BURGER DAYS team returns from scouring DC for BEST BURGERS around with their special OFF SHOT column of SILF which we’re calling BILB (classy, we know)
TODAY: BURGER TAP & SHAKE gets a once over
Burgers and beer.
Two of our most favorite things in the world.
And when we got word that the new joint from Passion Food Hospitality (DC Coast, PassionFish, Ceiba, Acadiana) was going to specialize in both, not to mention milkshakes, we were damn near giddy. So we quickly scheduled a trip out to the aptly named Burger Tap & Shake last Saturday for a day full of burgers and booze.
First off, we can’t get over the prime location they have– it’s at the corner of Pennsylvania and 22nd, right across from the Foggy Bottom Metro and GW Hospital. With BTS signage sticking out from the building and plastered on the all-windowed front, it’s near-impossible to miss.
The inside of the space screams casual with a funky, graffiti-tagged interior and a giant George Washington portrait on the wall. It’s D.C. through and through. In fact, the idea behind BTS came along after the group was close to securing the space for their new restaurant, District Commons. “The space was so big for just one restaurant, we asked [the building owners] if we could use some of it for a separate fast-casual spot,” said Passion Food partner and Chef Jeff Tunks. They got the OK, and since District Commons is their take on an American tavern, they figured naturally the casual joint should focus on the U.S of A. as well.
“And there’s nothing more American than a cheeseburger,” says Tunks.
We couldn’t agree more.
BTS excels on both the “fast” and “casual,” as orders can be placed at the registers or the counter bar and are turned out pretty quick. With a steady flow of students, tourists and hospital workers, the joint has been consistently busy since first opening about three weeks ago, and was packed during our visit last Saturday afternoon. Despite the crowds, we found the staff churning out the food with impressive efficiency. Just how many burgers are they hooking up? Last Friday, they did just under 1,000 (about 130 an hour), and Tunks said they’ve had to purchase an additional burger press to handle the volume.
And about those burgers– they’re pretty damn good.
Just about everything*, from the bottom up, is local and done in-house. The onions, pickles, buns, fries, onion rings, ice cream– they churn it all out here. While we’re busy dreaming our burger-y dreams, the BTS crew starts prepping each day at five in the morning. Man, we love that.
All the burgers are ground in-house daily and made from a 30-day-wet-aged, all-natural, grass-fed-from-birth Angus beef mix of chuck and brisket from Pineland Farms, and pressed into six oz., five-inch around patties.
Why use a press and not hand form the patties? Because they know how to do burgers, that’s why. The less handling of the beef, the better. And with the press, they can maintain the coarsely ground texture of the beef and get a loose-packed patty with a more uniform size, says Tunks. The attention to detail continues with each patty, seasoned with just sea salt and black pepper, starting on the char-grill for three minutes and finishing on a flat top griddle sealing in the juices and melting the cheese.
The menu contains a lineup of burgers, with their house burg, the Six Buck Chuck leading the pack. The flagship item is hooked up with lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, Government (American) cheese and their All Purpose, or AP, sauce– it’s their most popular burger and a down-right steal at six bucks. And the AP sauce –a blend of mayo, ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce and chipotle– is exactly that; it works great on whatever you put it on, be it a burger, fries or onion rings.
The rest of the burgers are their loaded, signature options for eight bucks a pop. They range from the Apache Sweat Lodge (fire roasted green chilies, pepperjack, smoked onions and a spicy XXX sauce) and the Tejas (Texas chili con carne, grated cheddar, diced onions and pickled jalepenos) to the Big Daddy (smoked Benton bacon, buttermilk blue cheese, mushrooms and AP sauce).
And for the non-beef crowd, there’s the Badger burger (pork & veal), the Haight-Ashbury (falafel patty) and the High Thigh (chicken). (We actually took some bites of the veggie falafel burger and found to to be delightfully not terrible. Shhhh, don’t tell anybody, it’ll ruin our reps.)
We took a tour of the menu during our visit, getting a piece of the Big Daddy, Southern Comfort and a couple of the Six Buck Chucks.
First off, the char-grill-griddle combo is on point. It gives the burgers a substantial char and sear that packs just the right amount of crispy, tasty goodness on the outside before making way to the crumbly, juicy beef interior. This could very well be our favorite way of cooking burgers.
(Note: while the menu says burgers are cooked medium, Tunks says burgers are available cooked-to-order and can be done rare and medium rare, but he strongly recommends medium as its the temperature where the fat fully melts and the juices flow.)
The buns also received rave reviews from the Crew, with Murph declaring it the best he’s had. While we’re not quite ready to deem it the D.C. burger bun champ just yet (and yes, we plan on anointing one in due time), the light and airy toasted buttered bread was an excellent compliment to the beef, holding up well throughout the entire burger-eating experience.
The Big Daddy, Tunks’ favorite (which also just so happens to be named after him– Big Daddy is his nickname), we are comfortable saying might be one of the best blue cheese burgers we’ve had. Oftentimes, restaurants get overzealous with the pungent cheese and load it on (see Wildfire in Tysons) and this totally kills the rest of the burger. Since blue cheese is such a dominant flavor, it needs some balance and BTS recognizes this by pairing it with the incredibly smokey and thick-cut Benton’s bacon. The two play off each other nicely and make for a blue cheese burger where the bacon is not lost, but rather takes the front seat on the flavor train. Choo-choooo.
Anytime the word “fried” appears in a burger’s description, it’s going to get our attention. So, when we first peeped the BTS menu, the Southern Comfort was the burg that stood out. The inclusion of a fried green tomato put it on our radar, but the addition of pimento cheese just sent us over the edge with the Vidalia onions and bread and butter pickles the icing on the beef. Another solid combination of ingredients, the tomato was the standout on this one, adding a light but uniquely noticeable crunch to the mix.
However, our favorite burger of the bunch was the Six Buck Chuck. We’re usually ones for more elaborate combos, but this simple, yet robust house burger –the definition of a loaded American cheeseburger– impressed our greasy palates the most. The burger, fresh off the griddle, is coated in American cheese just-so-perfectly melted, filling every nook and cranny on the patty’s surface. All the accompanying veggies –pickles, tomato, onions, lettuce– are fresh and crisp and provide a good chunk of added substance and texture to the burger, making you think you’re eating much more than just a regular cheeseburger. All the above, along with the AP sauce, make for a great, old-fashioned, sloppy burg.
When it comes to BTS sides, they’ve got onion rings, regular and sweet potato fries– all for three bucks a piece. We really dug the fresh-cut regular fries– they were well-salted and crisp without being too much so. But while we marveled at the practically grease-free onion rings when they were first served, we found them to be too dry and, in fact, missing some much-needed greasiness. But whichever side-route you go, we strongly encourage the use of their AP sauce– it’s excellent for dipping.
And as for our second most favorite thing, BTS comes correct with their beer selection too. Twenty beers –all American– are on tap here, with an additional five available in cans. And yes, local boys DC Brau have a spot in the lineup. With 20 kegs on tap and 20 more on backup, they’ve got over a mile of beer lines in the joint which could make for some interesting beer specials when they clean out the lines, Tunks says.
As for the “S’ in BTS, the shakes we threw back were glasses of cold, sweet, boozey deliciousness. The booze-filled milkshakes, or Shaketails, are eight bucks each and include The Evil Empire (a vanilla vodka and coffee liqueur and vanilla ice cream shake), the Stag Party (black cherry bourbon, cherry liqueur and vanilla ice cream) and the Talladega Nights (sweet tea Vodka, house-made limoncello, vanilla ice cream and lemon sorbet). If we weren’t afraid we’d put ourselves into a diabetic coma, we’d knock these back all night long. If you’re not into the booze-thing, there’s a lineup of virgin shakes as well, including the BTS Shake with Butterfinger, Twix and Snickers. Yes. All three. It’s like a Blizzard on steroids.
Now we’re usually not ones to think or focus on anything more than the grub disappearing into our faces during our burger runs, but we couldn’t ignore the enthusiasm and passion Chef Tunks has for his first-ever foray into the world of fast-casual eating. From his insistence on top-notch burger preparation (“No touching the burgers on the char-grill!”) to the sheer delight in his eyes when he showed the Crew a $1K slab of bacon, Tunks is a man whose love and knowledge of food is evident in D.C.’s latest burger joint. “You can see the customers from the kitchen,” Tunks says, “I take pride in seeing people eating our burgers.”
When asked if they had any plans to open up any additional BTS locations, he told us he’s hesitant to think about that right now because he needs to ensure that everything is being done the way it should be at the existing spot and refuses to cut any corners at any potential new restaurant. We can dig it.
Burger Tap and Shake is currently open Monday through Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. They’re currently closed on Sundays, but they’re shooting to be open seven days a week by November 13.
*The only thing not made on premises are the sweet potato fries
Burger Tap & Shake | 2200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W | DC | burgertapandshake.com