September-October 2008

The Burger Joint

Good but expensive burgers in great surroundings.

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Matt inhaled his root beer float before I got to taste it. That’s what happens when you take a pack of 17-year-old boys to a burgers-and-shakes place. Turn your head and the fries are gone, too.

But that’s precisely why I took the group to BGR: The Burger Joint, a hip hangout on the edge of Bethesda’s Veterans Park. Give a teenage boy a hunk of meat—anytime, anywhere—and he’s happy.

In this case, the teens were happy that I was paying. They would have gone elsewhere on their own dime, rather than pay more than $12 for a sandwich, fries and a drink. They say they’ve had better burgers elsewhere, and for less. But The Burger Joint has a “better vibe,” according to Matt.

Indeed, vibe-wise, The Burger Joint has the competition beat. The fun begins with the tables, with mosaic tops that look like packages of Good & Plenty, Nestle’s Quik, Bazooka Bubble Gum and more. Colorful record album covers— Tom Petty, U2, Prince—line the midnight blue walls, and clumps of red, white and blue light bulbs serve as funky chandeliers. When it’s busy (which seems to be often), the Joint is jumpin’, which means it is lively, noisy and potentially annoying for anyone over 40. Food-wise, The Burger Joint offers a wide selection of meat and seafood between a bun, ordered at the rather chaotic counter; then employees call (or shout) your number when it’s ready.

Sometimes you’ll be pleased with what you get, but like teenage boys after an escapade with the opposite sex, the menu tends to exaggerate. “The best burgers have to be matched with the best fries,” it reads. And, “This is the best and thickest shake you will ever have.” Really?

Here then, is how I’d rewrite the menu. (The Burger Joint’s comments are first; mine are in italics.)

The Burger/$7.49

This put us on the map.

This puts The Burger Joint north of fast food, but leaves it south of the thick, flavorful patties at better pubs and upscale restaurants. The beef is OK, and dresses up nicely with the condiments and toppings. It’s just nothing special.

Sliders/$7.99

Mini versions of our award winning patties.

These offspring won’t win any awards.

Bacon Cheeseburger/$8.49

Applewood smoked bacon with rosemary.

Crisp, smoky and terrific bacon gives this burger a decided edge.

Veggie/$7.99

Our house-made recipe, including brown rice, black beans, oats and molasses.

Even meatheads might like this burger, packed as it is with flavor and texture.

Turkey/$10.99

Slow-roasted turkey, freshly ground with portobello mushrooms and a hint of Gorgonzola cheese.

Not bad, but the turkey is spongy, rather than loosely packed, and the Gorgonzola is too shy. There’s no sense hinting, especially for $11.

The Cuban/$8.99

Our burger topped with slow roasted pork, serrano ham, sweet pickles, mustard and Swiss cheese. Served on a fresh potato bun that is grill-pressed to be extra crispy.

I’ll say. On one busy night, the cooks grilled one side of the bun as black as briquettes. The bread was replaced, and the sandwich was restored to its thumbs-up combination.

The Greek/$12.99

Featured on Food Network’s Throw down with Bobby Flay.

Bobby wouldn’t be happy to see the seasoned ground lamb turned to mush, soaked from the tzatziki sauce. A nice idea with the mint, feta, cucumbers, tomatoes and onions, perhaps improved with less sauce.

Ahi Tuna/$13.99

Sushi grade Ahi, with cilantro, ginger and garlic, topped with a grilled pineapple slice.

Boy, does this work! Forget the beef.

Lobster (seasonal)/$14.99

Our version of the lobster roll. Fresh, flown in from the docks of Maine. Lump tail and claw meat mixed with a light mayo-based sauce including chives and celery.

In this version, a squishy roll is scattered with a meager collection of flabby lobster meat.

As for those “best” fries, they’re bland, and the optional Parmesan or rosemary toppings are no help. Skip the onion rings; they’re greasy. But the sweet potato fries—now those are worth bragging about!

And those “best and thickest shakes?” The vanilla sure was thick and sure was good, but I’ve had thicker and better. Something went awry with the double chocolate shake, however; it was more like dense chocolate milk.A long way from best and thickest.

Highlights of BGR: The Burger Joint

4827 Fairmont Ave., Bethesda
301-358-6137

Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.

Prices

Burgers: $7.49 to $14.99. The 9-pounder (with bun and condiments, 15.4 pounds): $79.99, free if you can eat it in one sitting. Order at least one day in advance. Daily lunch special: Burger, fries and a soda, $8.99. Kids menu: $5.49 for two sliders or grilled cheese, fries and soda or juice

Reservations

None

Beer and Wine

Changing selection of one or two draft beers, one red wine and one white wine.

Favorite Burgers

Bacon cheeseburger, Cuban, Ahi Tuna, Veggie

Favorite Desserts

The chocolate chip cookies and brownies aren’t worth the splurge. Instead, share a vanilla shake. As for the root beer float, Matt (see review) says it was his favorite part of the meal.

Good Place to Go For

Teenagers on their parents’ dime, families with kids, lunch goers looking for a sleeker setting than Crossfire (another burger place a few blocks away).

Parking/Getting There

Street and garage parking. Bethesda Metro.

Carole Sugarman is a former food writer for The Washington Post.