Cleveland: If Michael Symon Weren't Already a Celebrity, B Spot Would Make Him a Star
18066 Royalton Road, Strongsville OH 44136 (map) and 3 other locations; 440-572-9600; bspotburgers.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Fast casual deliciousness from Iron Chef Michael Symon
Want Fries With That? These reminders of the power of lard are definitely worth it
Price: Burgers range from $6 to $11
Notes: No reservations, can get crowded
Long before Michael Symon became a nationally known celebrity chef, the Cleveland native was a culinary icon in his hometown. Lola, the multiple award-winning flagship restaurant in the Symon empire, has been a local favorite since it opened in 1997. In 2005, he opened the more accessible and affordable Lolita, and three years later, he opened Roast in Detroit, both of which have garnered significant praise and solidified his standing as a master of meat.
But Symon's career really became significant in 2009. No, it wasn't because that was the year he won The James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef Great Lakes. And it wasn't because that was his first full year as an Iron Chef. 2009 was huge because that was the year he opened the first two locations of B Spot.
From the booze (more than 30 craft beers and a dozen bourbons) to the decor to the random menu items like the fried bologna sandwich (reviewed here), every little detail of B Spot is impressive. But nothing there outshines the burgers, which routinely draw hordes of Clevelanders to all three locations as well as the stand at Quicken Loans Arena that's only open when the Cavaliers are playing. And unlike a certain other former Cleveland resident, when Symon takes his talents to South Beach, he does nothing but win. Come this February, he will defend his back-to-back wins of the People's Choice Award at the SoBe Wine & Food Festival.
There are 14 different burgers on the menu at B Spot, all but one of which (the double cheeseburger) are under $10. The burgers range from the very simple Plain Jane that comes with with lettuce, tomato, and onion ($6) to the elaborate Red Hot, which is topped with pulled pork, pickled tomato, hot peppers, pepper jack cheese, and sriracha mayo ($9). There's something for every burger lover on the menu, which makes the rule prohibiting changes or substitutions easy to take (subtractions are allowed), especially given the need for efficiency in the kitchen of the perpetually packed restaurant.
Every burger at B Spot starts with a six-ounce patty custom blended for Symon by New York's famed Pat LaFrieda. The sourcing issue might raise a few eyebrows among those of us who prefer local ingredients. And I agree with those who have grown tired of the near deification of LaFrieda in a world where loads of farmers sell exquisite beef directly restaurants that turn it into magnificent burgers. But here's the thing: The patties at B Spot are outstanding. The densely packed circles of beef are bursting with flavor from nothing other than a proprietary blend of fresh beef, salt, and pepper.
Even though many of the burgers come piled with flavorful toppings, these patties can stand up to just about anything. Exhibit A is the Shroomage, which includes a topped with a portabella mushroom, blue cheese, Lola steak sauce, and griddled onions. The rich, umami, tangy, and lightly sweet combination of toppings would actually make a mean sandwich on its own. But in this case, they are just a delicious supporting cast that help elevate a superstar patty.
To help eliminate problems that can often arise due to different people's understanding of what phrases like "medium rare" mean, B Spot offers clear definitions of each burger temperature on its menu and on tabletop signs. Medium means reddish/pink with a warm center. And as you can see from the picture, the kitchen absolutely nailed my request. The interior of the patty was warm and juicy and it was surrounded by a beautiful crust.
The bacon cheeseburger is one of the more straightforward menu options and is proof that B Spot can deliver outstanding burgers without relying on elaborate toppings. This lovely burger included lettuce, tomato, onion, a choice of cheese (cheddar in my case), and a mess of bacon. The smoky, salty, chewy bacon was great, but like the toppings on the Shroomage, was secondary to a delicious patty.
I returned to my roots with the bacon cheeseburger and went for rare, which, according to house rules means blood red and with a cold/cool center. Once again, the house delivered precisely what I asked for. There was, naturally, not nearly as much of a crust on this one, but what the patty lost in texture it more than made up for in straight beefy flavor. And I was pleased to discover that despite the juiciness of the burger, the soft toasted bun was up to the task of holding everything together.
As much as I loved the Shroomage, I actually enjoyed the bacon cheeseburger more for the simple reason that it gave me the freedom to make full use of the pickle bar. Yes, you read that right: pickle bar. Everyone who enters B Spot has free reign to go wild eating eight different pickled treats: banana peppers, dill pickles, Tony Packo's sweet hots, pickled red onions, pickled jalapeños, garlic pickles, pickled green tomatoes, and red pepper relish. I tried every pickle except for the red pepper relish and thought the red onions and the supremely acidic green tomatoes were both particularly excellent. Admittedly I'm biased due to my deep love of pickles, but this bar shot B Spot into my upper echelon of burger restaurants.
Fries do not come with burgers at B Spot, which surely helps explain the very reasonable burger prices. But to go to B Spot and not get some of their spuds would be a grave error. These crisp, pillowy spuds are fried in lard and send a clear message to everyone who tries them: lard is better than any oil made from a vegetable. The regular fries at B Spot are seasoned with sea salt and rosemary. I skipped those in favor of the Porky Fries, which come topped with pulled pork, Cheez Whiz, and pickled chilis. The pulled pork was too wet and devoid of smoke flavor, making it the sole ingredient I had at B Spot I didn't like. Fortunately, Cheez Whiz and pickled chilis make a great combination on their own, especially when combined with top-notch fried potatoes.
Given Michael Symon's proficiency in all things meat, I was not at all surprised to find that B Spot puts out a great patty. But B Spot doesn't rely on just great beef and the star chef's name—I really loved everything about this place. From the relaxed, incredibly friendly vibe to the impressive menu to—yes I'll say it again—the pickle bar, it seems that every single detail about the place was carefully considered and the right decisions were made. I'm not sure when I'll get back to Cleveland, but I know a return the B Spot will be in the cards when I do.
About the author: Daniel Zemans is so devoted to Chicago that he covers pizza for Slice and burgers for A Hamburger Today. When he's not focusing on expanding his waistline, he works as a lawyer on behalf of employees and tenants.