All hail the fat-ass restaurant hamburger. Is anything better than an inch-thick patty of carefully blended, freshly ground beef, char-grilled and bleeding all over the bun? These hulking sandwiches are the star attractions at the lowliest of dive bars and the stateliest of steak houses and everything in between. And when gussied up with melted Brie or braised short rib or foie gras or whatever thoroughly fattening ingredient the chef deems necessary, they're almost impossible to resist.
Unless, of course, you consider the virtue of a simple, griddle-cooked patty, patted into a sweet roll and served with, oh, maybe a slice of tomato and few shreds of lettuce and a squirt of ketchup or two.
Those griddle-style burgers, as I'll call them, can be just as good as their overgrown counterparts. Most often represented in the fast-food world, they don't get the respect they deserve. With thin meat, ground fresh and cooked well-done, these burgers can feature layers of deeply caramelized flavor and an intense meatiness you just can't get in a big-ass patty.
Now, we put two of them to the test. Both chains, Five Guys Burgers and Fries and Elevation Burger, hail from Virginia. And both make thin, well-done, griddle-cooked burgers that rise far above their fast-food origins. But which is better? Read on to find out.
Guys Burgers and Fries: Much has been said about Five Guys, the
Virginia-based chain that expanded rapidly over the past few years to
nearly 600 locations nationwide (with another 200 planned for 2010).
Their fries are hand-cut in house and cooked in peanut oil, and their
burgers are cooked to order. They come in either single or double patty
variations, with cheese or bacon or both if you like. To me, the best
part about those burgers are the ingredients. At Five Guys, you can
completely customize your burger with any number of toppings at
no additional charge. The toppings are pretty nifty too: Caramelized
onions, sauteed mushrooms, spicy raw jalapeños, green peppers, and even
A-1 Sauce are available. A double patty with the works will set you back
around $6 at most locations, and it's one fine, messy meal at that
price. I've found that the quality of the burgers can vary greatly based on
location; they also taste best when eaten in-house, not to go. My
biggest gripes: The beef is quite often underseasoned and isn't always
as meaty-flavored as it could be. (Locate a Five Guys near you here.)
Burger: From Arlington, Virginia, Elevation Burger takes a similar approach to burgers as Five Guys does. The menu is simple
and straightforward, with burgers, fries, salad, and milk shakes (which
5G's does not have). But the big difference is that Elevation makes its
burgers with only 100 percent free-range, grass-fed, organic beef. The result
is a truly exceptional flavor to the meat. The beef tastes rich and
beefy and is seasoned nicely. The bun is soft and sweet, and the cheese
used on its cheeseburgers is a sharp, melty cheddar that pairs
perfectly with the earthy beef. Like Five Guys, Elevation Burgers come
in single or double patties, priced from $4 to $6 -- but you can also stack their "Vertigo"
burger with up to 10 patties. Elevation serves a veggie burger too, and
its hand-cut fries are cooked in 100 percent olive oil (they surpass even Five
Guys' fries, in my opinion, but that's another post). If Elevation has a
drawback, it's that the topping choices are few: Lettuce, tomato,
pickle, onion, or grilled onions are about all that's available besides a
few sauces. And while the quality of ingredients is topnotch, the
selection could be better. Also, there is only one Elevation Burger in
Florida at the moment, and that's in Coral Springs (2908 University
Drive). So if you're craving one, you'll have to drive. Three more Florida
locations are planned for 2010.
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Burger. Although Five Guys has the market cornered on cool toppings,
Elevation's free-range, organic beef burgers just have a cleaner,
beefier flavor. Plus intangibles like better fries and hand-dipped
milk shakes with premium ice cream make the experience even better.