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If your pandemic food pyramid has toppled sideways, you’re not alone. Burgers, sandwiches, and pizza have become major food groups since the start of the pandemic, in part because our housebound lizard brains can click the order button and achieve near instant gratification. Fortunately, these items are among the most cost-effective and creative dishes for struggling restaurants to make, market, and deliver. Here are three new burger pop-ups for the next time a comfort food craving arises.
Sandi Buns at Service Bar
926 U St. NW, (202) 462-7232, sandibunsdc.com
Service Bar partner Chad Spangler says the name Sandi Buns started as a simple mash-up of “sandwich” and “buns,” but then they took the name and ran with it, giving a fictional character named Sandi a persona that fits with the indulgent concept.
“Sandi’s spunky,” he says. “She’ll come into the bar and you wouldn’t expect it, but she will eat three cheeseburgers without batting an eye, all while remaining calm, cool, collected, and chatty.”
Spangler considers Sandi Buns a virtual brand since the menu is only available for takeout and delivery. The Shaw bar still serves its regular menu for dine-in customers. He adds that the longevity of Sandi Buns is contingent on its early success.
Diners can opt for burgers made with locally sourced beef or meatless Impossible patties. They can also submit burger ideas, with one crowdsourced option being added to the roster of regular topping combos. Every customer whose creation is chosen to be featured for a limited amount of time gets one on the house.
The first crowd-sourced burger, created by Troy Petenbrink, is called the Super Bowl Face Off and is actually two burgers, one for each city represented in this Sunday’s big game. The Kansas City BBQ Burger comes with onion rings, pulled pork, Kansas City barbecue sauce, dill pickles, and caramelized onions, while the Tampa Bay Cuban Burger is topped with spicy Dijon, Swiss cheese, ham, and pickles.
“We think that burgers and chicken sandwiches are something that people are into and provide that blank slate for people to build on,” Spangler says.
What to order: Spangler’s go-to is the Sandi Spice Bomb ($11), created to mimic the flavors of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Also try Sandi’s OB Smash ($10), which tastes like a high-end take on a Big Mac. If you’re feeling like chicken, go for the juicy, Peruvian-inspired Charred and Feathered ($11).
Sandi Buns is available for takeout and delivery Tuesdays through Fridays from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.
ABC Guys Burger & Fries at ABC Pony
2 I St. SE, (202) 913-8155, abcpony.com
Chef and restaurateur Erik Bruner-Yang has thought a lot about burgers. “I worked for Red Robin for four years in high school, so burgers are part of my culinary DNA,” he says.
That experience also informed one of his main burger philosophies: “Everyone wants something different on their burger. You could be with 10 people, and all 10 people would want something different.”
That’s why ABC Pony’s burger pop-up lets customers build their own burgers ($10), inspired by a visit to Five Guys. Free toppings for the Creekstone Farms patties include all the usuals, plus a few specialities like smoked aioli and chili crisp ranch.
There are also three signature burgers on the menu ($12 each), for those who would rather put their trust in the restaurant. The AJ, loaded with crab dip, Old Bay onions, and shredded lettuce, is the brainchild of ABC Pony Executive Chef Armani Johnson.
The EBY, named for Bruner-Yang, includes char siu thick-cut bacon, smoked aioli, grilled onions, jalapeños, and cheddar. But the restaurateur admits that his current order is a simple combination of cheese, smoked mayonnaise, and tomato.
The restaurant started slinging burgers on New Year’s Eve and will continue to do so for at least another couple of weeks since, like most, they’re taking life one week at a time.
“What are we going to do next? We’ll do this until we figure it out,” Bruner-Yang says.
What to order: Try your hand at building your own burger.
ABC Guys Burger & Fries is open for takeout and delivery Thursdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Virtual, (703) 663-8931, geeburger.com
Chef Brendan L’Etoile, the man behind several restaurants owned by brothers Ian and Eric Hilton, regularly features a burger on his menus. Whether it’s at Chez Billy Sud in Georgetown or Parc de Ville in Fairfax’s Mosaic District, L’Etoile’s burgers are always unforgettable. They’re a primary reason the restaurant group started offering burger delivery in Fairfax a few weeks ago, closely followed by delivery to Arlington and D.C.
“He’s always had a burger that’s always been one of the best things I’ve put in my mouth,” Ian says. “It seemed like just a great product that we could roll out and reproduce in additional locations.”
Just about everything between the buns is house-made, including the top-secret cheese sauce that L’Etoile won’t share. “It’s a closely guarded secret recipe,” Ian says. “He’s the only one that makes it.”
If Gee Burger proves successful, he can see finding a commercial kitchen to keep the burger business going after the pandemic. In the meantime, the restaurant group is ramping up its ability to deliver from kitchens in Chinatown and Falls Church to make sure the burgers aren’t traveling too far.
“I’ve had orders go as far as Dupont [from Arlington],” he says. “It’s driving me a little bit nuts, but I can’t control the radius that apps allow. I want the food to arrive the way we intend it to arrive.”
What to order: Hilton says his Korean wife has approved his favorite burger, the Kickin’ Gee ($14), topped with American cheese, spicy kimchi, pickled jalapeños, and that top-secret cheese sauce.
Gee Burger is open for delivery in Fairfax Wednesdays through Saturdays from 12:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Sundays from 12:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. In D.C. and Arlington, the hours are Mondays through Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 6 p.m.