Eat It, Damn It!

Reviews, raves, slams, and damns.

Monthly Archives: August 2011

Ray’s Hell Burger

A burger that is a favorite of our President? I gotta’ try this.

Ray Outside
Ray’s Hell burger is located within a small strip mall. They do not have a large sign, so you better know the address. If you need a landmark, look for the 7-11.

Enter, and you will join a long line. There is giant menu on the wall, and handout menus as well for you to decide your order by the time you get to the cashier. An employee is also available to help you decide as you are in the queue.

There are four basic kinds of burger (taken directly from their menu):
1. Grilled – Seasoned with Our Secret Steak Blend
2. Au Poivre – Seared with a Black Peppercorn Crust
3. Blackened – With Spicy Cajun Spice Blend
4. Diablo – Grilled with Our Spicy Chipotle Sauce

After choosing your burger type, there are a plethora of toppings. Just the variety of cheeses is a little dizzying, from American and Swiss to Mustard Seed Dutch Gouda to Aged Danish Bleu. Some of the more exotic toppings include Roasted Bone Marrow with Persillade and Seared Foie Gras with Truffle Oil. Of course, cost varies greatly depending on the topping.

My Ray Burger
Everyone has their own special preference in their burger. How will it be cooked? What sauce? What toppings? Personally, I like a bacon cheeseburger, cooked medium. It’s my “go-to”. I decided to go with Ray’s Grilled Burger ($6.99) with Vermont White Cheddar ($1.00) and Applewood Smoked Bacon ($1.50). As a twist I decided to get it topped with Ray’s Heck Sauce. The Heck Sauce is something like a Russian relish.

Ray’s burger is properly cooked. I asked for medium, I got medium. The burger itself is juicy and tasty but not very exciting. I believe the bun is a brioche. It soaks up the juices well and holds together nicely. The bacon was thick and tasty. The Heck Sauce was a bit of a disappointment. It’s tangy, but doesn’t really compliment the burger well. When I added some ketchup, the additional salt really helped the burger pop.

MG Ray Burger
MG got a grilled topped with onions, pickles, bacon and cheese. She also enjoyed it, but it did not make her toes tingle. What was exceptional was the Sweet Potato Fries (large $3.00). They were crisp and delicious. The regular fries (small $1.75) were nothing to write home about.

If you make the trek to Ray’s Hell Burger, I would recommend piling on the toppings. Unlike many other burgers I’ve tried, the meat in this one plays very well with others. Go for the additional spices of the peppercorn crust and roasted garlic. Ray’s is definitely worth a detour. It is not too far from the downtown DC area. The vibe is completely casual and there is some parking available in the strip mall lot. Another branch is opening in the same strip that also serves wine and beer.

Ray’s Hell Burger
1725 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22209
(Google Map)


Potbelly Sandwiches

“You never eat fast food, do you?” A co-worker asked me this once. It’s not entirely true. In a place like New York, there are so many food options. There is Chinese, Japanese, Persian, Indian, Greek, German, Korean, French, Italian, Russian, Polish… the list goes on and on. Just about every food option is available. All it takes is a little bravery and a little effort. Most times, the food can be had at a reasonable price. With all the options available, why would I want to go to McDonalds. Even people who eat at McDonalds probably don’t consider their burger the best available. So why eat it?

I do partake of some things at fast food locations. The coffee at McDonalds is generally respectable. If I am at a loss for something to eat, and I need something quick and cheap, Subway fits the bill.

When I travel, I am fascinated by regional chain restaurants. Is there a regional flavor that sets them apart from what is available in NY? Do they have a theme that is particular to the region? When I was in Florida, I had to try Steak N’ Shake. Sadly, when I California, I did not get to try In N’ Out. While in Maryland, I got to try Potbelly.

Potbelly is a chain sandwich shop in the vein of Subway and Quiznos, which are both also in Maryland. So I wondered, “What makes Potbelly different?” Nothing.

Grilled Chicken
I got a Chicken Salad (large $5.50) on multigrain club roll with provolone, bacon, and jalapenos. It was terrible. The chicken was dry and lousy. The roll did not have any flavor.

Grilled Chicken
My girlfriend got the Grilled Chicken (regular $4.50) with cheddar, mayo, and lettuce. Equally disappointing.

Potbelly also has soup and chili, but considering their inability to make decent chicken, I would not have them cook anything else. If you have the opportunity to sample Potbelly, don’t.

Potbelly Sandwiches
917 Ellsworth Drive
Silver Spring, MD 20910
(Google Map)

Johnny Rad’s

JRad Sign
A skater theme runs throughout Johnny Rad’s. There are skating pictures and video around the establishment. Heck, the name Johnny Rad’s implies the possibility of an X-Games atmosphere. There is a long bar, a pinball machine, and a few James Bond posters littered about what could be an olde tyme tavern. All well and good, but how’s the food?

Risotto Balls
One of the specials that day was Risotto Balls. They were amazing! Filled with rice (duh), mushrooms, and cheese, they had a complex flavor. The rice may have been made with a veal stock, the seasoning tasted well beyond just salt and pepper, and there were little flecks of delicious mushroom littered throughout. No sauce or dipping concoction is necessary for these bad boys. If they are on the specials board when you visit, you simply must give them a try.

Pepe pie
MG and I ordered the Pepe (large $15) topped with tomato sauce, pepperoni, chopped basil, fresh mozzarella and ground black pepper. Johnny Rad’s allows you to substitute in buffalo mozzarella for regular. We took advantage of the opportunity.

Pepe side
As you can see, the crust is thin. Nevertheless, the pizza tasted like it was slightly underdone. The pepperoni was kind of bland, but the fresh black pepper and slivers of basil brought the pie back to life. The sauce is tasty, but a little watery. This is definitely a pizza that needs toppings. Plain, it would lack complexity, but with toppings, it’s a very respectable pie.

Check out Johnny Rad’s menu online. They have a huge host of interesting toppings, plus plenty for the vegans in the audience.

Johnny Rad’s
2108 Eastern Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21231
(Google Map)

Lenny’s Delicatessen

The Baltimore Aquarium is huge. If you decide to visit, be sure to plan the better part of your day around seeing sea life. Thankfully, they allow you to leave and re-enter. Since the Aquarium is right next to the Inner Harbor, there are a ton of shops and restaurants. After a few hours of viewing marine life, it was time for lunch.

Lenny's Sign
In the Inner Harbor lies Lenny’s. They have a sign in the window proudly boasting “The Best Corned Beef in Baltimore”. Really? The best? Let’s see.

Corned Beef
They offer Corned Beef and Lean Corned Beef. I went for the regular on rye with mustard and sauerkraut ($7.99). It’s a respectably sized sandwich, plenty for lunch. It’s OK. The corned beef is juicy and nice. There is no need to get the lean, the regular is not terribly fatty. The sauerkraut is also decent, probably Boar’s Head. Nothing to write home about. The bread was fresh, but a little mushy for the sandwich. A thicker cut would have been nice. All things considered, this is not the corned beef of dreams. It’s decent, nothing more.

Chicken Salad
MG got the Chicken Salad ($7.99) on wheat with lettuce. Rather than chunks of chicken, they served up a chicken puree. It was also OK. It tasted tangy, almost like some apple was put in the blender with the chicken.

Western Fries
Something on the menu caught my eye, Western Fries ($3.69). It is a baked potato that is sliced up, battered, and deep-fried. Sadly, the potato was not cooked all the way through, so the centers were underdone. These didn’t really work with ketchup. They might have been better with sour cream and chives.

Lenny’s is not a destination restaurant. The price is decent. The food is fine, nothing more.

Lenny’s Delicatessen
Pratt Street Pavilion
201 East Pratt Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
(Google Map)

Laurel Tavern Doughnuts

New York is not known for doughnuts. You’ve got a few choices.

1. Dunkin Donuts – They just suck. Let’s be real. They are technically doughnuts with various toppings, but they leave a funky aftertaste in the mouth unless immediately washed down with some sort of beverage. There is nothing savory about them. Some used to be good, years ago when some locations would actually make their own doughnuts, but now… UGH!

2. Random Coffee Shop or Bakery – There may be some gems out there, but I really hate suffering through a bad doughnut. I’ve found a couple nice ones here and there, but nothing to write home about. Their prices are generally reasonable, and the doughnuts are the same, reasonable, not special.

3. Gourmet Doughnut Shop – If you are charging over $2.50 for a doughnut, you’re not getting my money. I done care if you used hand squeezed grapes from the hilltops of Machu Pichu. I don’t care if your sugar was individually counted by the grain for maximum sweetness. I don’t care if your chocolate frosting was imported from Belgium. It’s a doughnut. Over $2.50 ain’t happening.

Therefore, I don’t bother with doughnuts when at home. On vacation? That’s another story.

The Shack
Enter Laurel Tavern Doughnuts. It’s basically a shack. The building is long, but most of the floor space is taken with baking equipment. There is one small display case, one table and two chairs. That’s it.

When you walk in, the place smells good. Look at the display case to see what is available. There are doughnuts, coffee, and burgers. That’s it.

Now, a quick word about the service. It is definitely brusque. Not rude, but has a “Yeah, whadda’ you want?” vibe. Again, not rude, just a little short.

Sugar Raised
Glazed Cruller
Blueberry Doughnut
The doughnuts are excellent. Fresh, light, sweet, and savory. The sugar raised is wonderful. The glazed cruller (not stick) has a light sugar glaze that compliments the dough perfectly. The blueberry is like a perfect little glazed cake. Fantastic. The price? $1 and change per doughnut.

The coffee is an abomination. Avoid at all costs.

Nevertheless, the doughnuts are a must have if you are anywhere nearby. Sure, there is a salty dog at the counter, but if you’re old enough to drive, you’re old enough to handle a bit of a sandy edge on a counter person. Laurel Tavern Doughnuts get a big, eyes-rolled-into-the-back-of-the-head thumbs up.

Laurel Tavern Doughnuts
115 Washington Blvd
Laurel, MD 20707
(Google Map)