Monday, June 22, 2009
Hella Father's Day
We have two Father's Day traditions. I pick some place to go out to eat and my son and I go on a father-son bike ride. Usually the dinner place is a burger joint or barbecue. Definitely not anything upscale or fancy. This started several years ago when I wanted to do some biking on the Mount Vernon Trail and had heard of some obscure burger place in Alexandria called Five Guys. They only served burgers and hot dogs and fries. Now Five Guys are everywhere. The other day Barack Obama went to the Five Guys in south DC and made the news.
But a few weeks before that he went to another burger joint called Ray's Hell Burger in Arlington. He caused quite a kerfuffle among those willing to hate him for any reason whatsoever by asking for 'spicy mustard' aka Dijon. Right wingers took this as further evidence of Obama's inherent foreign-ness.
Hell Burger is not owned by Ray. There is no Ray. It is owned by Michael Landrum, a DC restaurateur known for his persnickity rules. His original steak place is called Ray's The Steaks, a bad pun it took even me a while to figure out (make better steaks, raise the stakes, get it?). Then he opened Ray's The Classics in Silver Springs which is about the best steaks in all of DC.
So when Obama went to Hell Burger, I knew I had no other choice since it intersected my two food eating obsessions, good burgers and eating where Obama eats (those places are for another day). The lines at Ray's restaurants are legendary and I knew it would take some planning to go there. I called the restaurant and got the voicemail machine which said they opened at noon Tuesday thru Sunday. We got there at 12:03 and we glided right into the small strip mall parking lot and miraculously found a space right out front but found the placed packed. It seems that according to the sign out front he really opens at 11:30.
There are actually two Hell Burgers. The one Obama went to is at 1713 Wilson Blvd and is a take-out line. The other is four doors down at 1725 where you can get a table and have your burger brought to you. This one seems to be the original Rays The Steaks and looks way too small to have ever been the toughest seat in DC.
I mentioned persnickity rules. The big one at Hell Burger is no claiming a table until you have placed your order. We saw this honored more in the breach as vultures stalked people leaving. It's one thing to have rules, it's another to enforce them. We placed our order and still got a great table out front.
And the burgers. Truly one of the greatest burgers ever. Ten ounces of prime beef cooked to order with dozens of toppings. Yeah, you can go crazy and get the $17.50 one with bone marrow and truffle oil, but you don't need to. Burgers start at $6.95 and most toppings are free. Fancier items like cheese range from a buck to four dollars for the Amish cave-aged cheddar. I went with the Vermont white cheddar it was the best cheese I have ever had on a burger. My wife had applewood bacon and it was what bacon was meant to be. And right on the table was ketchup, yellow mustard, and brown spicy mustard. This is America, you top your burger with what you want.
And these burgers were big. Two hands to hold and don't drip all over your ten dollar Chinese counterfeit Tommy Bahama shirt like I did. Good food is worth hunting down. And Hell Burger lives up to its name. It's one helluva burger.