Flame-haired Bobby Flay traveled to Potomac Mills Mall yesterday to open the first Virginia location of Bobby’s Burger Palace. While local media listened to Flay talk about (and he uses finger quotes) “the burger business,” a line of 30 people formed an hour and a half before doors opened.
I rarely attend media events living life as an anonymous restaurant critic, but when a Food Network star travels to Woodbridge, there must be a witness.
Flay breaks the burger business, and his “fast casual” concept into three factors: burgers, fries and shakes. “I think the burger is the quintessential sandwich,” says Flay, noting his burgers reflect an 80-20 meat-to-fat ratio. He also complimented the flattop, saying grills let the coveted burger juice slip onto the coals, where a continuous surface allows the ground beef to cook in its own juices.
Does this mean we should cook burgers on a cast iron pan over the flames? Well, I didn’t get to ask Flay that question. Instead, I took my brief moment with Flay and asked about Entourage, the least food-related question possible. (This is also to the chagrin of my coworker, who demanded I quiz Flay on the infamous Iron Chef cutting board incident. But the mood deemed a more convivial question, so I talked Hollywood.)
Flay insisted, “I’m not actor” and smiled slyly when asked if he had been propositioned for other acting work. He just shook his head and repeated the non-actor line. He also provided a non-answer to my question about Jeremy Piven‘s real-life cursing. “Does he really curse as much as Ari?” His response, “Now that’s an actor.”
Flay then moved on to the next reporter, signing copies of his “Burgers, Fries & Shakes“along the way, a gift to all journalists there, along with a specially mixed jar of burger spice rub, a large-sized T-shirt with the Bobby’s Burger Palace logo, a take-out menu and the requisite press release.
Walking through his Palace, Flay mostly stuck to a script about how he came up with all of the menu components. “I’ve been going through life asking for extra cheese,” he said, explaining why burgers here are slathered with the dairy product. And wow, two slices of cheese make the difference. I’ll get to that in a sec.
Mr. Flay might be the name behind this operation, but he lost one battle: Dijon mustard. The tables stock ketchup, chipotle ketchup (shallow chipotle flavor), burger sauce (really meaty tasting), jalepeno hot sauce (enough heat, but underwhelming), and yellow mustard. He admits he wanted Dijon, like any other self-respecting mustard fan. He was out voted.
Back to the cheese.
I ordered the “crunchburger,” with double American cheese and potato chips stacked inside a heavily sesame seeded bun. Unlike many fast casual burger places, the kitchen allows customers to specify burger doneness. I chose medium rare.
When I’m reviewing a restaurant, I don’t take food for free. Please know that about me. But because I don’t critique chain restaurants in the magazine, I accepted the burger. I’m under no obligation to say this, but holy, I loved this burger. I was surprised, to be honest. The double cheese completely encased the meat, which arrived soft and pink, my favorite texture.
I wasn’t impressed with the fries, sweet potato fries or the onion rings, but hot damn on that shake. Flay said it took two years to test the shake recipes, and for that patience, I reward him with my bloated stomach because I finished an entire black and white milkshake before noon. Because Flay is a real chef, or whatever, I guess he feels the need to put in some chefy-legit flourishes, such as the option of fresh whipped cream, at no charge. Go for it dudes. It is a beautiful addition to an already sumptuous, thick, sweet shake.
By the time the media preview ended, the line bent around the corner. By close, the Palace sold approximately 1,000 burgers. / Bobby’s Burger Palace, 2700 Potomac Mills Circle, Woodbridge.