Burgering Through D.C.'s Georgetown

If it's Tuesday, it must be time for another review from Nick Solares. Nick is also the publisher of Beef Aficionado, his blog that explores beef beyond burgerdom.

From left: Clyde's burger, Mr. Smith's.

I spent a weekend in the nation's capital and had time to tuck in to a few burgers on my visit. Because of their proximity, both geographic and aesthetic, I'm covering two burgers together in this post, having already covered Ben's Chili Bowl here because I think it merits special attention.

Clyde's

20090601clydessign.jpgMy first burger of the trip was at Clyde's, a local chain. I generally avoid chains, but Clyde's looked genuinely historical. Indeed, the Georgetown location I dined at is the original and dates to 1963. I had originally planned on eating at Mr. Smith's just up the road but found it so packed I beat a hasty retreat. Clyde's made for a convenient alternative.

There is a collegial, saloon feel to Clyde's and despite appearing to be a straightforward bar and grill, it actually has higher culinary aspirations, offering fare that while not quite in the "gastropub" realm is certainly more inventive, some might say effete, than your average bar.

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Clyde's uses fresh, locally sourced ingredients and offers such non-bar-food items as a cheese-tasting plate and asparagus salad.

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The service at Clyde's was very attentive, and your food is delivered tableside with an uncommon flourish; the waiters line up all the plates along one arm and walk them through the crowded dining room like stiff-armed robots. It is a brave bit of theatrics with the distinct possibility of stupendous failure. Thankfully the waiters are well-trained.

The restaurant's higher culinary aspirations do not sully the burger, which is a straightforward grilled chuck patty served on a densely seeded white bun replete with fries and garnish. I initially thought the bun a bit stale, as it felt a little stiff when I compressed the relatively large, eight-ouce sandwich, but this was not borne out in the tasting; the bun was fine. The beef itself appeared as if it had been triple ground, the mince being very fine. I like my meat triple ground, particularly if the burger is going to be as thick as Clyde's.

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The autopsy.

The burger was juicy enough but not to the degree that it led to bun disintegration. While the burger was served commendably rare, it lacked that crisp, charred exterior that burger lovers so prize. To be fair, there where some decent grill marks present, but the rest of the surface was pale brown rather than the preferable darker hues that are possible.

The meat had a clean, fresh beefy flavor with a decent fat-to-lean ratio. Had the patty been ground coarser, I think the burger might have been a bit tough, but because the fine grind exposes more of the fat in the mix, the burger was spot on. I would worry about this burger being cooked much beyond medium, however, as I suspect it may dry out a bit too much.

Despite Clyde's claim to use only the freshest ingredients, the fries, aside from being rather limp and lacking crispness, also had an unsavory stale quality. I don't know if they were frozen or just sat around too long, but they did not complement the burger very well. That said the burger was tasty, not world-beating by any measure but a competent, respectable sandwich that did nothing to offend.

Mr. Smith's

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20090601mrsmiths-bar.jpgThe second burger I tried in Georgetown was at the aforementioned Mr Smith's. Dating back more than 40 years, Mr. Smith's is a dark bar that gives way to a brightly lit back room that is optimistically called a "garden."

Finding Mr. Smith's packed on Friday night, I went back the following day for lunch to find a much emptier restaurant. Despite this, the service was woefully slow. I had to ask twice to get a waiter to my table, and even then it took quite some time for the food to materialize.

Mr. Smith's claims to be the friendliest saloon in town. It was not even the friendliest on M Street. There are a number of burgers on offer at Mr. Smith's besides the basic Smith Burger ($7.95), and you can add a variety of different cheeses for 55¢, or you can go Mexican, covered in "jailhouse" Chile; French, mushrooms and blue cheese; or soy-sauce topped "Oriental" (can we please put a moratorium on this term?) They even have a "Royale style," which curiously adds Thousand Island dressing. Surely everyone knows a Royale is actually a quarter ponder, which contains no special sauce.

The various special burgers add no more than a $1 to the price of the Smith burger, and they all come with chips rather than fries, although the latter are available in either steak or curly form for a supplemental $1.50. You can also have the Wine Burger, which costs $1,000 and features any of the burgers from the menu and a bottle of vintage Chateau Lafite Rothschild. The menu did not mention the specific vintage so I decided to keep it simple and went for an American cheeseburger.

I was most intrigued by the burger when it finally showed up, as it came served on a soft hero roll, not unlike the type that I had in Philadelphia the previous day when exploring some of the City of Brotherly Love's more famous cheesesteaks.

While the burger was eight ounces, it was torpedo-shaped and quite thin, much closer to the height of a typical five-ounce patty. Personally I prefer the more svelte dimensions of an average five-ouncer, so I was quite happy with Mr. Smith's presentation. The beef-to-bun ratio was perfect, and the generous helping of two thick American cheese slices covered the beef in a gooey, loving embrace.

The evenness of the browning on the burger's exterior led me to deduce that it was griddle cooked, but it ultimately lacked enough char. I ordered it rare, which it indeed was, so perhaps higher temperatures may yield a better crust.

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From top: The autopsy shot; Mr. Smith's is a two-handed affair.

The beef was not quite as finely ground as Clyde's burger, but had a more pronounced flavor and just tasted fresher. The bun was also surprisingly tasty, being so compliant that it had trouble supporting the elongated patty, causing the whole sandwich to droop when picked up with one hand; this is definitely a two-mitt affair. The generous heaping of onion, lettuce and tomato complimented the burger well and all seemed to be fresh and crisp.

If I had to choose between the two burgers I had in Georgetown, I would go for Mr. Smith's. It was not that Clyde's was not decent, it's just that Mr. Smith's had a better flavor and texture and I liked the unorthodox bun they used.

Clyde's

3236 M Street NW, Washington DC 20007
202-333-9180
clydes.com

Mr Smith's

3104 M Street NW, Washington DC 20007
202-333-3104
mrsmiths.com

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