Devils Backbone Brewing Company
200 Mosbys Run, Roseland VA 22967 (map); dbbrewingcompany.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A minimalistic but beefy 1/2-pound burger that'll make even the most die-hard griddled burger fans exclaim the virtues of the open flame.
Want Fries with That? Definitely; crisp exteriors and fluffy interiors make the thick-cut fries a perfect side. Just make sure you steal a few sweet potato fries from your neighbor's plate
Price:Burger w/fries, $9; + cheese, 50¢; + fried egg, $1
Notes: Get specialty burgers during "Artisan Burger Night" on Tuesdays
Summer burgers beg the open flame. As any burger aficionado will tell you, mastering the art of grilling a perfect medium-rare burger can be a difficult undertaking, but it's one that Devils Backbone Brewing Company does with remarkable precision, and one which will make even the most ardent of griddled burger fans contemplate a conversion.
Situated in the heart of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, the Backbone (as it's known to regulars) is a restaurant that understands ambiance. One can't help but feel a tinge of the weekend gateway spirit as a welcoming wait staff leads you to an Adirondack-style porch surrounded by gardens messaged by a gentle southern breeze. If setting is a crucial component of taste—as the authors of The Flavor Bible would have us believe—than surely this All-American outdoor setting must produce a similarly inspiring hamburger.
With its highly seasonal, regionally-sourced menu, Devils Backbone does that and more. Three burger variants—beef, turkey, and veggie—are offered, all emphasizing a minimalistic approach to ingredients that lets the customer make additions. Cheddar, American, Provolone or Swiss are all offered at 50 cents extra, while bacon, green chilies, or a fried egg can be added for a dollar more.
There was no way I was deviating from the "grilled half pound, all natural beef patty" that comes on a toasted challah bun with lettuce, tomato and red onion. The waitress, Karen, seemed friendly enough to begin, but when she didn't inquire how I wanted my burger cooked, I began to grow skeptical. Likewise, a refusal for an order of half sweet potato fries and half regular fries frustrated me, although I eventually settled on the former. Slightly worried about the burger's level of richness, I made sure to add a fried egg.
What arrived 15 minutes later was a stunning example of not only what smoke and fire can yield to a patty of ground meat, but what a summer afternoon eating out should be. The burger itself is gorgeous, adorned with a thick cut, juicy, ruby red tomato, and delicate, earthy greens that play beautifully with the sweet red onions. None of the produce overpowers the densely packed, six-ounce post-cooking patty, which arrives slightly past medium-rare but full of flavor just the same. The predominant flavor is that signature sweet, moderately smoky taste one imagines when extolling the virtues of grilled beef, with the structural integrity of the patty revealing an adequate but not overpowering amount of salt. A well developed char yields several tasty and hardened ridges on the exterior, while the juices spilling from the perfectly pink center are meaty and abundant enough to sog the bottom half of the bun.
The challah bun seems a valuable vehicle for the patty. It has a buttery-sweet flavor when eaten alone, but it's quiet enough to not distract from the meat. Its relatively pillowy texture makes soaking up the yolk from the perfectly cooked fried egg a welcomed experience.
Several sides are offered, but you're best off going with either the sweet potato or regular fries. The regular fries are everything they should be—starchy with earthy potato flavor, they're crisp on the outside and fluffy on the interior. A kitchen gaffe left me with these instead of the sweet potatoes fries I ordered, but our waitress quickly brought a whole bowl of sweet potato fries to compensate. They vary in texture and size (as sweet potatoes fries inevitably do) but are great nonetheless, with an almost mashed potatoes-like interior that captures the natural flavor of the spud perfectly, and admirably crisp exteriors.
Those accustomed to over-the-top decadence in their burgers may take umbrage with the relatively lean tasting grind and cooking method, but the burger's already meaty profile is only bolstered by the smoky aftertaste imparted from the grill. Not the juiciest of grilled burgers, it's nevertheless juicy enough, and together with the fixings, fried egg, and sides, it's, without a doubt, the best top to bottom example of a well built burger and fries I've eaten at a restaurant in some time. And at only 10 bucks, that's reason enough to celebrate summer, and give into a little temptation every now and then.
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