah Valley and packs a whopping 65-35 fat-to-lean ratio. The cheese, the same slice of truffled Sottocenere al Tartufo as before, sits wonderfully translucent on the beef, glistening as it wavers on the edge of meltiness (note: that’s definitely not a word, but we’re using it anyway). Slathered on both sides of a toasted sesame-seeded bun is what Ruta likes to call “garlic-scented mayonnaise,” the spread enveloping both beef and cheese in a salty, garlicky embrace that makes us never want to stop licking our lips. Like an image burned into the brain, this burger has forever been burned into our mouths and bellies. A full week after our Grill Room rendezvous, we were still smiling at the thought of it and we swear we could still taste it.
We’re thankful for a lot of things this holiday season and one of them is the fact we can eat Frank Ruta’s blissful burger once again.
Osteria Morini’s White Label Burger
Osteria Morini | 301 Water Street SE | DC | osteriamorini.com
A stellar burger at an upscale Italian joint? You better believe it.
Our first run-in with Osteria Morini’s White Label burger was back in September when Morini executive chef Matt Adler hooked it up at the annual Brainfood Burger Battle at Poste. It was our favorite on the day and after sampling the diminutive battle-sized entry, we knew we needed more of it inside us.
An ensuing trip to the Navy Yard waterfront for the full-size version afforded us one of the tastiest burgers we’d eat all year, thanks in no small part to an exclusive, custom beef blend.
The heart-and-soul of Morini’s burger is chef Michael White’s blend of dry-aged beef made in collaboration with New York City meat maven Pat LaFrieda. The mix of chuck, brisket, short rib and ribeye is important, but the key to this magnificent meat medley is the dry-aging. The 30-day aged ribeye packs a furious flavor punch and adds a completely new dimension to the burger. The patty’s funky earthiness is so distinct and different from standard, wet-aging, it’s near-impossible to confuse the two. Quite a few D.C. restaurants also serve burgers using dry-aged beef but Morini’s blend is in a tier all its own.
While the White Label burger is served several different ways at White’s other restaurants – Ai Fiori (where it debuted), Vaucluse and Costata – Morini’s version is all Adler. The six-ounce patty, seasoned with rosemary and lemon salt, is covered in melted Emmentaler and sits on a bed of fennel and red onion sprinkled with some pickled Fresno chiles. The peppers add a touch of acid and heat to the mix, while the fennel and onions provide crunch and play delightfully with the pungent beef. Finally, rosemary mustard aioli is spread on both sides of a toasted sesame seed bun, lending a creamy, sharp-but-too-much-so bite that drives everything home. A fried egg option is also available but the burger is so well-balanced as is, anything more would distract from its already immaculate make-up.
Developed specifically for the burger battle – Adler’s creation swept the competition in 2014 and followed with a People’s Choice win again this year – the burger was so well-received, they decided to keep it going at the restaurant. While not available at dinner, it’s served at lunch, brunch and at the bar throughout the week.
Mad Fox’s Mad Fox Burger 6.0
Mad Fox Brewing Company | 444 West Broad Street | Falls Church | madfoxbrewing.com
The burger at Mad Fox Brewing Company has changed a lot since the Falls Church brew pub first opened in 2010. After going through four chefs in four years, that’ll happen.
Currently, the burger is sitting on version 6.0 and, having tasted each of its previous iterations, we can confidently declare this one the best of the bunch.
The latest creation is from executive chef – and Epic Burger mastermind – Travis Weiss who returned to Mad Fox last year after leading the kitchen at Ted’s Bulletin Capitol Hill. Weiss has spent seven years perfecting his burger blend and while he says it’s still a work in progress, the one he’s settled on for the moment is a three-cut mix of chuck, sirloin and deckle.
For his sixth generation burger, a half-pound patty hovering around 75-25 fat-to-lean is topped with what we would argue is the greatest burger topping of all time: BACON JAM. Made with North Country Smokehouse bacon, bourbon, house-made root beer and chili flakes for just a touch of heat, Weiss’s version runs the gamut on taste; it’s sweet, salty, savory and everything in between. As bonafide bacon jam connoisseurs, we give this one a fucking ten. Combined with a smoky garlic mayo and sharp Tillamook cheddar, the 6.0 is balls-to-the-wall fantastic and it’s earned its way into our regular rotation of go-to burgers.
And that’s not an easy thing to do.
The Pig’s Deliverance
The Pig | 1320 14th Street NW | DC | thepigdc.com
Normally, we don’t give BOTY honors to a limited-time burger but we just couldn’t ignore the absolute magnificence The Pig chef Michael Bonk put forth with his Burger Week creation back in May.
A top-to-bottom ode to swine, The Deliverance burger was the epitome of gluttonous decadence. Two habanero-blended heritage pork patties – COOKED IN PORK LARD – and swimming in a pool of American cheese, were crowned by molasses-glazed pork belly, slathered with Georgian onion jam and a fat-ass dollop of “moonshine” mayo made with corn whiskey.
If pigs are filthy animals then call us Pig Pen ‘cause we don’t want to be clean.
Sadly, this burger is but a memory, but Bonk has been known to hook up off-the-menu specials from time-to-time; last month, we got a taste of a limited beef-and-pork burger topped with cheddar and ham hock confit that we’re still thinking about. So if you’re feeling lucky – or hungry – you might just get a chance to do the taste bud tango with a masterpiece like The Deliverance burger in the future…