John Critchley Is Too Busy Running Restaurants, Making Amazing Burgers to Trash Talk
We fell in love with John Critchley’s burger the very first time we ate it. And then again the second time. Then on the third. And so on and so on…
In fact, every time we sit down at Brine, his Mosaic District oyster house, we order the burger. Every. Single. Time. People ask us how the hell we can get a burger at a place that specializes in seafood but we simply offer them a bite (a small one, mind you), and once they experience the revelation that is Critchley’s creation, all questions stop.
During our Throwdown interview, Critchley reveals that the genesis behind his meaty masterpiece was the time he spent as executive chef of Bourbon Steak. His desire to improve upon its own magnificent burger — which, coincidentally, is his all-time favorite — led to the creation of the Brine burger and, for that, we are eternally grateful. We also learn that his go-to burger beer is a Kölsch, he loves Market Burger in Purcellville and that the man is too busy to trash talk.
This is one in a seven-part interview series with the competitors in the 2016 D.C. Burger Throwdown taking place Sunday, May 15, 2016. Additional interviews will be linked here as they are published: Matt Adler, Scott Drewno, Travis Weiss, Alex McCoy, Ryan Hackney, John Critchley, Keith Long. Tickets for the Throwdown are available at bit.do/bbthrowdown.
Executive Chef, Brine
Without giving away any secrets, can you let me know what you’ve got planned for the 15th?
Chaos. It’s going to be chaos. We’re not doing our burger [at Brine], we’ll be doing a different burger altogether. The flavor profile is going to be that of a grilled hot dog and burger. Just the flavor profile – it won’t be a hot dog. It’s definitely a burger with ground beef. It’s going to have that smoky, crispness of a hot dog.
How much time have you spent planning this burger?
[Laughs] My whole life. No, my chef de cuisine and I got together about a week and a half ago. We knew what we wanted to do; we didn’t want our traditional burger toppings. We got together and picked our cheese, picked our accompaniments and put it together in probably an afternoon. Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been kinda dreaming it and working out the execution of it.
Who do you think is your biggest competition in the Throwdown?
I’m not really the most competitive when it comes to cooking. I enjoy cooking with Scott Drewno, I like cooking with all those guys. Honestly, I have not cooked with Travis [Weiss]. I’m looking forward to cooking with him and seeing everyone’s burgers.
Have you been involved with any of the trash talking with the other Throwdown competitors?
No. I don’t know, I’ve been really busy with three different restaurants in two different states.
Too busy to trash talk?
Yeeeeah, and I don’t know if it’s really my style…more passive aggressive.
Have you done any burger competitions before?
No, I haven’t done burger competitions. I used to do the Lamb Jam with the American Lamb Board. I believe we won three years in a row and I stopped doing it after that.
What do you think is the key to a great burger? Is it one component or one method?
It’s clearly the quality of the beef. For sure. Beyond that, I think the bun plays a huge role. No pun intended.
[Laughing] Oh, man, I didn’t even pick that up.
[Laughs] But, yeah, a nice buttered bun that’s toasty and chewy. It just absorbs all the juices from it. A burger is a good way to showcase a well-made bread. Beyond that, it’s also your flavor preferences. If I have a burger at home, I’ll just have the meat and then ketchup.
Do you prefer thick, ½ lb. patties or diner-style, smash-griddled patties?
I like the thick ones. Mainly because I like to get a good sear on the outside, either from a really hot grill or a hot griddle. And I like the textural changes as you get to the center of a good medium rare burger. I don’t like mine cold or raw. I like it warm all the way through but you get the texture changes from the crispy outside all the way in.
Ketchup on a burger? Yes or no?
How do you like your burgers cooked?
Warm all the way through.
What’s your favorite burger in the D.C. area, outside of your own?
Bourbon Steak, it’s always my favorite. That’s where I got inspired for our original burger. That has by far the best flavor profiles, the bun..it has all the things in one in that burger. Basically, I just wanted to improve upon that when I came up with ours.
Outside of that one, is there one burger you’ve eaten if your life that stands out above all others? Or is Bourbon Steak just the one?
That is by far my favorite one that stands out. The next burgers that I really do like — it’s funny — but one of my good friends that I used to cook with up in Boston just opened a whole franchise of Wahlburgers.
Oh yeah, they’re supposed to be coming here, too.
Yeah, my friend Paul, we cooked together a long time ago and we’ve kept in touch throughout our careers. I remember when they opened and I went there with my son and had a burger. It’s a good one. I like it and I like the concept. The next one would be a great Five Guys burger. The other one is Market Burger out in Purcellville. That’s a great burger, too.
I keep hearing about that one.
It really is a good burger. They’re doing all that farm-to-table. Toppings and everything. That’s a great one.
What is your favorite cheese to put on a burger?
Right now, it’s Honeysuckle cheddar but really any kind of farmhouse cheese, which is basically a cheddar anywhere from three to six months aged. It’s not super dry and it just melts well.
What are your ideal burger toppings? If you go to Five Guys, what do you get?
I love sweet and sour pickles. I’ll put those on there. Cheese, ketchup. That’s really it.
What’s your favorite beer to have with a burger?
Right now, I’d probably just have a big Kölsch. We have some really good ones right now. Or an IPA, which is actually like the exact opposite. Right now, I like the lighter ones for my burger because the burger is such a big meal. So, I’ll do a Kölsch — we have big one from Fairwinds in Lorton called Quayside. That one is really good. The other one I had that was really cool was Hopocalypse. That was a very good one.
Fries or tots?
So, the way Burger Days started, since D.C. has such a big burger scene and we wanted to try them all, my friends and I would go out and eat burgers all day. The most we’ve ever eaten a day is like six or seven burgers. My question is, what is the greatest amount of burgers you’ve eaten in a day?
[Laughs] Just one.
Yep, just one.
That’s probably the smart move.
I’m in a kitchen six, seven days a week and I rarely sit down to eat anything. Probably just one meal a day. There was a time when I’ve eaten a couple of burgers a week but now it’s more like every other week I’ll eat a burger.
Well, yeah, that’s definitely the smarter decision.
And finally, is there anything you would like to say to your Throwdown competition?
Oh man, it’s going to be fun. That’s all I know. That’s all I got to say. It’s going to be a blast. I can’t wait to cook with these guys again. Anytime you get a group of us chuckleheads together…I think those seven bottles of bourbon are going to be gone pretty quick.
The 2016 D.C. Burger Throwdown is this Sunday, May 15, from 3 – 7 p.m. at The Commodore Public House & Kitchen. Tickets are available at bit.do/bbthrowdown.