FOOD: Not Too High on Elevation Burger

jimmy-thumbBy JIMMY SCARANO
Falls Church Times Staff

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.

elevation

(Staff photo by Jimmy Scarano)

By
November 6, 2009 

Comments

19 Responses to “FOOD: Not Too High on Elevation Burger”

  1. Dave Witzel on November 6th, 2009 7:14 am

    Jimmy, I agree. My son loves Elevation, but I am not thrilled. Give me 5 Guys any day. IMHO, best burger in the area is at Joe’s (6710 Old Dominion Dr, McLean) and they sell beer!

  2. Kathleen Nixon on November 6th, 2009 9:05 am

    Totally agree! this is such a disappointment. There are so many restaurants that practice sustainable and provide local, seasonal and organic food that does not leave you feeling hungry, that I feel Elevation Burger is giving the “go healthy, eco-organic” theme a very, very bad rap. I went there twice and will never go back again.

  3. Jim Breiling, Arlington County -- Williamsburg community on November 6th, 2009 10:31 am

    The founder of Elevation Burger is an interesting, creative socially conscious business entrepreneur.

    Hans Hess worked for many, many months to create Elevation Burger, and he and wife April (when not at her regular full-time job) were then actively involved in the charter location in Falls Church. Hess subsequently was an initiator for and principal in launching the Green (Eco) taxi fleet in Arlington County. It seems like it’s time for Hess to launch another new “Green” business — perhaps his third will reflect experiences as a father, or input from wife and mother April.

    My observation is that as Hess shifted his focus from “on-hand” operation of the charter location in Falls Church to other things, the quality has suffered somewhat.

  4. Tony Starks on November 6th, 2009 12:21 pm

    I like the taste at elevation burger but the burgers are very small and the price is very high. The only way I leave there with a full stomach is if I order a double burger, fries and a shake. The only problem with that, calories aside, is it costs well over $10. I can get a huge burger inside the City with a decent side of waffle fries and drink for less. It is as filling and I can watch the game as well.

    I have stopped eating at elevation burger, other than dropping by maybe 3 times a year to get a coffee shake (they are awesome). I would start eating there again if they 86ed the a la carte and put together a burger combo with a more affordable price point or made the portions larger. I can only assume the business is already a huge success as is, and does not need my patronage.

  5. vlfrance on November 6th, 2009 12:33 pm

    I love Elevation Burger and very much dislike Five Guys! I guess it’s all in taste and preference, right? A burger and fries (and perhaps a milkshake) will never be health food.

    I think it’s marvelous that it’s a City local establishment. Although I wouldn’t mind it remaining more “ours” – that’s not America; not capitalism. We have some great local places that I’m proud of and tell others about.

  6. TFC on November 6th, 2009 1:41 pm

    Hubby and I went to EB one time, that was enough. Nothing there would make me return.

  7. Jonathan Smythe on November 6th, 2009 1:55 pm

    This is one of my favorite places to eat. The kids love it, and the food tastes good, and the service is good. That being said, the quality dropped when they went from locally grown organic kobe beef to just organic. I was told the change was due to supply issues (they couldn’t get enough), but the burger is now third on my top three items there. Number one is the milkshake, and number two is the fries – I can’t get enough.

  8. Carol Jackson on November 6th, 2009 11:46 pm

    Cowboy Cafe–Lee Highway just before Glebe Rd. Half price Tuesdays–order rare.

  9. Michelle M. on November 7th, 2009 7:36 am

    While I admit that it may not be as tasty as a Five Guys, as a mom, I like having a healthier fast food choice for my daughter. I also like the fact that I can splurge on a burger and fries without feeling like I’ve had my daily calorie intake in just one meal. I’m much more comfortable with the quality of beef they have at Elevation Burger and actually think it’s quite good. The organic beef and the fries don’t come pre-packaged and frozen. You can see them hand-cut the fries while you’re there, then fried in olive oil. This comes with a little more expense, but I’d prefer to go there over any other fast food place any day.

  10. Ben Morris on November 7th, 2009 9:34 am

    I am a big elevation fan. I would not compare it to Ray’s – that is a totally different category.

    I would compare it to 5 guys, and would take elevation any time.

  11. Teddy Rutledge on November 7th, 2009 11:02 am

    Never quite understood the attraction there…”place to be seen”? Not for the burgers. Shakes aren’t bad. Doghead’s burgers…even Applebee’s are much better (so are Wendy’s and BK, for that matter). Sorry EB.

  12. Peggy Monahan on November 7th, 2009 11:39 am

    These are my favorite fries, and I LIKE the small size of the hamburger: I don’t feel guilty for indulging in one occasionally.

  13. Chris Harrison on November 7th, 2009 8:52 pm

    I love Elevation Burger’s double burger with all the toppings! I think the fries are great. I don’t have any problem with the olive oil taste. I cook everything in olive oil at home. The environmentally-conscious aspect is also a definite plus!

  14. Sibz - Falls Church on November 9th, 2009 1:09 am

    Elevated expectations led to extreme disappointment – When we moved to Falls Church, we were looking for good eats in this area. We found Elevation burger and read good reviews online…so decided to check them out. The burgers were super small and didn’t live up to the expectations I had. The only thing elevated in this place is the price. And another thing is that cooking with olive oil is really not that great — olive oil (from what I have read) is good for drizzling over salads and other foods (http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/spiritual-dammit/2009/07/cooking-with-olive-oil-can-be-toxic.html).

  15. christina zombi, bowie maryland on December 18th, 2011 9:31 pm

    I worked at five guys for two years and I really think that elevation burger is much better. I like how they grind their meat daily instead of having it arrive ground in a bag. I feel they’ve learned from five guys mistake by having shakes. Five guys doesn’t season their meat either, not even with salt. I think elevation burger will go far!

  16. ackmondual, Falls Church, VA on April 17th, 2012 2:22 am

    To me, a “more convenient”, but better burger would often be between 5 Guys and Elevation Burger. The advantages that 5G had over EB was 5G was about $1 cheaper on the burger side, and $1.5 cheaper on the fries side.

    At some point, 5G upped their prices so that their burgers are actually the same price as EB! Given that EB has better quality burgers, I’d rather go with EB. 5G fries (even the small size) has gone up so that it’s more expensive than EB ($3 vs. $2.69), but I’m sure value-wise, 5G fries wins since AFAIK, they still give you a very generous portion of them.

  17. Joann Sims on June 21st, 2012 8:44 am

    My son took me to my first Elevation Burger yesterday, located in the Gathrsburg, MD area. (He’s 36 and I’m 66) I thought the hamburger was one of the best I’ve ever had. I think we’ve become too used to the cheap hamburger prices at the fast food places, where we get a sliver of mystery meat that is over seasoned and loaded with fat calories. I didn’t think the price was too high for the quality. I had the children’s size burger, which was larger than you get at Mickey D’s. It was actually more than I should have eaten, but it was so tasty, I had to finish all of it. With all the concerns about “mad cow disease” and the unnatural way cattle is fed and treated, Elevation Burger is the place for me.

  18. Mark F Falls Church on October 26th, 2012 1:29 pm

    Just made my first visit. Can’t agree with the original review. It was perhaps the best burger I’ve ever had, rivaling even BGR in Arlington. Mine was not dry at all, but cooked medium rare and juicy. The fries tasted better than 5 Guys’. Certainly grass-fed beef is the way to go. As The Omnivore’s Dilemma explains, cows were never meant to digest corn, they’re only given corn because the govt ensured corn was cheap. As a result they get sick and so need to be shot up with antibiotics and vitamins and hormones.
    I hope EB becomes a national hit.

  19. Naif Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on December 2nd, 2013 1:26 pm

    I think you should already be proud that it began in Falls Church, it not only has spread nationwide it also spread internationally they opened a branch in Saudi Arabia.

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