Must Haves: Ray's Hell's Fat Joe, Or How To Make A Great Burger Better

Must Haves focuses on some of D.C.'s best dishes.

Michael Landrum's Fat Joe with bacon and cheddar is the best burger in the D.C. area.

The difference between the Ray's Hell burger and every other ground beef and bun combination around town is a clear as that statement. And if you disagree, your mouth is lying.

On its own, a Ray's Hell burger is an excellent burger. They don't overwork the meat, so the patty isn't dense. They cook it to order, an increasingly rare treat. They use a good fatty blend that ensures the burger is juicy and flavorful. They season it simply with salt and black pepper so the flavor of the beef dominates. They cook it on a grill, so the exterior is nicely charred, and serve it on a soft roll.

And when you order the Fat Joe, Ray's Hell tops the burger with foie gras, fried shallots and white truffle oil (there's also a slice of tomato, but who's kidding who). At this point, it's the best burger in the Mid-Atlantic. But it ain't perfect. Oh no, it can't be perfect when a couple strips of bacon and some cave-aged Amish cheddar make it so much better.

DSCN5547 Still, there's no better way to top a burger than with four ounces of fattened duck liver. There just isn't. Those caramelized lobes of fatty goodness add a level of richness and flavor the burger could never achieve on its own. Foie gras alone is wonderful, but foie gras atop a medium rare burger, wet with its own juices, is goddamn ambrosia.

And then there's the bacon and cheddar, because let's face it, if you're eating a burger with foie gras you might as well get the bacon and cheese, too. The bacon adds salt, pork and a crunch the burger needs. The cheese, well the cheese just tastes good and doesn't get in the way of the foie gras.

The funny thing is, as much as I harp on the foie gras (and I do harp), it's the tart, earthy flavor of the white truffle oil that sticks with me the longest. Mind you, I'm not complaining.

Inevitably, someone will write a comment complaining that the Fat Joe is a $17 burger ($22 by the time I'm done with it). Don't. I'm well aware of how much the burger costs. It's worth every penny. In fact, when I want a Fat Joe with bacon and cheese, I head to Ray's Hell Burger Too, so I can have it with a couple Deleriums or a Bell's Two-Hearted. A burger like this deserves a beer.

If I wanted a cheaper burger, I'd go to a cheaper joint. But I don't want a cheaper burger. Every now and then (and you better limit this burger to every now and then) I'm happy to plunk down $22 for medium rare, bacon cheeseburger with foie gras, fried shallots and white truffle oil, because it is absolutely the best damn burger in town.

Ray's Hell Burger Too
1713 N. Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, Va. 22201
(703) 841-0001

Ray's Hell Burger Too: Gourmet Burger Redux?

RaysHellOutside1 Local beef Impresario Michael Landrum has been a busy man of late. Hot on the heals of opening Ray's The Steaks East River, Landrum has done a whirlwind overhaul of one of his Ray's Hell Burger locations in Arlington, re-dubbing it "Ray's Hell Burger Too." Of course, everyone knew he was going to do something with the space, but I hadn't heard anything about the launch until this Thrillist article hit my inbox the Friday before last. Some friends and I popped around that evening, in the hopes that it flew under everyone else's radar, as well.

Ray's Hell has become the go-to gourmet burger location in the DC area since opening in July 2008. Their fresh-trimmed, hand-ground 10 oz burgers and myriad decadent toppings have become a favorite of burger fiends inside the beltway. Despite some brilliant press and some high-profile, repeat customers, NOVA's premier gourmet burger bar has had its share of detractors and complaints. Ray's Hell Too, it seems, is an attempt to address those most frequently voiced quibbles. A sign they'd taped to the front door summed it up nicely:

RaysHellSign Ray's Hell Burger Too

Hate Waiting in Line?
Hate Fighting for a Table?
Want a Smaller Burger?
Into Exotic Game?
Wishing for Waitress Service?

Check Out our New, Exclusive Menu
Offerings and Sit-down Service


Not mentioned above is the oft lamented lack of booze, which was also purportedly remedied. This, plus the lack of a smaller option were always my greatest complaints, so I was pretty psyched.

RaysHellShirt1 The restaurant is set up much like the old Ray's The Steaks location, with forty or so tops jammed into a tight, sparsely decorated space, with an open kitchen off to the back. Where the old Ray's had a touch of class with its open wine racks and wood floors, Ray's Too is all linoleum and cheap paneling, with neon Coke coolers and framed T-Shirts telling us to "Go To Hell." But then, it is a burger joint -- just don't go expecting the Ritz here.

RaysHellInside1 While none of the diners seemed crowded or put upon, the waiting area is a bit on the small side. We crowded into the 6 by 4 foot vestibule with a few other wannabe patrons, until we overflowed and started a line against the wall. There is no host or host stand, but a competent waitress was quick to give us menus, take our head counts, and give us some time estimates. Once our party was fully formed we were seated very quickly, which was impressive on such a busy night -- can never say a Ray's doesn't know how to flip tables!

The new menu offers the same beef behemoths as always, along with some new points of interest: Vegetarians finally have an option in the form of a 1/3 lb veggie burger, and lovers of more exotic fair will be tempted by the fruit glazed venison burger, or the 'Hanoi Style' wild boar burger. The real draw is still the classic, now also available in the more modest 1/3 lb form, cleverly dubbed the "Lil Devil," for $6.99 plus toppings.

RaysHellMyMeal The wait would prove to be the most well orchestrated portion of our evening, as from here, organization flew out the window. Our server was very sweet, but had almost no idea what was going on concerning the menu or otherwise. When asked about the new Hanoi burger, which is only vaguely described on the menu, she had nothing to offer in the way of description. Ray's had yet to draw up a drink list, and we got very different opinions on what it actually contained, depending on who we asked. I don't know whether to blame lack of time for training, last minute changes, or what, but if we hadn't already been well acquainted with the original concept, we would have been lost.

As best I can tell, Ray's offers Bud Light, Bell's Two Hearted Ale, and Delirium Tremens by the 12 oz bottle -- strange selections for such a tiny list, as each of these occupies some sort of fringe in the wide world of beer. Baby bottles of Beringer Merlot and Cabernet were also served, along with Pinot Grigio, which was already out of stock. We were told that all drinks were $4.00 a piece, making the Tremens a tremendous deal (if you like that sort of thing), and the Budwater a terrible ripoff. The drinks were a long time in coming, and were then unceremoniously dumped on the table, sans glasses, with the soft drink bottles not even opened. I know I'm not the bloody Duchess of Kent or anything, but come on...


We'd all ordered incarnations of the "Lil Devil," which arrived in various states, ranging from overcooked to underdone. As often happens when given too many options, I panicked, and ordered my burger with what some may call a revolting combination of bone marrow and cave aged cheddar. It didn't work at all -- which I admit is totally my fault -- and I was very disappointed to find my "rare" burger just a hair under medium. Eliza ordered more sensibly, opting for the always delicious sherry and brandy sauteed mushrooms (a longtime staple at Ray's The Steaks), but her's, too, was about one shade too brown. 

Worst of all, one of our companions ordered the boar, which came out underdone! He made a terrible face when he tried it, and voiced his concerns. Unfamiliar with ground boar, we all thought that maybe it was supposed to be a little pink, but the texture was undeniably gummy and unpleasant. The waitress was less concerned than I would have hoped that they'd served us raw pork, but did take it away and fire a new onRaysHellMyBurgere. In the interim, we were offhandedly informed that we would not be allowed to order any more drinks, as they were running low, which at that point was pretty much cool by all involved. The bill came to about $74.00, which included five burgers, several sides of fries, our beers, and truffled mac and cheese.

I know its not fair to judge a restaurant on its first week, much less on what might have been its opening day. But folks, this ain't remotely Michael Landrum's first rodeo, and this isn't even really a new restaurant, so much as a new concept shoehorned into an old space. Landrum knows how to open a restaurant, which makes our disappointing experience all the more puzzling. 

RaysHellBoar1 Since our visit, we've talked to a couple friends who have been since the renovation, and they had a pretty good time, so hopefully things are settling in. I'm hoping that our experience was just an isolated event, or that matters have much improved by now. So I throw it out to you -- have any of you guys been? If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Ray's Hell Burger Too
1713 N Wilson Blvd
Arlington, Virginia 22201
(703) 841-0001

Spring is In the Air (Finally) and Lamb Burgers are On the Grill (Most Definitely)

DSCN5117 It's wet, it's overcast, and my yard looks like crap. But, you know what? Spring is here, and I'll take the damp weather and yard work over snowdrifts and blizzards any day.

I don't know about y'all, but that was a long damn winter. Having grown up in Florida, snow was always kinda novel. By the end of that third massive storm this season, I was over it and really over shoveling it.

So bring on spring! Let me enjoy grilling outdoors again. Let me closet the coats and break out the shorts. Let me replace my cabin fever with spring fever.

As spring is about all things new, I figured I'd do something new with the old burger recipe. I've also paired the burger with a jug of fresh beer made by D.C.'s newest brewer.

First, the burger. In the two years I've been doing this grilling column, I've never written a straight-forward burger post (my sole burger post includes seaweed salad). Why would I? Everyone does burgers. I mean everyone. At one point last year, Food & Wine, Gourmet Magazine, Food Network, the Washington Post and Chow were all running burger recipes on their Web sites. That's a lot of high-profile instruction for something so ubiquitous. I don't even think hot dogs get that kind of attention, and they've been a stable of the charcoal and Weber set for generations. The thing is, dogs and burgers are two of the easiest things to grill. But they're so near and dear to us, that writers write about them and TV people talk about them.

Including me. It's spring, so I figured area grills will be pulled out of hibernation any day. And something tells me that if you're not tossing on dogs, it's going to be burgers. Rather than heading down the same, tired burger path, though, I figured I'd once again give you the option of doing something different: goat cheese stuffed lamb burgers with avocado and mint mayo.

After all, Lamb is the meat of spring (for both tender and grizzly reasons). When paired with goat cheese and avocado, you have something special on your hands ... and dripping down you chin and arms (the sandwich gets a little messy). However, if lamb isn't your thing, substitute ground beef. Just be sure to use an 80/20 mix and skip the butter I add to the recipe. If you go with a leaner ground beef, keep the butter.

DSCN5114 In the interest of full disclosure, I screwed up my lamb burger. I mixed shallots into the ground lamb before making the patties and stuffing the burgers. All that handling and mixing overworked the meat. I loved the flavor of the shallots in the finished burger, but the texture was too dense. It was more meatball than burger. In the future, I'll skip the shallots and work the meat as little as possible.

The trick to doing these lamb burgers is adding fat. The lamb is very lean, so you have to do something to moisten the burger and give it some flavor. I decided the best way to handle this was to stick a pat of butter in the middle with the goat cheese. That way, when you bite into the burger, the warm, liquefied goat cheese and melted butter spill out ... down your chin and arms (seriously, get a napkin).

I added the avocado for the same reason I added the butter. The avocado is a fatty fruit that does nothing but good things for burgers. And if avocado works well with beef -- it does -- it should work well for lamb -- it does. Avocados also make me think about warm weather, cold beer and boat drinks, all of which I'm jonesing for right now.

DSCN5129 To go with the spring burger, I swung by Franklin's in Hyattsville for a growler of brewery fresh beer. There's a new brewer at Franklin's, Mike Roy, and he's cranking out some quality ales, including a Belgian-style golden ale he's named Golden Opportunity. (I'll fill you in on Mike and his plans for Franklin's later.)

The beer is hazy gold in the glass, with the traditional fruit and clove notes the style is so well known for. At 6.5 percent A.B.V., it's easy to put away a few of them.

Access to a quality brewery is a hell of a treat. There's a lot of focus in the craft beer community these days on aging beer and vertical tastings, but it's just as nice to be able to fill up a growler a few feet from the tank the beer was just brewed in. The only thing is, once you open that growler, you have to drink the beer within the next 24 hours or so to ensure it tastes its best.

That's an observation, not a complaint.

Grilled Stuffed Lamb Burgers with Avocado and Mint Mayo
(Makes four servings)

1.5 lbs. ground lamb
4 oz. goat cheese, preferably with herbs
2 tbs. salted butter
1 avocado, cubed or mashed
2 tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 bunch of fresh mint, roughly chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

DSCN5100 An hour before you're ready to start grilling, prepare the lamb burgers. Take enough of the ground lamb meat to form a thin patty. Season with salt and pepper. Take a bit of the goat cheese and place it in the middle of the patty. Place a tab of butter on top of it. Now, take the same amount of lamb and form it into a second patty. Place it on top of the butter, goat cheese and other patty and pinch the edges of the patties together until the sides are closed and you have a single lamb burger (this burger can get thick, so make sure each lamb patty isn't too big ... unless that's what you're going for). Repeat for the rest of the burgers. You can also do this the night before. Season both sides of all the burgers with salt and pepper to taste.

For the mayo, simply combine the mint and the mayo. You might need to add a little lemon juice, but taste as you go and do what works for you.

DSCN5107 To grill the burgers, set up the grill for off-heat cooking. So make sure you have a hot spot and a cool spot. When the grill is ready, place the burgers on the hottest part of the grill, close the lid, and cook for eight minutes or until a crust forms (Watch out for flare ups). Flip the burgers, close the lid and cook for another five minutes. Move the burgers over to the cool spot on the grill, close the lid and cook for a final three minutes.

Remove from the grill and allow to rest. This should give you enough time to prepare the avocado. As you can see in the photo, I cubed mine. Do that or mash it up. It doesn't matter (my wife would like to point out that mashing the avocado makes the sandwich easier to eat). Just make sure to add the lemon, and salt and pepper to taste.

Now, build your burger and enjoy.

Samurai Burgers

Image023Is there a more ubiquitous American dish than the hamburger? Pizza maybe, but it's debatable.

Regardless, we love burgers. Whether it's just beef on bread or something more elaborate (foie gras burgers?), the sandwich speaks to us. But we eat burgers all the time. So regardless of how good a burger may be, most end up forgotten. A blur of a meal enjoyed in the moment and forgotten soon after.

Every now and then, though, a burger stands out. Something about it -- the beef, the bun, the toppings, the surroundings -- makes the ubiquitous unique.

A couple years ago, I was stuck at a conference in Pittsburgh.
Now I've attended a lot of conferences and one thing I learned early on was when things wrap up for the day, I should get as far away from the rest of the attendees as possible. The only thing worse than being at a conference you don't want to attend is to surround yourself with several thousand conference attendees who don't want to be there either.

In short, we're a drag.

After spending a few days trying out restaurants as far away from the convention center as possible, I broke down and slipped into a small restaurant across the street from the hall. It was the last day of the conference and all I wanted to do was eat, pack, sleep and leave.

That's when I found the burger. The restaurant (who's name I can't remember or find) wasn't Asian, but the bar had Ninja Warrior on ESPN and a Samurai Burger on the menu.

When it comes to burgers, the more bacon, cheese and mayo you can stick on it, the happier I am (Unless, of course, you have an avocado handy. A couple slices would be nice, thank you.) The Samurai Burger had none of it. Beef, bun, ginger mayo and seaweed salad, that's it.

Nevertheless, I ordered it and loved it.

The beef patty was well seasoned and the ginger mayonnaise was creamy with a terrific ginger bite. But what made the dish was the seaweed salad. It was crunchy, tart and a little salty. Absolutely perfect on top of the burger.

I've had dozens and dozens of burgers since then, but only a few have stood out as much as that Samurai Burger. And while I don't know the name of the restaurant or remember what it put into the burger, I figured I'd take a crack at replicating dish. I figured that as long as I top the whole thing off with seaweed salad, I'd get pretty close.

I did. It's good.

I paired the burger with a couple Hitachino Nest’s beers, the Red Rice Ale and the Real Ginger Brew. The Japanese red ale is slightly tart, crisp and slightly fruity. The ginger beer is a surprisingly refreshing reddish ale with a slight ginger finish. Both beers are far and away better than the clone-like Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo.

Samurai Burgers with Green Onion and Ginger Mayo

(Makes four servings)

1.25 lbs. of ground beef (85%-15% lean to fat)

Image0084 sesame seed buns

2 small containers of seaweed salad (available at Whole Foods and other local grocery stores)

2 ginger roots (about 3 inches each), peeled and grated

1 green onion, diced

2 tbs. mayonnaise

2 tbs. hoisin sauce

1 tbs. soy sauce

1 tbs. sesame seeds

1 tbs. of canola oil

2 tsp. of sesame oil

1 tsp. of sesame chili oil

1 tbs. cracked black pepper

Make everything about an hour before you're ready to grill. This will allow the flavors and ingredients to come together before you start cooking.

For the ginger mayo, combine the mayonnaise, 2 tsp. of cracked black pepper, the green onion and one of the grated ginger roots (about 2 tbs.) in a bowl and mix. Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

To make the samurai burgers, combine the ground beef, remaining ginger root, soy sauce, sesame chili oil, sesame oil and remaining 2 tsp. of cracked black pepper in a bowl and mix thoroughly with your hands. Once the ingredients are combined, form four burgers. If you are planning to grill them immediately, do not refrigerate the burgers. Otherwise, cover the burgers with plastic wrap and stick them in the fridge.

If you're using a gas grill, give the burgers at least 30 minutes out of the refrigerator before you get started. If you're using a charcoal grill, make sure you pull the burgers out of the fridge before you light the grill.

Image017When the grill is ready, place the burgers over the hottest part of the grill and cook for 4 minutes. Flip the burgers, brush the hoisin sauce on and sprinkle the sesame seeds over top. Cook for another 3 minutes. Brush the sesame seed buns with canola oil.

After 3 minutes, move the burgers to cooler spot on the grill. (If you like your burgers cooked to medium, leave them on for 5 minutes.) Place the sesame seed buns over the heat to toast for about a minute or so (watch them closely).

Pull the burgers and the buns off the grill, slather the ginger mayo in the toasted bread and top the burger with the seaweed salad.

Ray's Hell Burger: First Impressions

Rays_hell_front We're trying something new at DC Foodies -- group reviews. The cost of dining out is hitting us all in our wallets and since most of us are usually dining at the same place, we've decided to begin combining our efforts, which means you hear about the restaurant quicker because we don't have to make two or three trips each and we keep more money in our pockets.

For our inaugural group review, we decided there was no better place to start than with a first impressions review of Ray's Hell Burgers. I'd be lying if Michael Landrum's other restaurants (Ray's the Classics and Ray's the Steaks) don't hold a special place in all of our hearts, so we've made a good attempt, I think, to keep this objective.

Ray's Hell Burger is a natural addition to the Michael Landrum's D.C. beef empire. Burgers are the only thing on the menu (which means no fries), but you'd be surprised at how large the menu can be. Between the large selection of cheeses (including some artisinal selections which no doubt Mike will like) and the list of others high quality ingredients, much like those that you can get on your steaks a few doors down, the combinations are endless.

Open_kitchen Instead of fries, the burgers currently come with sides of juicy watermelon and corn, but I imagine that's only for the summer. Look for the sides to be seasonal and fresh. I wonder if the lack of French fries is because the kitchen couldn't get the fries just right, or if it is Michael's attempt to make up socially for the portion size of the burgers which are a massive 10 ounces of the same aged prime beef used at the other Ray's establishments (ground fresh throughout the day according to Mr. Landrum). Cooking methods are similar as well and you can get your burger blackened, cajun, or just plain grilled.

Last week, we at DC Foodies each visited to Ray's Hell Burger. Here's what each of us thought.

As you may have guessed, what really caught my attention was the impressive list of cheeses that Ray's offers.  Sure, you can get quality basics like Gruyere, Vermont cheddar, smoked mozzarella and Danish blue for $1, but you can also go all out and top your burger with imported Brie, Italian Taleggio or even Epoisses for $1.50 to $4 each.  A hint: make sure to ask about what other cheeses and toppings are available when you get to the counter.  Although Epoisses was not listed on the chalkboard when we visited, it was available to anyone who asked.

Onions_closeup My burger was delicious, if a bit messy.  The size of the patty is a blessing on the grill, allowing it to cook through and develop a dark, meaty crust without sacrificing the juicy, pink interior. Unfortunately, the size becomes a liability on the plate - Ray's recommends cutting their burgers in half to make them more manageable. I did, but the burger's juices still turned my bun to mush in minutes.  It was a small price to pay for a depth of flavor that I haven't experienced in any other burger here in Washington.  The grilled corn on the cob and fresh sliced watermelon that accompany each burger free of charge gave the whole meal a great cook-out feel.

The authentic meatiness and spot-on grilling of the burger; the toppings that are upscale but not pretentious; the cheese list
The seemingly unavoidable messiness of the meal; the size that makes it near-impossible to fit it in your mouth if there are any toppings

I'll definitely be going back, but I'll be armed with the knowledge that less is more when it comes to toppings.  When too many great flavors are forced to compete for attention, no one wins.

It's always hard to judge a restaurant in its first week of operation -- procedures aren't down, the staff isn't limber, etc. Using that as a lead up, let me say that Ray's Hell made me very nervous. I'm used to the controlled chaos that is Ray's the Steaks: they have it down pat, and the place runs like a well-oiled machine. Ray's Hell had all the crowd of that other endeavor of Michael Landrum's, without the grace. Even at the late hour of 8:00 p.m., service was harried, space for waiting patrons was limited, our table was never bussed, and they forgot our side of corn!

That said, my burger was good. Very good, in fact. The selection of preparations, toppings and cheeses was phenomenal, and the meat was quite obviously above the usual grade (getting it at the recommended medium-rare is definitely the right choice, at least for dining in). I ordered my burger topped with mustard seed gouda, grilled red onions and sauteed mushrooms -- if nothing else, the ingredients were obviously fresh, and the sauteed mushrooms had quite nearly the same delicious sherry flavor as they do from Hell's big brother.

The myriad combination of quality cheeses and toppings, just waiting to be discovered.
The absolute inability to ponder any such combinations, for want of space or time to consider the menu. Oh, and again, I never got my damned corn!

Amy, Noah, and I were able to visit Ray's Hell Burgers on Wednesday night. There wasn't a giant crowd like others have experienced and I was able to take my time ordering, but the list of ingredients was still daunting. Regardless, the list of toppings is nice to see. I imagine that ordering is going to take some practice. I ordered simply with with mayo, roasted garlic, pepper jack, and pickles my first time because I didn't want to distract from the flavor of the beef.

Jason_burger After ordering, we went to find a table. The restaurant is small and could obviously use more seating. Since it's a burger joint, I don't think that anyone should be worried about packing people in there, but who knows, it could be a fire code thing.

My burger was very good overall, but I wouldn't say it was the best I've had in the area. The meat and toppings are obviously excellent and I expected nothing less, but the weak buns don't do the burgers justice. It falls apart within minutes of eating and since there are no forks, you end up with quit a mess on your hands.  I'd just as soon lose the bun and eat the burger with a knife and fork, but then I might as well be a few doors down at Ray's the Steaks.

The freshness and flavor of the meat; the quality selection of toppings; and the accurate cooking of the burger.
The weak bun that deteriorate under the juiciness of the burger and lack of timely busing of tables.

I know if I'm in the area, I'll likely be back for sure and hopefully a little better at ordering. However, by the time I make the planned trip there, it almost seems wrong to be only having a burger and not eating a Cajun ribeye at Ray's the Steaks.

Ray's Hell Burger
1713 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA

Opens weekdays at 5 PM
Opens Saturday and Sunday at Noon.

No Phone Number
No Web Site

Stoney's Bar and Grill

The Venue: If Stoney’s were an entry in a thesaurus, words like lived-in, comfy, cozy and maybe even homely would pop up next to its name. Although a staple in our post-theater rotation, how would Stoney’s hold up to the “pre-theater mandate”: quick service, light fare, value and variety. DS and I decided to grab a quick bite before the 8 o’clock show at the Studio Theatre.

The Cast of Characters: Most will tell you that the star of Stoney’s is the Super Grilled Cheese – comfort food taken to a new level with the addition of tomatoes, bacon and onions. However, the (regular) Grilled Cheese is more to my liking – lots of cheese, melted, between slices of thick bread. Both are served with fries.

DS ordered the crab platter and got more than he bargained for: two crab cakes and two sides – mashed potatoes and salad. (The menu was a bit confusing: Crab cakes are listed as an Appetizer ($9.25), Sandwich ($10.25) served with fries and coleslaw, and Platter ($17.50). Although both the sandwich and platter come with sides, DS didn’t realize he had ordered the platter until the bill came.) Although the crab cakes looked a suspicious shade of gray – maybe it was the lighting – they were really quite good: just the right amount of filler, a light hand in the seasoning department. I’ve not developed my palate to be able to distinguish between mashed potatoes that come from a box and those that come from the ground, but with enough butter and salt it doesn’t really matter.

A creature of habit, I ordered the cheeseburger with fries. The cheeseburger was… well, just a cheeseburger. And, although I’ve eaten my share of burgers at Stoney’s, they’re nothing to write home about. I have learned, over time, that a rare Stoney’s burger often leaves the kitchen medium rare; medium rare is closer to well done. You do get your choice of toppings, ranging from Black & Bleu to Texas with BBQ sauce and coleslaw to the One-Eyed, a burger topped with a fried egg and Swiss cheese. All burgers are served with fries and range in price from $7.75 to $8.95.

DS and I both made the mistake of ordering as if this was just another evening out. We forgot we had tickets to the theater. The goal – eat light, drink less, stay awake – was totally forgotten. Although the portions are adequate our selections proved to be too much for a pre-theater meal. Stoney’s does offer salads and pizzas – and there are daily specials that include pastas and solid comfort food – and we could have easily chosen lighter fare.

Performance: We were, however, able to enjoy a leisurely meal. The food came from the kitchen at a reasonable pace. Yet, water or wine refills are another story: don’t expect much attention from the wait staff. They are quite content to leave you on your own. Past experience told us it’s easier to glance at the chalkboard, rather than ask the wait staff, for the daily specials.

Set Design: Stoney’s is divided into two distinct areas: a bar and a dining area. Beer tap handles – at the top of the back bar, extending around both sides – provide sporadic bursts of color among the dark wood and an interesting distraction while waiting for food.

Stoney’s does attract, as well as reflect, the diversity of the neighborhood. On any given night you might find: sixty-somethings celebrating a birthday in the dining area; twenty-somethings discussing the World Cup qualifiers as they watch on one of the two big screen TVs; neighborhood folks chatting up newcomers and regulars alike; or, actors gathering to unwind, critique or congratulate.

The Mark: Our expectations weren’t high. After all, we had eaten at Stoney’s many times after the show; however, this was one of the few times we had visited before the show. Stoney’s is a tavern, in the true sense of the word: a place to gather, socialize, drink and eat. The crowd is eclectic and the food is reasonably priced, dependable and, unlike other neighborhood restaurants, available for both the late-night and pre-theater diner.

Stoney’s Bar and Grill

1433 P Street, N.W.

Washington, DC


(One block west of Studio Theatre)


(Stoney's is so unpretentious that it doesn't even have a web site.)

Palena Bar

For a long time now, I've been hearing about Palena's bar menu. The overall message has been that I needed have a glass of wine there and try the cheeseburger. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Palena's bar, there is an area out front at Palena by the bar. It consists of small tables and a casual atmosphere with a "cheaper" menu. Roberto Donna has done something similar at Galileo with Osteria del Galileo.

Early Saturday night, we walked down to Cleveland Park to visit Palena at around 6 pm. We had to wait briefly for a table, but only for about 10 minutes. While we were waiting at the bar, we had a glass of wine and perused the menu. Everything on the menu was $10 - even the plate of french fries. "$10 for a plate of french fries?" I asked Amy. "Those'd better be some damn, good french fries for $10." Some dishes were more than $10, but only a few. There's also the regular, prix fixe menu off which you have the option of ordering a la carte. Prices range from $10-$16 for appetizers and salads and $20-$30 for entrees. The gnocchi at Palena is some of the best I've ever had and I was happy to see they still have it. This time, it was being served with butternut squash...seems like a popular ingredient this time of the year.

Once we were seated, we ordered right away since we were pretty hungry. We decided to share an order of fries and each get a cheeseburger - and of course I ordered the gnocchi. Nothing very eventful happened while we were waiting for our food. We continued to order glasses of wine until the food started to come.

Soon our appetizers came out. My gnocchi was absolute perfection as usual, but Amy's french fries were...well, they were french fries. I'm not sure where anyone gets off charging $10 for an order of fries. Not that I was counting, but there were more onion rings than fries. I'd rather have some of Cafe Deluxe's shoestring fries than the fries at Palena in all honesty. I was glad I was eating my gnocchi and not the french fries. Amy was pretty disappointed. She was expecting something a little more.

Then the burgers came and I quickly realized that I should've ordered some more gnocchi. A $10 cheeseburger is the oldest cliche in dining, and I fell for it. Worst of all, this cheeseburger only came with some fancy mayo on the bun. No lettuce, tomato, onion. There were a few tiny mushrooms - and of all things...beets??? Enough said.

For dessert, we had the cheese selection which included gorgonzola, goats milk and a parmesian-like hard cheese. On the side, it came with a few slices of date bread and fig jam. The gorgonzola cheese was pretty strong - a little too strong for my liking, but that's just gorgonzola cheese. The goats milk was alright, but I found myself wishing I was at 2 Amy's having their goat's milk cheese. The goat's milk cheese at Palena was a little too dry and crumbly for me. My favorite was the hard cheese which I had no problem eating on it's own without the bread or jam.

When the check came, I was pretty unimpressed. for $87 we'd had 3 glasses of wine, a small bowl of pasta, fries and 2 burgers. I'd recommend skipping the burgers, hot dogs and other items like that and ordering off the a la carte menu. You'll enjoy it more and it wont cost you that much more.

Read about my other trips to Palena here.

Five Guys

Five Guys is now in Largo!!! I've been waiting for this day for a while now. I used to work in Old-Town Alexandra and we would go to the Five Guys there all the time. Luckily, Magic Johnson is investing in PG County and we have the Largo Town Center. When I saw that Five Guys was moving in, I was sooooo excited. The people I work with even pulled an early April fools joke last week, telling me that Five Guys was open before it had actually opened. I had already eaten lunch, and I still almost grabbed my Jacket and ran out to get one of their burgers.

So what is so good about Five Guys burgers you ask? THE BEEF. I know this is not a good picture, but it is like the butcher is in the back room. FRESH, FRESH, FRESH.

Continue reading "Five Guys" »