Pats and pans follow a burger giveaway

Posted: March 25, 2010

Here is an excerpt from yesterday's online chat with Craig LaBan.

Reader: I was just walking up Sansom Street and saw a huge line outside the new hamburger place called 500. What do you know about it?

Craig LaBan: This is the new burger place from the crew behind Rouge, called 500°. Brand, brand new. I haven't been yet, but I've seen my colleague Michael Klein's Insider Blog report on "the making of" this burger, a smaller-sized patty meant to be affordable. Should be verrry interesting. Probably should have stood in that line instead of the heartburn at Five Guys.. . .

Reader: Does the Five Guys burger live up to the hype?

CLB: Well, my opinion hasn't changed much about this place. It's a local franchise of the D.C. chain. In general, I find it superior to most chains, but it lacks the finesse that makes a truly great burger. Yes, they use fresh meat. And the fries are awesome. But this place inspired the "patty smasher" line in my burger song . . . they can still bring the paddle.

Reader: Speaking of burgers and Sansom Street, tried the burger at the reincarnated Ladder 15. It is a good burger. Ansill is doing a fine job raising that place to a new level. I would have never gone there three months ago.

CLB: Agreed. I just did a Good Taste feature on his curried lamb empanadas (mentioned also on this chat). He's really upping the level of the food. The house burger comes with short rib meat on top and a slice of marrow bone on the side - so Ansill. I commend the owners for getting ambitious in the kitchen. With the happy hour mobs, they didn't need to go that route. Moreover, I'm glad to be able to taste David Ansill's cooking again. He's a true talent and a true character.

Reader: A friend and I were at 500° this morning for free burgers, and it's a good thing it was free. We ordered the house specialty 500° burger, medium, fries and Diet Cokes - and the Diet Cokes were the best thing. Both burgers were overdone - and we couldn't find a trace of bacon even though it's standard on this burger. The fries were just plain bad - an uncooked tangle of greasy messiness - not crispy, not tasty, just gross. My question is: what was the point of today? Was it for the restaurant to display its wares to the public or was it to work out the kinks during a lunchtime rush, or both?

CLB: Thanks for this blazing hot report from the city's latest burgerteria. Does not sound like a good debut. On the one hand, you must take this with a note of caution - opening days (weeks) are always rough. This is why I usually don't go to new restaurants for a couple months, because first impressions can be memorable in all the wrong ways. Then again, I also believe you shouldn't open your doors until you've got your act together. Hopefully, they'll take the constructive criticism and fix it quick.

Reader: I was at 500 today also, and I completely disagree. Yes, it was crazy crowded, but the burger was amazing. Mine was cooked perfectly. My burger wasn't free (I had the two-for-one) but my fries weren't greasy . . . I'd chalk it up to opening day madness, but really happy it's open for lunch.

Reader: Garces Trading Co.: I have eaten here 3 or 4 times. The food is extremely good. The flatbread pizzas are fantastic; charcuterie choices are excellent. DO NOT MISS THE SALTED CARAMEL MACAROONS!!!! I loved paying retail prices for an excellent but mostly Eurocentric wine list. The servers at times can be a bit snotty, but, overall, I highly recommend this unique newcomer.

CLB: Thanks for this double-blast of a happy/peeved report on the new Garces Trading Co. I've had an early nibble here, too, and found it quite intriguing as a market/dine-in concept. My favorite things so far? The pappardelle with lamb ragu and root vegetable puree, the teeny breakfast radishes with goat cheese butter and sea salt. I agree the wine shop is strangely exciting - so out of place in Pa., but stocked with quality choices at retail prices. No wonder Garces' competition (BYOs and bars alike) is hopping mad! . . . wine markups around here are just out of line, and definitely one of the main reasons for the BYO movement. But, I also understand complaints that the LCB is cherry-picking one restaurateur (Garces) to give him an unfair advantage. He's not one to offer consumer-friendly markups in any of his full-service liquor license restaurants - have you seen the insane prices on bourbon they're charging for 1 oz. pours over at Village Whiskey? At GTC, he gets to house a wine cellar without any usual costs that are born by full-service restaurateurs (no insurance, no storage fees, no sommelier salaries, etc.). It's a good deal for both Garces and consumers. It's a pilot program, I believe, and that is something the PLCB is going to have to expand upon.

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