Tuesday, August 18, 2015

MELT Gourmet Cheeseburgers, Leesburg VA

Ann saw someone talking about MELT Gourmet Cheeseburgers on Facebook last week and decided that we needed to ride over to Leesburg on Sunday and check it out. In looking at the place on line, I could see there's a lot of hype about this restaurant, a lot of hype: Best Burger in Loudoun County, Best Burger in Virginia, on people's lists of best burger joints in the entire country. For all this, I had never heard of the place before, not that I am really all that attuned to what is happening in the burger world. I eat one or two a year and that pretty much is the sum total of all the beef that I eat in a year.

Ann's Bison Burger: Best Looking of the Lot
We arrived in Leesburg about 12:15 and our wait in line at this counter service-only restaurant was not long. The restaurant occupies a pretty small storefront in a shopping center with a couple of tables on the sidewalk, a few tables inside, and a counter along the sidewall opposite the open kitchen. We sat along this counter. The tables are pretty cramped. If you're allergic to people, this is not your scene.

You order at the back of the restaurant at the end of the counter fronting the kitchen and then a runner brings you your food to your table. Or rather they holler out the table number and hope for you to flag them down so that they know where they are going in the chaos that is a packed room. There is no tipping, but the tip line on the credit card slip let you donate to the local humane society and so I did, what I would have normally tipped the server/food runner.

Carter came with us, so we were three and we ordered three different burgers. Carter ordered a basic bacon cheeseburger mid-rare, Ann a bison burger mid, and me, a green chile burger rare. I must say that all the burgers were cooked spot on, exactly as ordered. In my experience, this is not something you encounter every day.

All the ingredients were fresh, buns being baked as we sat there, and the toppings were generous. My burger in particular had a ton of bacon on it. I didn't find the roasted poblano chiles until the second half of the burger: they must have slid to one side. And by that time, I was done. These burgers are immense and way more than any one person needs to eat. I left a quarter of mine and could easily have stopped after a half. Ann's bison burger was really great, perfectly seasoned. My burger was desperate for some salt and pepper. Not sure about Carter's burger: it got hoovered in just a few seconds.

So far, creative menu, burgers cooked correctly, and good quality ingredients, including the beef. Massive portions. No issues there. As I mentioned earlier, seasoning of the burgers was inconsistent. The buns, despite being baked in house, were not my thing. They were too soft to stand up to the burger and all the toppings: by the time I got my hands around the burger, the bun had become so soaked with juices that it wasn't much of a bun any longer. I also like my buns cooked longer with more of a crust. They were coming out of the double-door oven very pale. Moreover, I want my bun toasted on the flat-top before the burger goes on. Ann's was at least noticeably toasted. My bun was not.

I never felt like my burger and the topping meshed into a coherent whole. The green chile burger sounded much better on paper than it was in execution. Mine had too much shredded lettuce and special sauce that pretty much drowned every other flavor. I think this is a situation where less is more and a little restraint would have made a big difference.

Onion Rings Did Not Scratch My Onion Ring Itch
We also ordered a plate of fries and a plate of onion rings. Again portions are huge, but the skinny shoestring fries just are not in keeping with the immense burgers. Five Guys still has the best fries in our area, though their burgers suck. The onion rings were a disappointment. I'm looking for large rings of beer-battered onions; these were not it. The quality of the fries and the onion rings did not match the quality of the burgers. Prices are what they are. Three burgers, one beer, two milk shakes, one fries, one onion ring: $75.

In sum, nice menu, very good quality ingredients and beef. Burgers cooked perfectly. Some dings on execution for inconsistent toasting of buns and seasoning, but this is a factor of how busy they are. Nobody on that line has a moment to come up for air, let alone concentrate on quality. Onion rings and fries not quite to the standard set by the beef. Overall, very good quality for a burger joint. Lives up to the hype? I don't think so. And I can do better at home and so it's not worth the 45-minute drive for me. If I lived closer, I might visit once a year when they are not very busy and order a burger with minimal toppings.

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