Burger Guru Travis Weiss & the Best Damn Burger He’s Ever Had
“This is the best damn burger I’ve ever had,” says Travis Weiss while staring at Rebellion’s new creation, the 1836 Burger.
Now, food and hyperbole come hand-in-hand. Every other meal people eat is the “best ever” and “Best [Insert Dish Here] of D.C.” lists are a dime a dozen in the local food media these days. But when people say best, it usually means “really good” or “my favorite.” That isn’t the best. Calling something the best needs to be reserved for some exquisite, next-level shit.
But when said burger praise comes from a burger-making professional, a man who has a notebook full of meat grinds at the ready and a creator of more than 70 unique, weekly burgers, well, you better believe it carries some weight. Even if he might be a little biased.
Weiss – former Mad Fox Brewing Company chef and champion cultivator of its Epic Burger program – is the new executive chef at Rebellion and the 1836 Burger is his burger. Since taking the reins at the Dupont whiskey bar and restaurant a month ago, Weiss created the new 1836 – named for Rebellion’s street address – from the ground up. Literally.
“I wanted to go with an all-new beef grind,” Weiss says, deciding to move on from the signature blend he created at Mad Fox. But because Rebellion’s kitchen is much smaller than the one he had at the Falls Church brew pub, he couldn’t do an in-house grind. Instead, he hooked up with meat supplier Capital Meat Company to create his own, custom blend for his new burger.
“I have, like, five or six grinds I’ve created over the years that I really love,” Weiss says. “This is one of them.” One of his go-to blends, a mix of brisket, chuck and coulotte (part of the sirloin), was just about perfect, but Weiss felt it needed more fat in the mix. When trying to decide how to add some in – Weiss prefers a blend of around 75/25 for his burgers – he saw a Capital Meat butcher breaking down a cow and found just what he was looking for: leaf fat. Also known as suet, leaf fat is found around the kidneys of the cow and proved to be the final piece in Weiss’s meat puzzle. The resulting mix makes for a juicy, rich and beefy patty with enough integrity to stay together throughout the meal.
With the grind – now known as the Rebellion blend – in place, Weiss decided to go back to the basics for the rest of the burger. A departure from his insane, weekly specials of the past, he wanted the main focus to be simple: meat, cheese and bun. But don’t you dare call this burger boring or plain. While there aren’t stacks on stacks on stacks of fried shit or multiple meats woven together in this one*, its blueprint is precise and deliberate. Everything from the cheese (two slices of ooey, gooey white American) and pickles (a Rebellion family recipe) to the bun and even style of lettuce, was carefully curated by Weiss.
Being students of the burger arts that we are, we wanted to know more about the formation and build-out of the best damn burger Weiss has ever had, so we asked its creator to break down the anatomy – piece by piece – of his meaty magnum opus.
The 1836 Burger
Sesame and Poppy Seed Brioche: “Bring me everything you can put a burger on,” Weiss told his bread guy at Lyon Bakery during his search for the perfect wrapper for the 1836. In the end, the black-and-white speckled brioche won out, providing the stability and integrity needed to support the tall stack of burger insides. The soft-and-fluffy bun gets buttered and then crisped up on the flat top prior to hitting the table.
White American Cheese: For the cheese on the 1836, Weiss opted for a mild option: creamy white American. “Just like me,” he laughs. He wanted to use a more neutral cheese so it wouldn’t cover up the beef. “I want to let the meat shine,” he says.
Two 4 oz. Flat-Top Griddle Patties: Weiss loves the flat top for burgers. For starters, he gets a lot more caramelization on the griddle than over a flame and additionally, the griddle allows for much more control when cooking the meat. And switching to two four-ounce patties instead of one big, half-pound hunk of beef makes it a lot easier to control temperatures. But because of the smaller patties, Weiss doesn’t allow diners to choose “doneness.” “The patties are cooked one way and one way only,” he says. A quick minute and a half per side on the grill gives the meat a thin, crusty layer on each side and because of the high fat content of the blend, the patty stays juicy through and through.
Shredded Lettuce: The shredded iceberg lettuce is a nod to the diner burgers Weiss enjoyed in his younger days. “It’s old school,” he says. “And it works.”
Red Onion: The onion is in the mix to add crunch to the burger. Also, Weiss feels the sharpness of the red onion gives the burger more “bite.”
1000 Island: Weiss originally wanted to use smoked bone marrow mayo but found it much too rich for the burger. With an already fattier beef blend, instead he went for 1000 Island which he mixes up with ketchup, Duke’s mayo and housemade bread and butter pickles. And about those pickles…
B&B Pickles: Rather than change up a good thing, Weiss stayed with the bar’s housemade pickles, a recipe from Rebellion GM Jonathan Yeronick’s grandmother. The acidity of the pickles helps break up all the fat in the rest of the burger and adds a touch of heat thanks to peppercorns and Fresno chiles. And rather than chips, Weiss opted for larger, sandwich slices because it reminded him of what his mom would buy when he was a kid.
*For those who think Weiss may be getting soft in his burger game, fear not – he’s still got it. His cholesterol-crammed meat bombs will live on in Rebellion’s new Legacy Burger, a weekly special highlighting Weiss’s more inventive creations. This week’s special, in honor of U.S. soldier Stephan Mace who was killed in action in 2009, is the SPC Mace Warrior Burger stacked with two Rebellion patties, spicy tomato mayo, bacon, provolone, smoked pork, MORE PROVOLONE, house-smoked kielbasa, mornay sauce and fried pickles all on a butter-toasted bun. Yeah, believe that.