For when the snow melts

Maybe it’s cheating a little bit, but here’s a re-post of a restaurant review I wrote a couple of years back (well, 18 months anyway) of a hamburger joint on Capitol Hill in DC. Once people can make it outside their homes and restaurants begin receiving supplies again, feel free to avoid this place.

So we went to check out Spike’s new burger restaurant in Capitol Hill, the Good Stuff Eatery, and the vague name should tell patrons something before they even cross the threshold. For those of you who don’t know who Spike is, I’m not talking about Spike Lee, I’m talking about the former Top Chef contestant from a couple seasons ago who always wore a hat and made it pretty far to the end. He was kind of a card, as portrayed in the show. We were curious to see how his new venture was going, and a little dumbfounded as to why he’d open up a burger joint in a town already replete with them (thinking of the fabulous local 5 Guys chain, Booeymonger, Tonic locations, etc.).

I crutched up to the street with Susanne at about 7 p.m. on a Monday evening. There was a line of about oh, 8-10 people snaking down the sidewalk. Really? I don’t think I’ve seen that in DC except for one truly amazing Mexican place in Adams Morgan, but okay. Come to find out, as we cross the street and head over, there’s actually an Ombudsman standing outside guarding the door. You can see inside the place that there’s plenty of space for us to stand inside (where we will later freeze our asses off), but he’s got us out here. Where everyone can see how “jumping” the place is, we presume. Well, clearly Spike’s got the skill of spinning his reality down pat already, giving evidence that anyone can acclimate to DC standards.

I found a chair at an unused outside table (if it’s so busy, how is it that there are free tables), and sat down, letting the others hold my place in line. About 8 minutes later (oh, counting the minutes, I later realized, would get me nowhere), we were let in to Studio 54 — I mean, to the Good Stuff Eatery. We’d had time to peruse the menu so we knew what we wanted to order. A somewhat eclectic mix of burgers, wedge salads (how strangely out of place for a burger joint), three different styles of fries (featuring the Spike™ name), some milkshake options that looked interesting, and assorted beverages. Yuengling and Blue Moon beer were on tap. We should have, however, stored our selections in long term memory, as we saw that there were 30 or so people ahead of us in line. There were a lot of lines in this place. In solidarity, the lines on my forehead decided to join in, furrowing themselves more permanently onto my face.

I realized I wasn’t going to be able to stand for this whole line, so I asked Susanne to order for me and made my way up the inaccessible stairs to get a table. Because surely with these many people here I’d need to also queue up for a table, right?

Nope. Sure there were people upstairs, but there were tables free. It had the same layout as the Cosi next door, which serves people with much more efficiency and much less fanfare from its staff. Susanne remarked that putting the tables over the frying surfaces downstairs caused the eaters upstairs to start to take on the smell and appearance of fried foods, and she had a point. But I’ll add that with the perfectly frigid temperaturs (I mean seriously, the place wasn’t warmer than 63 degrees), the lipids in the air start to harden and condense, giving everyone the appearance of waxed mannequins, as if Madame Tussaud’s had decided to move 20 blocks over to get a little closer to those other waxed celebrities, I mean, our elected members of Congress, excuse me.

So I waited upstairs for the food to arrive. And waited. And waited. And….

WAITED. No sooner than 48 minutes after we entered the place, Susanne came up with the burgers and fries. I was somewhat astounded. They better be slaughtering steer in the back alley. They better be the best burgers I’ve ever eaten, thick as my ass and juicy, layered with truffle shavings, some kind of nearly extinct mushroom, and quail eggs.

Wait for it.

I had ordered a turkey burger, thinking back to the three burgers I’d had earlier in the week. One was an undercooked beef burger from Mr. Henry’s (I mean, I don’t expect much from them, so no biggie), one was from a Wendy’s drivethrough (see above), and one was up in Baltimore for lunch at Pebble’s Diner. Surely this burger, this 48-minutes-in-preparation burger would put all of them to shame.

Mushy bun that had done its best to soak up the bloody juices from the half-cooked, thin-as-a-wafer meat (I mean, it looked a little Jennie-O to me), mushy avocado that probably would have been excellent the day before, limp and mushy lettuce, and a variety of sauces that seemed to act as a pre-stomach-acid food liquification system, which served to make the texture of the experience particularly disgusting. The fries, on the other hand, were terrific until they cooled down, and then I realized they were over-spiced. The shake was great, little hints of caramel and malt that made my tongue decide mutiny after the burger experience wasn’t really necessary.

Susanne reported that they were charging a 25-cent fee on every order for “environmental processing.” She asked the cashier what this was for. He reported that it was because you know, like, they pay someone to go through their trash to make sure nothing recyclable is being thrown out, and that’s expensive. My god THAT job has to suck nails! She found this an interesting rationale, given that practically everything they handed to us was unrecyclable plastic, and that they didn’t have a “is it for here or take out” option so that folks eating in the restaurant could get reusable utensils or napkins. And at the end of the meal, which was like a blessing from God (that it was over, I mean), a busboy took out trays and dumped everything — including two glass bottles — into the trash can. Good thing someone’s going to comb through it later looking for those bottles! That’s like letting your cat catch the fake mouse every so often so he stays motivated to keep trying. If they’re so into the environment, couldn’t they have at least a couple containers for recycling?

So, all that said, I can’t really recommend the place. If you want an $8 burger, go to a steakhouse and get one. If you want a thinner burger for a better price, stick to the places in town that know how to make them that I mentioned earlier.

Thank God he didn’t win Top Chef.

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