The Truth About Gourmet Burgers

Last winter I set out to figure out what's so special about the gourmet burger craze in DC. At the time, I couldn't understand why people were so excited about a simple food that's not especially difficult to make at home. Over the course of the year, I've eaten at about half a dozen of DC's "gourmet burger" restaurants. I've found them to be more similar to each other than unique, and hardly anything to write home about.

(from frivolous_accumulation on Flickr)

One thing that all of these places have in common is that they're surprisingly expensive. I went to BGR and the "lunch special" set me back over $10. A burger, fries and drink at Good Stuff Eatery was $14-something. And a burger, fries, and shake at Shake Shack during lunch cost me $16. The burgers are "unique" in that they often have toppings and sauces that you might not usually put on a burger, but at the end of the day, you're still just eating a piece of ground beef formed into a patty and slapped on a bun.

I think what's happened is that we've gotten so used to McDonalds and Burger King that Big Macs and Whoppers have become the new "normal" when it comes to hamburgers; so any burger that's prepared properly, from fresh (not frozen) beef, and served with fries that didn't come from a bag in the freezer, seems like something amazing.

I guess I'm not quite willing to pay so much for "gourmet burgers" because I can make something nearly as good at home for a fraction of the price. Sure, I might not be able to come up with the same combination of toppings and sauces, but that's OK. On the other hand, I'm willing to pay for good sushi, because even though I could make sushi at home, I can't make it easily or well at all. There's a skill involved in making sushi that I simply do not have.

There is still one restaurant that I still tried - Ray's Hell Burger. Ray's claim to fame is that they raise grass-fed cows and age the meet to perfection. In that sense, it's not just that they're putting exotic toppings on regular burgers (they also do that), but that they're actually offering a product that you can't get anywhere else.


    On September 25, 2011 Anonymous said...

    Rob, you still haven't eaten a gourmet burger. You've simply eaten a bunch of highly marketed ordinary burgers. A few places make something worth eating and worth the price. Ray's might meet that standard. And you could do worse than try a burger at Palena.

    On September 25, 2011 Anonymous said...

    Rob, I think you've missed the point. For example these places offer a burger closer in quality to say houstons or mortons then mcdonalds at half the price not to mention no tip or wait for a table.

    On September 25, 2011 Java Master said...

    I have to agree with Rob. Most "gourmet" burgers are stunningly ordinary once you scrape off the exotic toppings and set aside the buns. On the other hand, some of the sides, such as fries, onion rings, as well as milkshakes are quite good at these same places ( and they can prove to be much more difficult to make at home with the same consistency). What the new burgers joints have in common are the relatively high prices-- which I generally will not pay--as well as the usual bugaboos about cholesterol, fat and sodium. These burgers and trimmings may all taste pretty good, but just like McD's, they are just as BAD for your body.