Thursday, October 9, 2008

Elevation Burger

More exploration of the burger scene in NoVA required a trip to Elevation Burger. People say nice things and Ray's Hell Burger isn't open for lunch. So . . . my buddy DG and I ventured over yesterday to check things out.

Bottom Line Up Front:

Reminiscent of In-N-Out Burger, the Elevation Burger product was pretty good. If Ray’s Hell Burger isn’t an option, I’d still probably choose a Clyde's burger over Elevation. Their fries are a real limiting factor.


We arrived in the midst of a modest lunch rush. Still, the service was friendly and quick. The space is bright, airy, and attractive (i.e. this ain’t Five Guys). Prices seemed reasonable.

I ordered a basic cheeseburger presented “Original” style - pickles, lettuce, tomato, & Elevation sauce. Fries and a chocolate shake composed the classic accompaniments (Do ya hear that Ray’s? FRIES!).

A request for medium rare was met with a polite and pained explanation of “We cook all our burgers to X temperature in order to ensure. . .blah, blah, blah.” Given that this basically boils down to “Our lawyers make us do this,” I can’t complain about the guys behind the counter. However, it’s a continuing bummer to be denied a pink hamburger; ESPECIALLY in the day and age where everyone (including Elevation) is crowing about their grass-fed, organic, hyper-tasty beef. It seems a waste to use beef that tastes like beef if you’ve got to cook it ‘til it’s gray.

In any case, the resulting burger was tasty enough. Significant amounts of black pepper seem to be involved in their preparation and that happens to be a flavor I like. It might strike others as a bit much. The bun was light, but held together well. The delivery in a simple waxed paper wrapper and the fresh toppings reminded me of In-N-Out. The entire thing had a bit more grease happening than the west coast chain, however (the bun itself was shinny with it). In fact, you could think of this product as Five Guys meets In-N-Out.

The chocolate shake was good, although a bit more complex than it needed to be. I bet money that either the chocolate syrup or the ice cream they use has something fancy in its name - “Dutch” chocolate or “European-style" vanilla for example. I don’t see why people feel the need to overly complicate something that works as is. Still, not something that was tough on the taste buds.

The really questionable item, in my opinion, was the fries. Their menu makes a big thing out of the fact that their fries are done in olive oil. Their use of the term “heart healthy” leaves me to assume they think there’s some health benefit in using olive oil as the frying medium. That’s a nice concept, but there’s a problem of physics. Olive oil’s relatively low smoke point makes it poorly suited as a deep frying medium. If you try to fry potatoes in hot (but not burning) olive oil, you get what they have at Elevation Burger. The result of cute marketing and poor science: brownish, characterless, sodden, oddly flavored fries. A poor trade for some perceived “heart healthy” gain.


Elevation Burger is fine. I won't drive across town for one and I won't eat their fries again until they put some peanut oil in that fry-o-lator. If Ray’s Hell Burger would just decide to open for lunch (and add fries to the menu!!), we could stop messing about and just head there whenever the burger mood strikes. Until then, we’ll be compelled to choose among the also-rans.

Elevation Burger
442 S Washington Street
Falls Church, VA 22046

Ray's Hell Burger
1713 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22209

In-N-Out Burger

1700 N. Beauregard Street
Alexandria, VA 22311

Monday, October 6, 2008

Announcing winners from this past weekend's Chococake-o-rama Taste Test

Okay, here's the QUICK scoop (for details & historical data, scroll down to Jawper's post directly below):

Cake X = Duncan Hines Devil's Food Cake Mix
Cake Y = Pillsbury Devil's Food Cake Mix
Cake Z = Homemade Devil's Food Cake, compliments of Cooks Illustrated

Tasters preferred the cake mixes to the homemade by an obvious margin. Duncan Hines and Pillsbury basically tied for the winning spot.

In total, there were 25 testers, including 2 kids under the age of 10. Despite this small sample size, we observed two trends:

  1. men overwhelmingly preferred the box cake mixes to the homemade version
  2. the older the respondent, the more likely you were to enjoy the homemade version

An interesting note: a preliminary test of Betty Crocker’s Devil’s Food Cake Mix eliminated it from the main event, as it didn’t seem rich and chocolate-y enough.

For the Sake of Science: Chococake-o-rama results

Significant contention exists as to the relative quality of store-bought-mix cakes vice home-made-from-scratch cakes. As a long-time practitioner of the “scratch is better” school, Pleen recently began to wonder about the real preferences of cake eaters. Thus we embarked upon a scientific battery of testing to establish once and for all if cake eaters can tell the difference between mix and scratch.

In the first event, the July 2007 Yellow Cake Survey Spectacular and Extravaganza, the superiority of modern yellow cake mix to home-made-from-scratch yellow cake was indisputably demonstrated. Since that heady day, Pleen has saved dozens of hours of labor by using only mix in applications calling for yellow cake.

Some of the top sheet results for historical comparison:

General Findings

Gender Breakdown

Age Group Breakdown

However, important answers only lead to more important questions. The continued evolution of knowledge demands much of us all. We cannot turn our backs on the enduring question: what about CHOCOLATE!?

Thus we and our volunteer testers once again sacrificed for the sake of science. On Saturday 4 October, we hosted the Chococake-o-rama Taste Test. We encouraged testers to drop by the testing site, taste the cakes on offer, fill in a ballot designed by highly trained researchers, and witness the release of the top sheet survey results.


The Hypothesis:

  • Given advances in food science, there is now little difference between cakes made from box cake mix and cakes made from scratch

  • For a devil’s food cake, most people will be indifferent to the difference in flavor between box cake mix and scratch

The Methodology:

  • 3 different devil’s food cakes were baked today(2 different box mixes & 1 from-scratch)
  • Same oven & pans
  • Same batch of butter & eggs
  • Same batch of frosting
  • Recipes baked exactly as directed

Evolution of our test methodology has continued. We have high statistical confidence in the validity of our results. The process at both events has been overseen by Ms. JB, Vice President, Business and Consumer Insights at a major market research company. Dr. AS, retired Professor of Marketing at The George Washington University’s School of Business & Public Management acts as senior mentor.

The Ballot

The Results!

General Findings

Gender Breakdown

Age Group Breakdown

We can only conclude that mix cakes offer a real advantage over from-scratch approach - at least in the two genres tested so far. The preferences of our tasters have been authoritative in each test.

Stay tuned for more events from the Squeek's Tasting Center!

Before I shuffle off this mortal coil . . .

. . . someone has to take me to Lockhart, TX to eat at Smitty’s

Here’s what Tyler Cohen had to say a few years back.

The ingredients are simple: salt and pepper rub and meat to die for. Slow cooking in open pits. Schmitty's lets its pit spill over onto the restaurant floor; be careful not to step or fall into the fire when you walk in the door. Did I mention that town fire and safety regulations are lax and they have a friendly insurance agent with a taste for barbecue?

All other barbecue will now taste worse. At what discount rate, or at what implied rate of memory deterioration, am I better off for having been there? Or do seek something other than happiness through food?

Doesn’t that make you want to get on a plane!?!?

Smitty's Market
208 South Commerce
Lockhart, TX,