I agree with Kate and her assessment that these rounds of O-Rama have gotten some of us(me) thinking about burgers more than ever.But, after that, I only went out once for burgers (Five Guys) and was horribly disappointed--and mildly disgusted--with the food. It seemed my love affair with burgers was not meant to last long.
Then, last week, Arlington, VA, based Elevation Burger opened its doors in South Portland and it looked like I had reason to rekindle my burger pursuits. This was solidified when an invite went out from their PR person to several local food bloggers, asking us to stop by and try their food. Kate and I made plans, along with Kate's roommate, A., to head out to Exit 3 this past Monday night and see what they were about.
The first thing you notice when you walk in is how open and bright the space is. To your right is an open kitchen, where you can watch the employees prepare the orders through a glass window. The other thing you notice right off is how happy, polite and generally nice the people working there are. They were patient with us when the three of us stood, overwhelmed and overstimulated at the counter, trying to figure out what to order from the foreign menu. They offered suggestions with things they had tried and enjoyed during their past week of training. Most employees at fast food places just kind of stare at you with ambivalence or contempt--or a mixture of the two--these employees seemed pretty sincere.
But, not only do their employees seem different than other establishments, but Elevation Burger seems to pride itself on being a bit different overall. Their mantra, "Ingredients Matter," is backed up by their use of daily ground organic, grass fed, free range beef. They also use organic eggs and butter in their cookies and opt to fry their french fries in olive oil. They use bamboo in the flooring, sorghum table tops and as much renewable products in their restaurants. They're the Anti-Golden Arches, it seems... but, not quite.
Yes, they use beef that is better for you(grass fed is lower in fat than corn fed), but you can get their Vertical Burger with up to ten patties on it (which completely defeats the purpose of eating meat that's lower in fat). They have a cool, futuristic Coke soda machine, that was developed in South Portland (which dispenses the obvious selection of beverages sweetened with High Fructose Corn Syrup)
But, they also offer a line of local, all-natural sodas (the Maine Root Lemonade is fantastic, by the way).
They proudly tout their choices for better, higher quality ingredients than you find at your typical fast food burger hut, and they should. The owners, Mark and Christopher, who picked up our tab and sat and chatted with us for a bit, said that they give options to their customers. If you want a Coke, you can have one, if you want a healthier option, they have that, too.
They have a 'lettuce wrap' option for those not wanting, or able, to eat bread and, while the hamburger is the star, they also offer vegetarian ones. To be fair to Mark, I poked at him a bit about not using organic potatoes, non-HFCS sweetened ketchup and a few other devil's advocate questions and he answered them all, honestly and to the point. I couldn't argue, the man had my respect for just entertaining my questions.
But, for all the hype, the food politics and all the industry buzz words, was the meal any good?
I opted for the standard, "Elevation Burger," which is a double patty burger, served on a potato bun with your choice of 11 free toppings (blue cheese dressing is extra). I had mine with lettuce, pickles and 'Elevation Sauce," a secret recipe tomato-y condiment. The burger still had a bit of pink to the middle of it, which we all were surprised and appreciative about. The overall flavor was good and the portion size of the burgers was decent enough (coming in, I'd guess, at around 7oz total). However, I did notice that, at the end, that the patties did get a little dry. But, that's one of the side effects of using a leaner meat, you lose a bit of that juiciness.
The pickles were in slices and relatively sweet. I did manage to drag both of them out on the second bite, which kind of sucked. The ES was a bit like Russian dressing, minus the relish, though there's apparently no mayonnaise in it. I liked the sweetness of it and thought they put just enough on without killing the taste of the burger. And, well, the lettuce was a bit of a throw away. I do, however, give them bonus points for the potato bun, which I absolutely love with any burger.
The french fries were met with mixed reviews. We all loved the shoe string, bistro cut of the fries, but Kate and A. weren't overly thrilled with the taste of them. I liked them more than I thought I would because you don't generally associate frying french fries with olive oil, that's something more for vegetable or peanut. But, probably because of the cut of the fry, it allowed them to crisp up at a lower temperature without becoming soggy and limp. They were also nicely salted and stood up to being dipped into the Vanilla milkshake I ordered. Which was funny because the milkshake was probably the least enjoyable piece of the meal for me. I think that my problem was the ice cream. I just straight out didn't like it. Too sweet, maybe? I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but I just wasn't a fan.
Now, what I noticed and liked most about my meal, was the fact that I didn't feel overfull or generally gross after it. I didn't have that fast food sheen from the fries or that weight in my stomach from the burger. For me, the mall area is always a bit of a wasteland of really bad chains (we'll usually stop at Chia Sen when we're out in that general vicinity) and the quality that Elevation Burger brings is a much needed, and appreciated, relief.