Burgers, Booze & Bison Highlight Burger Days IV

Burger Days IV came and went in a flash like all Burger Days tend to do. It seemed like we had just settled in for our first burger in Adams Morgan and the next thing we knew we were waking up Monday morning afternoon in a puddle of grease with blurry memories of burgers and booze. Despite the less than sharp recollections, we can affirm one thing for certain: Burger Days IV was a blast.

One menu for food. One menu for beer. How it was meant to be.

Our biggest turnout ever for a BD, we were rolling deep when we showed up to kick off the day at The Black Squirrel in Adams Morgan. We were the first people in the joint when we arrived a little past noon and set up shop near the front door. Right away, we knew this was a spot after our own hearts. In addition to having a fat stack of available burger toppings, the beer list was robust needing its own separate menu. (In one of our rare, wiser moments, we passed on their selection of absinthe. We can't imagine how the day would have ended up if we kicked it off with the green fairy.) Sticking to just beer, the crew ordered up a round of burgers with a mix-and-match of fixings. And there was nothing half-assed about these toppings– eight different cheeses, homemade mayo and BBQ sauce, chili and a fried egg were just some of the standouts. They use Hereford beef at the Squirrel: 100% chuck with a 90-10 lean-to-fat ratio. But this ain't just any fat; the meat is combined with 8% veal fat and 2% rendered duck fat. The resulting mix produced a mighty juicy patty with a richer, more-complex flavor than most of the burgers we run across. We can see why these guys get burger props. They also scored major points with the execution of the toppings. While sounding great in print, when they showed up at the table, they were downright gorgeous. The egg was the textbook definition of sunny side up and rivaled the beauties we've had at Stoney's. A One Eye burger-off could be coming in the future... Other topping all-stars were the homemade mayo (creamy, rich, goooood), bacon (thick-cut and fatty-- just the way we like it), and the Chimay cheese which didn't look like much but hooked-up a strong, deep and distinct cheesy flavor in every burger bite.

With bacon, mayo and Manchego cheese. So choice.

Our only hang-up on the burgers was that they were slightly overcooked across the board. Rare orders were more medium rare, while medium rare orders were done up medium. We definitely would have enjoyed some more color in our beef. We might attribute that to the leaner burger mix, but still, they should work to hit the temps better. After the Squirrel, we had to make an early audible as some of the other pre-scouted joints in Adams Morgan had yet to open, but we're the Boy Scouts of burgers– we're always prepared. Jumping on our radar thanks to a tip from a member of the Twitter crew (who just so happened to be making his BD debut that day as well), we took the small hike over the bridge to Open City in Woodley Park and got our names on the waiting list at the bustling cafe/diner/coffee house on the corner of 24th and Calvert.

Burger lubrication.

Idle time is never good on Burger Days-- it's too much opportunity to think about your stomach and the impending beef soon to join the gastrointestinal party. To remedy it, we keep ourselves busy-- particularly by drinking. Fortunately, not 10 yards from Open City was the cool, dark and booze-slinging Murphy's of D.C. Two or three rounds later and our table was ready and it was on to BDIV burger #2. A bright, airy spot, we gotta admit, we were skeptical of this place's ability to produce a good burger. But after getting our table, we sneaked some peeks at neighboring dishes and spied burgers that looked surprisingly full-of-potential. Toppings were limited when compared to our previous stop, but Open City's house burger --served with aged white cheddar and bacon-- was right up our alley. Like the Squirrel, Open City uses Hereford beef, but they opt for a fatter mix of 80-20. Seasoned with just salt and pepper this burger put the beef front-and-center. And it paid off. While the Squirrel's burger was much more involved and complex, Open City's was just the opposite. It tasted like it came fresh off the back yard grill. With a solid, heavy char, the beef was all up in your face. It was delicious. The orders were right on the money too– the rare coming with a beautifully brown grill-marked and crispy outside and a pink inside just bursting with beefiness. And while the beef was undoubtedly the star of the burger, two other components complimented the main attraction perfectly. The bun was spot-on for this type of burger. No fancy, brioche number here, they use a simple squishy, sesame-seeded potato bun. The slightly-charred number soaked up the burger juices and held up through it all.

The Solomon view.

Rivaling the bun for best supporting star was the bacon– it was some serious pork goodness. Just about every member of the crew remarked about the potent, smoky strips of pig candy. "It's thick, double smoked and definitely something we are proud of," Open City chef Courtney Parks told us.  If we could hook up bacon like that, we'd be proud of it too. (We were toting along a bonafide vegan and she was adamant about a photo-shoot of her veggie burger. She was ooing and ahhing over the thing that looked more like something you'd find in a cow pasture rather than a burger bun, but we promised her a pic, so here it is. For what it's worth, it was deemed "delicious" and "fantastic.")

Yeah, this happened on Burger Days IV.

We left Open City and still had about 20 minutes to kill before the other joints on our list opened at 5 p.m. so naturally it was booze-o'clock once again. We ducked outta the heat into the bottom bar at Asylum, and –long story short– two-and-half hours, a beer-bong, a handle of Jameson, countless star-spangled Bud tall boys, various pints, 15 games of naked Photo Hunt and one Donnie Dark piñata later, we stumbled out of the bar onto 18th street once again. Once way ahead of the pace of past Burger Days, our latest booze pit-stop left us now lagging behind. With plans of shifting into burger over-drive, we crossed the street and hit up The Reef for our third, and sadly last, burger of the day. If you're a veteran of these pages, you know we consider any four-legged animal game for Burger Days. However, when we were met with only a bison burger option at The Reef, we should of taken it as a sign.

The Reef has no beef.

We've got nothing against buffalo, in fact, Dances With Wolves is one of our favorite flicks, but the burgers we got here were not very good. The menu's description sounded decent enough, if a little plain: an 8 oz. bison burger with tomato, mixed greens and onion on brioche. Wanting a little more going on, a couple of us added bacon and a fried egg to the deal, but neither did any to help the cause.

Not even egg, bacon and cheese could fix this burger.

The rare ordered burger we got was cooked medium at best and the patty was too dry. We were hoping the egg would bring some flavor and juiciness to the mix but it was fried to a hard yolk so that was outta the question. We don't make a habit of it, but we sent back the overdone burger; unfortunately, the replacement was done just about the same way.

Fries from heaven. Burger not so much.

There was a bright side to our visit to The Reef, however. The fries that came alongside our over-done buffalo were insanely good. It may have been the booze, but, personally, they were some of the best fries I've ever eaten. (I'm not one for hyperbole either, so a statement like that doesn't come lightly.) They were salty, greasy, even a little bit sweet. If we knew what we were getting into at The Reef, we would've passed on the burger and ordered up a plate full of the spuds. The previous week's training left us with plenty of room to spare for at least another burger, but it turns out our booze binge at Asylum ate up a bit too much time. Desperate for a sure-thing after The Reef debacle, we set off for 1905 in the U Street corridor but were met with a locked door-- closed on Sundays. Shit. We were holding out hope that Policy, which hosted a burger bash that same day, would still serve up the goods. But by the time we got to the joint, there was nothing but booze and a packed dance floor waiting for us-- we took full advantage of both, however. With Burger Days IV in the books, we saw two joints enter the pantheon of Burger Days goodness while a third will simply be viewed as the disappointing sidekick to some tasty fries. And while three burgers was our minimum requirement on the day, I can't help but think we could have done better. A little more restraint, a bit more preparation and four would've been well within our grasp. With that said, we're making the bold assertion now that Burger Days V will be a minimum four-burger event. No more messing around. But don't think this means any less revelry. No, we'll still indulge in the shots, absinthe, beer funnels or whatever else we decide to throw back, we'll just make sure there's more burgers in our bellies soaking it all up. Oh yeah.  

Burger Days IV Destinations:

The Black Squirrel | 2427 18th Street NW, Washington, D.C. | blacksquirreldc.com Murphy's of D.C. | 2609 24th Street, NW, Washington D.C. | murphysofdc.com Open City | 2331 Calvert St, NW, Washington D.C. | opencitydc.com Asylum | 2471 18th Street NW, Washington D.C. | asylumdc.com The Reef | 2446 18th Street NW, Washington D.C. | thereefdc.com Policy | 1904 14th Street NW, Washington D.C. | policydc.com  

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