The other day, I was running errands in McLean, and I stopped at Joe’s Burgers on Old Dominian Drive. It has been mentioned on this board in a thread on another restaurant. Here are my impressions.
The place: It is in a small strip that includes the Organic Butcher and, I believe, the Corner Bistro. It is very tiny, with 8 two-tops that can be pushed together to seat groups of 6 or so. There is seating on barstools for another 5. There is parking in front, which can easily be full, but there is additional parking on the side.
The menu: Very focused and understated, it includes a number of burgers, a chicken breast sandwich, grilled veggie sandwich with goat cheese, chicken wings, and onion rings. Prices for the burgers range from $8.95 to $14.95, and all include fries. Way in the back, I saw a sign for soup of the day (gazpacho), but there was no price. The burgers include a basic burger with cheese, organic burger with cheese, blue cheese burger, black angus, buffalo, kobe beef ($11.95), venison, and several burgers with specialized toppings such as chorizo and manchego; pepperjack and guacamole; and gorgonzola, pesto, and pancetta. At the top of the line, $14.95 gets you either the special kobe burger, marinated in teriyaki sauce and served with wasabi-mayo or a venison burger with gruyere, pancetta, mushrooms, and caramelized onions. [As an aside, I do wish we could cure restauranteurs of misusing the term “kobe beef.” Simply having the same genetics doesn’t make the meat Kobe beef, no more than sparkling wine from New York State is champagne.] The day I was there, there was an ostrich burger special, and a portobello sandwich as well. The choice of cheese includes the usual suspects of cheddar, swiss, provolone, but also includes things such as mozzarella, manchego, pepperjack, gruyere and gorgonzola. I didn't hear brie, which is my favorite on a burger. Unfortunately, the list of cheeses isn’t on the menu. Since I was offered gorgonzola as a cheese on the basic burger, I’m wondering what the extra dollar for the blue cheese burger gets you. There are a few domestic and imported beers ($3.95 and $4.95, respectively, as I recall, a few wines by the glass, and several cocktails listed. I found the latter particularly interesting, since I’m wondering why they would bother with the license in such a small place, where you might not want to encourage occupying a table longer.
The food: I had the basic burger, since this would be the best comparison. I had gruyere as the cheese of choice, not the best for comparison sake, but I like it. As the burger came to the table, I lowered my expectations when I saw that it was a pre-formed patty. I needn’t have. This place leaves Elevation Burger in the dust, which is what I think the elevation burger tastes like. The meat itself was of good quality, and the burger is 8 ounces (not touted on the meuu; I had to ask). I ordered it rare (the waiter asked), and it was indeed cool red in the middle. The outside was mildly charred, but it was enough that I could definitely taste it. It was on a beautiful bun that had been nicely toasted. Just a few bites in, that bun was no longer toasty, since it was sopping up all the juice from the burger (contrast with the dried-out pucks I’ve had at E-Burger). There is the smallest smear of their “signature barbeque sauce” that added a bit of taste but was in no way overwhelming (again, contrast with the abominable sauce at E-Burger--necessary to give it some moisture but awful). It came with a slice of organic (only later volunteered by waiter later during our discussion) tomato, a slice of onion, and a few leaves that I saw the cook pull from a living head of butter lettuce, also organic. The fries were the small shoestring type that I assumed from their uniformity to be packaged. However, they were perfectly fried and then tossed (I witnessed this) in a bowl with coarse salt and a few pepper flakes. They were obviously fried properly and in good quality oil, because they stayed crisp until I was finished with the burger. Even if they were pre-packaged potatoes, they were leagues above the under-done, slimy things at E-Burger that are a waste of both potatoes and olive oil.
All in all, it was an excellent burger and fries. Not cheap, but I didn't feel ripped off, and in fact seemed altogether reasonable, given the quality. I’m not saying this is the best burger I’ve ever had, but it sure is a lot better than many of them around.
My complaint: My table had a fresh bottle of Heinz ketchup, and I had a hard time getting it started. But then, why on earth would I have needed it?
Next time, which there definitely will be, I'll try perhaps a non-beef burger or one with special toppings.