BURGER DAYS team returns to scouring DC for BEST BURGERS around and joining us for a special OFF SHOT column of SILF which we’re calling BILB (classy, we know)
TODAY WE SINK OUR TEETH INTO: JACKSON 20’S EXTRA JUICY NUMBER
Jackson 20 in Old Town Alexandria is one of the fancier places we’ve been on our Burger Day adventures. It’s not that it’s that fancy, it’s just that this is not the typical spot you’d think of to get a burger. Sure, it’s next door to a fancy hotel, it’s got fancy metal encased menus, fancy silverware and even a fancy (and totally awesome) pig guarding the entrance, but, trust us, it’s not too fancy. I mean, any place that has a killer lineup of canned beer including Schlitz, PBR and Stroh’s can’t be that hoity-toity, can it?
Now, the problem with getting a burger at a swankier joint like this is that oftentimes the chefs get a little overzealous and end up putting a whole bunch of impressive-sounding, and completely unnecessary, toppings on their burgers. The result is a mash-up of flavors where nothing stands out. Of course, the same can be said for just about any dish on a menu, but it’s particularly apt when it comes to our burger experience. When you pass up the tried and true traditional toppings and go fancy, you best come correct.
The J20 Burger at Jackson 20 does, in fact, sound impressive. The (fancy) menu lists it coming with smokehouse bacon, mountaineer cheese, grilled green onions, barbecue aioli and apple cider coleslaw. And the $14 price tag makes it one of their most expensive sandwiches. All frills aside, it always comes down to one thing: is it any good?
The burger certainly looked the part, sitting there on the plate in its shiny, homemade, slightly charred, sweet potato bun (from Firehook Bakery just up the street), slaw peeking out from under the sizable 75/25 ground chuck patty, while the mountaineer cheese, blanketing both the burger and the smoked bacon, just oozed out the side. Damn, this was one sexy burger.*
You know what I said before about overzealous chefs and too many fancy toppings? Forget all that here, because Jackson 20 does their thing and they do it well.
The ground chuck is mixed with Old Bay and other spices –and you can tell. It gives the fattier mix of beef (many burgers tend to be 80/20 or less) an excellent amount of flavor without masking the meat itself. The mountaineer cheese was a first for me on a burger and it was a great change from the typical cheddar. It’s a distinctive tasting cheese with an incredibly mellow, earthy flavor. It melts freakishly well (just look at that photo) and it paired great with the smoky bacon.
Some of you will probably opt to avoid it, but I highly recommend keeping the slaw. The apple cider cabbage mash-up was an excellent addition as it complimented the heavy, meaty taste of the burger with the perfect amount of light, tart crunch. I can’t overestimate how good it was on this burger. Keep it.
Of all the components of the J20, the one that gave me the most pause was the barbecue aioli. Don’t get me wrong– I love barbecue sauce in all its forms and I’ve eaten many a burger slathered in it. But the thing with barbecue sauce is that it has such a sweet, sharp and bold flavor, it completely overwhelms everything else. Cover a hockey puck in enough BBQ and you’d get no complaints from me. But when a burger has a lineup of toppings like this one does, that’s the last thing you want.
Fortunately, turns out my barbecue fears were completely unfounded. The aioli was great; it had some bite and some tang. There was just enough that you’d know it was there and it wasn’t overpowering in the least. The only topping I was indifferent about was the green onions. I know they were there because I saw them, but I couldn’t taste them. Keep ‘em or lose ‘em, it’s all the same to me.
We did have three minor hangups with the burger:
1) Since the beef is a fattier mixture, it will fall apart on you. While we ate, we had trouble keeping this thing in one piece. (Also, since fattier burgers take longer to cook, we advise getting it done just a bit more than what you’d usually order. If you’re a rare fan, go for medium rare. Trust us on this one.)
2) The bun was good, but a bit too light and airy. Once the juices of that burger start flowing (and they will flooow), that bun will disintegrate. Maybe use a denser bread?
3) While we loved the addition of the slaw, its place on the bottom of the burger only added to the degradation of the bun. We’re not sure how to fix that, however, as we liked it being apart from the cheese and bacon on top.
The combination of the above provided for one of the messiest burgers we’ve had in a while. Get yer napkins ready.
As for sides, the burger was served with what looked-like fresh cut fries in a funky, wire metal basket. They looked good, but were just ok– a bit limp and nothing special. They restaurants’s homemade ketchup came alongside, but was a little too salty for my taste. We did grab an appetizer order of their shrimp fritters and they were ridiculous. They came with their “comeback sauce,” a remoulade (we thought it was like the stuff that comes with fried onion petals) which was very tasty. We could have easily eaten two more orders of those.
After a bit of a disappointing run, we feel like we’ve found a winner here at Jackson 20. We’ve got to give it up to them for coming up with and delivering a fancy-ass burger when so many others who try fail on the execution.
Chalk up one for the chef, Burger Days salutes you.
*Hell yeah, burgers can be sexy.