D.C. is a steakhouse city, but I don’t have to tell you that. Read literally anything written about D.C.’s dining culture and you’ll find a throwaway line about our always increasing collection of steakhouses. Usually it’s presented as a knock, something that’s holding the District back from becoming a true dining destination. So what do you do if you’re a steakhouse in D.C.? How do you get over that immediate snub? How do you transcend the stereotypes of the city you’re in?
Maybe, you open a burger shop. It’s hard to turn your nose down at a burger. From consummate vegetarians to obsessive carnivores, it’s one of those foods that bring everybody together. You can dress it up, you can dress it down. Young people (who are frequently flocking to the city and spending real money) and old people alike love them. It’s an empty food canvas that has the potential to go viral, and I don’t mean viral in the YouTube celebrity way. I mean food viral, like Ray’s Hell Burger and Duke’s Right Proper burger.
I have no idea if that’s why the folks behind The Capital Grille decided to open their inaugural Capital Burger in D.C., but what I do know is that their burger isn’t quite good enough to usurp the reigning champions… Yet. It seems like they’re still finding their groove between the formality of their sibling restaurant and the more low-key vibe of a burger joint.
The restaurant itself is well designed and filled with mid century modern touches. It’s bright and airy and feels like the complete opposite of a steakhouse, yet it’s nice enough that you could bring your parents here and it would still seem like you tried. It’s definitely not a sports bar, but there are more than enough TVs sprinkled around the bar and dining room, making it easy to catch a game while you eat.
Of the two burgers we tried, the clear winner was The Capital Burger. Made French Onion soup style, it features caramelized onions, Wisconsin gruyere and a shallot aioli. While it’s a little richer than your average LTOP burger, the caramelized onions are a crucial ingredient that set this burger apart from the rest and help keep everything nice and moist. The bun is also very well done and did a great job at standing up to the juice from the burger. Too many burger places skimp when it comes to the bread, but it can make or break your meal.
Like with many burger places, you have the choice between a salad or fries with your burger. I am personally incapable of ordering anything but fries when I go to a burger place, because if I’m going to be unhealthy, I want to go all the way, but the salad is actually quite good. Don’t get me wrong, the fries are fantastic and I had to stop myself from eating all of them, but the salad was simple and refreshing.
The Capital Burger is a brand new restaurant from an established company and it will be interesting to see how their model evolves over time. Their menu is filled with options, but everything seems a little minimalist to really make a splash. It’s not going to replace any of my favorite burger spots, but I’ll be keeping an eye on it nonetheless.