We Downed All 16 Burgers at Saturday’s DC Burger Bash
With the sun beating down under a cloudless sky at Arlington’s Gateway Park, Willow Restaurant bested 15 other competitors to take home its third consecutive title at the D.C. BRGR Bash on Saturday. Cafe Saint-Ex and Plan B Burger Bar finished in second and third place, respectively, at the third annual battle of the beef in Rosslyn.
It was hot Saturday. Like really hot. While nothing can put a damper on downing burgers and beers all day long, the weather came pretty damn close. If you think eating 16 burgers (OK, mini burgers) in optimal conditions is tough, try doing it while wading through the park with a sweat-drenched t-shirt and drawers on. It ain’t easy. But being the consummate burger-eating professionals that we are, we bounced through the thick, humidity-and-grill-smoke-filled air and took each and every one of the 16 competing burgers. And plenty of boozers, of course.
Here’s what we thought:
BEST OF THE BASH
1905 RESTAURANT | 1905dc.com | @1905dc
An understated yet delicious effort from the U Street corridor crew, we loved the simplicity of 1905’s creation. The pork belly and beef patty was delicious and the truffled mayo, pickled onions and arugula on top had us wishing we had another burger ticket.
BURGER TAP & SHAKE | burgertapandshake.com | @burgertapshake
BTS went back to its June BOTM, the Little River Turnpike, with its entry and it turned out to be a stellar move. Chef Jeff Tunks’ Korean-themed burger was one of our favorites and left us regretting missing it last month in Foggy Bottom. The pork belly and kimchee topped-beef hooked up a perfect combination of salt and spice.
CAFE SAINT-EX | saint-ex.com | @cafesaintex | 2ND PLACE FINISH
This one was sporting a line all day long and for good reason. With a hodgepodge of toppings including cheddar, smoky Benton’s bacon, pickles, onions and salt and vinegar potato chips, it sounded like a misguided cacophony of components. Surprisingly, Saint-Ex’s Martin’s potato roll wrapped entry was nothing short of a compact bundle of burger bash bliss. Certainly deserving of its spot on the podium.
MAD FOX BREWING COMPANY | madfoxbrewing.com | @madfoxbrewing
The man behind Epic Burger Wendesdays, chef Travis Weiss went surprisingly simple with Mad Fox’s entry: a mini version of the brew pub’s namesake burger (version 5.0) with cheddar, a sweet root beer bacon jam and smoked garlic aioli. We love the full-sized version so it’s only fitting we dug its little beefy sibling.
MEDIUM RARE | mediumrarerestaurant.com | @mediumraredc
One of the best we ate on the day, BGR founder Mark Bucher hasn’t lost a step when it comes to burger making. A custom-blended patty topped with a mushroom and bacon jam mixed with ‘Chups cherry ketchup (Bucher called it his secret weapon) and a perfectly sunny side up quail egg, the burger hit on all notes with each component tap dancing on our taste buds with delight. We can’t wait for his upcoming joint, Community, to open.
The only participant on the day serving two styles of burgers, we went with the RIS classic and our faces were rewarded with so much goodness. It didn’t look like much but the tiny package was a sublime blend of salty and sweet, mixing candied onions with bread and butter pickles. We’re not sure if this is on the regular menu at RIS but if it’s not, it should be.
THE ALSO RANS
BIG BUNS | eatbigbuns.com | @eatbigbuns
Definitely one of the best looking burgers in the Bash, Big Buns hooked up a pretty little number dubbed the “Freatom Fighter.” Unfortunately, all that pretty didn’t translate to taste. The dijon miso mayo, ketchup, mushroom and pickle-topped burger was decent but the Wagyu patty was a waste since we couldn’t decipher any difference between it and most of the other beef patties we downed on the day.
BOUNDARY STONE | boundarystonedc.com | @boundarystonedc
Another pretty burger and one we wanted to like it more than we did. We appreciated the play on bacon, with pig jowl rather than belly on top, but the collection of ingredients – Gruyere, pickle and a too-tiny dollop of relish – was just so so.
BRICKSIDE | bricksidebethesda.com | @bricksideFD
We loved the sound of Brickside’s burger – chuck and brisket blended patty, Boursin and Brie, caramelized onions and sauteed mushrooms – but it just fell flat. It needed something more. Maybe some bacon.
CHEF GEOFF’S | chefgeoff.com | @chefgeoffs
A real disappointment here as both beef and sausage patties were dense and fairly dry and received no help from the rest of the components (cheddar, lettuce, pickles and an onion and bacon jam). Plus, it was just awkward trying to eat the thing. Our advice: save the double patties for the restaurant; keep it to a single when competing in a burger bash.
CITIZEN BURGER BAR | citizenburgerbar.com | @cbbcclarendon
The Clarendon burger bar shrunk their namesake Citizen burger topped with Swiss, black onions and garlic aioli to a mini size. Unfortunately, a solid effort was derailed because the buns were soaked in so much butter, it left us feeling like we just bit into a stick of Land O’ Lakes. Though, we did think it was cool that they managed to brand their tiny buns.
FAINTING GOAT | faintinggoatdc.com | @faintinggoatdc
Oh, what a missed opportunity for Fainting Goat. This could have been one of the best, however, when we arrived at the booth – just halfway through the bash – we were told that the Goat’s topping inventory of bacon jam and serrano mayo had run dry. Instead, we had to settle for a topping-less Juicy Lucy. With spot on execution including a molten core of ooey, gooey American cheese, this might have been the One, instead, it was just pretty good. It’s a shame they dropped the ball on this one.
GUGS | @gugs_georgetown
We hate to disparage amateurs but we need to call it like we see it: the student-run Georgetown University Grilling Society entry was just bad. We love the idea of college kids grilling burgers in the quad but if it’s anything like what they served up Saturday, Hoyas are better off eating at the dining hall. An overcooked meatball was served with a sliver of raw onion, a quarter strip of bacon and some cheddar on much-too-big potato bun. The only positive to this one was that the cheese was melted, so, at least there’s that.
THE LIBERTY TAVERN | thelibertytavern.com | @libertytavernva
There was a lot going on with Liberty Tavern’s Brisket Burger. Topped with Anaheim chiles, smoked gouda, fried onions and an avocado aioli, it all came on a sesame IPA bun. Quite the make up and we liked it but we didn’t quite love it. Instead, our favorite part was the wee cone of sweet corn ice cream that was served on the side.
PLAN B BURGER BAR | planbburger.com | @planbburgerdc | 3RD PLACE FINISH
The Plan B booth featured an impressive tower of meat, cheese and bread but that’s where our admiration ended. The “Competition Burger” was exactly as the Plan B crew’s shirts advertised: “Meat. Cheese. Bread.” However, the thick, fondue-like cheese was too much for such a small burger leaving us quite surprised it managed to finish third.
WILLOW | willowva.com | @willowva | 2015 D.C. BRGR BASH CHAMPION
The winner of the whole damn thing, we found Willow’s burger to be just OK. In fact, the most memorable part of Willow’s food wasn’t the whipped truffle cheese, sauteed mushrooms or bacon-butter brushed bun, but rather, it was the blistering hot tater tot served alongside that scalded our lips after taking a bite. For the love of God, did that sting.