Grammar Aside, brgr:shack Passes the Test

As the burger scene continues to explode in D.C., it's getting more and more confusing telling some of the spots apart. Let's get this alphabet soup mix-up straightened out first. There's BGR: The Burger Joint with a handful of locations throughout Northern Virginia, D.C. and Maryland. It's the local veteran of the bunch. Then, there's the Shake Shack, a NYC-based newcomer that will be opening in D.C. on 18th Street this year and is also coming to the concessions lineup at Nationals Park later this spring. And finally, there's the place we're writing about this time, brgr:shack (pronounced "burger shack"), which opened less than two months ago in Arlington. (And, no, Kansas peeps, it's not related to the BRGR Kitchen in Prarie Village. Or NYC. Or Texas. Or Pittsburgh). Ya dig? Their brand-new, completely renovated location is located on N. Fairfax Drive in Arlington, sandwiched in between First Down and Pizza Roma. The entire front is a windowed-garage door that can be rolled up and open when weather permits. That's a really cool feature we're looking forward to checking out once it warms up a bit.

If you squint your eyes, you can see this is a burger joint with a happy hour: two buck Yuengling drafts from 3 - 8, Monday-Friday. Score.

The restaurant itself is small with the grill and fryers right up front next to the register. Lucky bamboo sit in slim glass vases on the tables. From the ceiling hang white, glowing orbs and crazy, exploded snowflake-looking lights. If the guys from Ikea decided to open a club/cafe hybrid, it'd probably look just like this. We're not knocking the decor, we thought it was refreshing. Definitely not our typical burger ambiance. As for the grub, they've got six signature burgers on the menu, ranging from the more traditional {m:brgr} with lettuce, tomato, onions, cheese and their shack island sauce to the inventive {fancy:zola} with bacon, swiss, and a complete gorgonzola salad all on a pumpernickel bun. If you're not feeling any of their combinations, you can design your own from a very decent selection of toppings and sides. And yes, everything on the menu is {similarly:named}. You get a choice of three types of buns: white, wheat and the aforementioned pumpernickel, all delivered fresh to the store each morning from Uptown Bakers in Maryland. The wheat bun is a nice addition, though, we honestly couldn't taste a difference from the white. The pumpernickel, however, definitely stood out. The patties are seven ounces, with a 80/20 mixture of grass-fed beef, mostly sirloin and some chuck. The rarest they'll go cooking is medium rare, so don't expect too much color in your burger. Of all the burgers we ordered, there was only the slightest hint of pink in a couple of them. Fortunately, this didn't affect the flavor, as each burger was sufficiently seasoned and still packed enough juice. The patties come with a slight char, are a little bigger than half-an-inch thick and filled out the bun quite well. When it comes to optimal bun-to-burger ratios, they hit the nail on the head. The {melt:brgr} is one of their plainer creations coming with caramelized onions, red wine sauteed mushrooms, swiss cheese (we subbed in cheddar) and their shack sauce. It was a decent offering. The cheese, onions and mushrooms were good enough and did their thing but the highlight of the burger was the shack sauce. A combination of A1, mayo, ketchup, horseradish and some spices, it was a great addition in the mix. (All their sauces are house made, including a chipotle version, an island sauce (a Thousand Island variation), the Shackberry (cranberry), a seriously sinus-clearing Dijon Habenero sauce, a wasabi sauce and a sweet barbecue.) The burger with the most flair is the {fancy:zola} which comes with a salad on top. Combined with a pumpernickel bun, you've got quite a unique-looking burger that you'd be hard pressed to find elsewhere. While it certainly is a looker, we have to say it takes some getting used to. You've got the salad with the vinaigrette dressing with onions and pecans, plus the sharpness of the gorgonzola, plus sweetness from the cranberries, plus smoky bacon, all on the burger surrounded by the distinctive tasting pumpernickel. Needless to say, it's definitely...interesting. We want to love it, but think there might be just a little too much going on in there.

Of all the signature burgers we tried, we liked the {fire:me:up} the best. It's a hot little number with onions, guacamole, fresh jalapenos, pepper jack, pico de gallo and the chipotle shack sauce. The toppings compliment each other well, though, try as they might, the pico and guac are no match for the jalapenos. The peppers bring the heat and they bring it well. We were sweating a mean streak long after finishing this beast. But, despite setting our mouths ablaze, this burger still packs plenty of flavor and that makes it a winner; it was great. And, just in case you want to add a little more fire to the party, they give you their Habenero sauce on the side. Gee, thanks guys.

One spicy mother f'er.


We also scored with our own burger design: bacon, pepper jack, tomato, pickles, their Sweet Pete BBQ sauce and a fried egg; all on a wheat bun. We've already established you can't go wrong adding an egg to the burger mix, but we gotta pat ourselves on the back for this one. It just plain rocked. We really dug their barbecue sauce too. Perhaps a {brgr:days} slot on the menu in the future? Take advantage of their "Tag Me Up!" deal (available from 11 to 5, Monday through Friday) that adds fries and a drink to for three bucks more. It brings a typical order to just around $10. They kinda skimped on the fries though, and that's a shame, because they're really good. The twice-fried regular order we got was well-salted, generously seasoned and just about perfectly crispy. We had no trouble polishing them off-- we just wish we had more. Their sweet potato fries were similarly prepared and equally good. Both versions are great on their own and also for dipping-- ask 'em for a few of their sauces on the side (the shack sauce kicked ass here again). We also tried their beer battered, panko-encrusted onion rings, but found them to be excessively crispy. We would have liked a little less crunch. One thing we have to mention is that since everything is made-to-order, if you go during peak hours and get stuck in the queue, be prepared to wait. Behind a group of four at lunch on a Friday, it took close to 15 minutes to get our burger after we placed the order. Despite being open less than two months, brgr:shack is already adjusting their formula to accommodate their burger-loving clientele. When they first started, they were serving up six ounce pattties, but have since bumped it up an ounce. We hit 'em up after the switch, so we never got one of the smaller burgers, but we have to commend them on the change as the seven ouncers we did have were just the right size. It's not too big that you'll skip your next meal, but it'll keep you satisfied until it's time to eat again. We like it when burger joints offer up their own creations. It let's them get inventive and gives us a chance to try stuff we wouldn't normally think of to put together or have on a burger. And while the standard, more traditional burgers here are good enough, brgr:shack is strongest when it comes to their signature items and the make your own option. Their house made sauces are legit and, combined with their quality toppings, make for one of the better burgers we've had recently. If they keep it up and continue to do what they do, we'll be visiting them in the future. brgr:shack | 4215 N. Fairfax Drive Arlington, Va | 703-647-9191 | | @brgrshack  

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