FOOD: Not Too High on Elevation Burger
When I walked into Elevation Burger for the first time ever this week I was taken aback. There were baseball-capped employees, corporate slogans all over the walls, and even an assembly line of workers in plain sight. Was it some sort of fast food chain?
I hadn’t read up on the restaurant too much but I did think it was a locally owned establishment. My anticipation of eating a great burger fell considerably. Part of me wanted to turn around and move on to another place in the City to review.
But looks can be deceiving in the restaurant business, so I got in line.
As I read the menu and the propaganda on the walls I noticed an eco-friendly theme. The place seemed intent on beating you over the head with its sustainable practices. Organic, grass-fed beef and French fries cooked in “heart healthy” olive oil were the two most prominently displayed factoids. I knew from previous experience that such labels, while reassuring to some consumers, do not guarantee tasty food.
I ordered as simply as possible—a burger with minimal toppings and a side of fries—and waited. My hopes for a juicy burger were taken down another notch when I realized the patties aren’t cooked to the diner’s preferred level of doneness.
Minutes later an employee hand-delivered my meal to me in a large metal tray; a slider-sized sandwich with thin, flattened out, well-done meat and a generous portion of nicely bronzed fries.
Given that I had come in hankering a beefy, drippy hamburger, I was quite disappointed with what I got. The meat was pretty ordinary tasting and under seasoned. I also finished it in about five bites. What good is organic, grass-fed meat if you don’t know how to cook it and you dish it out in baby portions? The fries were marginally better than the burger, with a heavy taste from being cooked in olive oil, which may be healthy for you but is not an ideal medium for frying because of its low smoking point and strong flavor. I left hungry and wondering what exactly this “Elevation Burger” really was.
Determined to learn more I went home and Googled away for hours on end.
Elevation Burger got its start in the City of Falls Church as a stand-alone business in 2005, but in 2008 it started franchising. Now there are several locations in the region and over 40 in the works from North Carolina to Texas. It is, in effect, trying to become the first eco-minded national burger chain. You could call it a hipper, more health-conscious, 21st century variation on Five Guys.
In fact, Fransmart, the company that helped launch Five Guys as a franchise, is the same one that’s handling Elevation’s expansion. It’s turning Elevation Burger into a brand. Go to the website and you can simply apply to open up a branch of your own. This is not a formula for putting out mouth-watering burgers. This is a formula for getting bigger faster. And it’s probably going to work because people are more interested in what they are eating and where it’s coming from than ever before. There’s no doubt about it; an organic burger chain is a great idea. I just wish the food was a little tastier.
So here’s the question I’ve asked myself since learning the story behind Elevation: Twenty years from now when there are hundreds of locations nationwide, should we be proud to say that it began right here in the City of Falls Church?
Even though I don’t love the food I think the answer is yes.
When you look at Elevation through the fast food lens it is certainly a better option than McDonalds or Burger King. The food is fresher and isn’t preservative-laden or guilt-ridden. Elevation is a place that Earth-loving parents can take kids who insist on eating hamburgers that come in paper bags. It’s a place that can be a haven for organic eaters at rest stops everywhere.
Of course, that doesn’t mean I’ll be eating there often, if at all. In fact, after a second visit this week the only thing I could ever see myself returning for is the milkshake. My vanilla ice cream gut-buster with Oreo chunks was pure nostalgic bliss. But the burger and fries, once again, were nothing to write home about.
So that’s the problem I’m still faced with. Where does a guy get a proper burger around here? I’m talking about a burger that is thick and juicy, with a well-seasoned crust and a pinkish hue. Right now the only place that can satisfy my cravings is Ray’s Hell Burger in Arlington, which is in its own league as the ground beef Mecca for the DC metro region. Surely there must be something closer to the City that I can recommend. I thought the answer might be at Elevation, but it looks like I’ll have to look a little higher.
By Jimmy Scarano
November 6, 2009