The Elevation burger is big and lush, but it might remind you of Five Guys’.
So cheap to make, so easy to sell, hamburgers form a culinary motif of our economically downtrodden age. Stand-alone shops, bistros, and chains dispensing them have increased tenfold over the last five years in the city, so that, if you throw a pickle chip in any direction, you’re likely to hit someone eating a burger.
Cooked in olive oil, the fries are extraordinary.
In the economic sweet spot just above cut-rate mega-chains like Burger-King, Wendy’s, and McDonald’s, new slightly upscale chains have arisen, such as Five Guys and Better Burger, where some claim is made as to the goodness of the product and origins of the meat. These places have discovered they can charge twice as much for a burger as it costs at McDonald’s and its ilk, while still seeming a bargain.
The latest entry in the burger franchise wars is Elevation Burger, which outdoes nearly any establishment in its category with a design package that includes a steely-blue-and-snow-white color scheme, featuring steep, snow-capped mountains, white clouds, and blazing alpine sun, almost taking your breath away as you run your eye down the menu. The first outpost is located at 103 West 14th Street, indicating that Elevation (what an uplifting name!) is poised to go against the big chains. Echoing Chipotle, the menu promises “100% USDA-Certified Organic, 100% Grass Fed, 100% Free-Range Beef, Ground on the Premises, Fresh Vegetables and Produce [notice, this isn’t claiming “Organic”], Fresh Cut Fries, Cooked in Heart Healthy Olive Oil.”
Like Five Guys, the chain was spawned in the Washington, D.C., area, and, like its inspiration, the standard burger has two patties, costing $5.99 before tax. Moreover, Elevation Burger offers a roster of things to put on top of your burger similar to Five Guys’, but slightly more upscale, including “balsamic mustard” (yuck!) and hot pepper relish (yum!).
The spacious interior.
The No. 1 vegetarian burger is damn tasty.
The menu has lots of other quirks, too. There’s something called a Vertigo Burger, which allows you to stack as many burgers on a single bun as you dare. Outflanking Five Guys, there’s a corner of the menu devoted to thick shakes ($3.89) in several flavors, to which one can add things like Oreos, key lime, guava, or “real strawberries” (as opposed to “fake strawberries”?).
Vegetarians will be glad to know there are two veggie burgers ($3.99), one of which is vegan. The first is a compressed puck, and, as veggies burgers go, it’s really excellent, though it doesn’t bother being brown, but is instead an orange color. The vegan burger — which I didn’t try, but will soon — is apparently made from compressed vegetables. Quite oddly, there’s a double burger called Half the Guilt, which puts a veggie burger and a beef burger in the missionary position on the same bun. Which patty gives you guilt pangs, I wonder?
The fries, cooked in olive oil, are superb, cut in shoestrings and attractively browned. I was frankly surprised to see they were fried in olive oil, since the smoke point is too low for deep frying — but here we have no guarantee of the origin or purity of the oil. (I’m reminded of the New Yorker article a couple of years ago suggesting that what is often labeled as olive oil is really cheap nut oils.) Strangest of all is the dessert/fruit offering: “Cup of Mandarin Oranges” wallowing in thick sugar syrup, in an unrecyclable container.
So, how does the burger taste? Well, the bun, the toppings, and the cheddar cheese are all exceptional, enough to make me crave another of their cheeseburgers. But, as with Five Guys’, the beef patties are way overcooked, making you wonder if the chain isn’t suspicious of its own meat. Not only that, but the beef patty itself (if you carefully separate it from condiments, cheese, and bun), tastes exactly like nothing. Well, at least the menu promises “No Risk of Mad Cow Disease,” and what hamburger-joint menu has ever made that promise before?
For dessert: syrupy mandarin oranges?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 10, 2011