There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
The first time I visited Good Stuff Eatery, I had to stand in the winding, Disney World–esque line along with the rest of the star-struck schmoes hoping to get a burger and a glimpse of its quasi-celebrity owner, former Top Chef contestant Spike Mendelsohn. The wait gave me plenty of time to take in the menu, watch the line cooks, ignore the pounding classic-rock soundtrack, and appreciate all the signs and T-shirts pumping Spike’s fresh, “not far from the farm” ethos.
As the line snaked its way to the ordering counter, I found myself face-to-face with the fedora fetishist himself. I took the opportunity to ask Mendelsohn what cuts of beef he uses for his burger. “Are you asking about my blend?” he shot back. “Yeah, I guess I am,” I responded. “Is it confidential?” Mendelsohn said it was, given he spent a year developing it. Still, unable to contain himself, the chef said his blend includes both brisket and boneless short ribs, which, I admit, got me a little excited. Those are two tasty cuts.
My mouth was watering harder than a log ride by the time I secured a seat, unwrapped my “farmhouse” burger, and took the first bite. It turned out to be the anti-burger hamburger, by which I mean that the gray charred disc of underseasoned ground beef had almost zero flavor, even when I broke off a chunk and ate it straight. The patty was a lame headliner outperformed by such secondary acts as the thin strip of sour pickle and the soft, sweet brioche bun. I chalked it up to rookie griddle jockeys who had likely pressed and cooked the juices right out of Mendelsohn’s precious burgers. Rule No. 1 for all burger cooks: Don’t play with your meat.
My theory seemed sound after my next trips to Good Stuff. Almost every subsequent burger I ordered tasted as if the beef flavor had been, well, beefed up. If the first one was anemic, the latter ones were steroidal, pure ground-beef muscle goodness. During my second visit, I noticed Mendelsohn himself at the griddle, and his technique was flawless. Patties slapped on the grill, generously seasoned, flipped once, and cooked till done. No extraneous flipping, no squeezing with the spatula, no lost juices. Nothing like the owner taking matters into his own hands.
But then I got to talking with a rival restaurateur who suggested another reason for Mendelsohn’s initial burger failures: My deepthroat suggested that, early on, Good Stuff actually bought its burgers from Sysco, the food-service giant that is the absolute antithesis of farm-fresh. Mendelsohn categorically denied the charge, and I believe him. The reason I even decided to drag you, poor reader, through this muck of apparently baseless accusations is because I think it proves a point. Spike Mendelsohn is a marked man.