BRB Enters Local Burger Fray
by Warren Rojas, Photography by Kate Bohler
While waiting in line one afternoon at Reston’s be right burger—the prototype for a potential fast-casual grilling operation as imagined by local chainlet incubator Thompson Hospitality Corporation—the funniest thing happened: Staff sent a potential customer ELSEWHERE to eat.
The redirection came about after a childless gent approached the front counter and attempted to economize on the fly, selecting a kid’s meal as the path of least resistance to budget dining. The young lady behind the register politely informed him that adult orders started at around $6 ($6.59 for a plain burger, to be exact), a bulletin that made Mr. Spendthrift visibly recoil and prompted him to inquire as to the whereabouts of the nearest McDonald’s or Wendy’s (clearly a dollar menu connoisseur). The sweet-natured cashier didn’t give it another thought, instinctively providing turn-by-turn instructions to fast food nirvana and bidding the deal-seeking patron a great day.
Now, that is service with a smile.
Unlike the cash-strapped protagonist of my little parable, I wasn’t surprised by the prices attached to brb’s conservatively crafted menu. I did, however, question the need for another gourmet burger joint—particularly one situated within the burger-saturated confines of Reston Town Center (see Pace to Taste sidebar). But the more Town Center burgers I ate, the more I came to appreciate brb’s quirks and ambition.
According to Wade Breaux, vice president of marketing for Thompson Hospitality, the trend watchers at his Herndon headquarters began batting around a “burger space concept” about a year ago. So they brought their corporate wish list—flagship beef offerings, poultry selection, vegetarian alternative—to ATR executive chef Richard Beckel and allowed him to fill in the epicurean blanks however best he saw fit.
Beckel’s current program includes: standard build-your-own option, a half-dozen signature creations and a few alternates (1/4-pound hot dog, lobster roll, house-baked chocolate chip cookies). The ground beef is sourced from a Maryland farm, the lobster imported from Maine, the pre-made turkey and vegetarian patties purchased commercially and wheat-sprinkled, brioche buns outsourced to a local bakery.
The other planks of the brb model are sustainability (kudos!) and technology, which brb has embraced—to a fault.
The tiny shop (think: two tables plus a handful of barstools inside) is typically flooded with the upbeat Thump! of the electronica channel on SiriusXm. An integrated six-panel TV array broadcasts food porn—cows chew their cud in a daisy-flecked field, farmers lovingly caress still-sprouting crops, potatoes burst forth just-tilled earth—on an endless loop. Irreverent signage (“From a farm, not a factory”; “Hormones are for chumps”) trumpets their greenness.
Meanwhile, that bank of flashy touch-screen monitors—you know, the ones that were supposed to revolutionize the ordering process. A month in, they remained purely decorative.
At least the grill works.
“We’re on the fence between fast food and full service,” Breaux proposes, acknowledging that neighboring sibling ATR is “a little more polished.”
“The Tap Room has A burger. [But] they don’t offer the same range that we do,” he suggests, trumpeting brb’s varied selection.
Breaux notes that beef burgers outsell the turkey, veggie and lobster options combined (as expected), listing the Shroomin’ burger as their overall sales champ while fingering the Hangover burger as the social media darling.
Neither was my favorite.
That honor fell to the Samurai. I opted for a turkey base, which looked like a straight Sysco-grade, straight-from-the-deep-freeze product, and was rewarded with a hot, juicy patty that proved readily accepting of all the elements competing for its affection. Teriyaki sauce bathed the accommodating protein in sweet, the wasabi mayo added resounding creaminess, the sautéed onions flexed a bit of piquancy while the melted American cheese, which sounded grossly miscast, enveloped the entire production in rich, gooey goodness.
I did like the Shroomin’ burger (double mushrooms, more sautéed onions, melted Swiss), particularly when anchored by the vegetarian patty. The portabello mushrooms—thick cut, exceptionally juicy specimens—led the charge. But the grilled vegetable patty, featuring a complementary blend of savory black beans, sweet corn niblets and caramelized onions, proved to be the star attraction.
The lobster roll was just terrific, yielding four solid ounces of sweet, buttery lobster meat escorted by just a hint of mayo, Old Bay seasoning and some diced celery. “We kind of tried to leave the meat alone … let the lobster speak for itself,” Breaux says of their minimalist approach. The roll was typically the weakest link, sometimes emerging cold or suspiciously plain (butter + grill = yes, please).
The Hangover was definitely helped along by the oily slab of buttery cheddar deposited atop this messy arrangement. But the fried egg was inconsistent (overcooked till rubbery) and the seasoned beef-and-bean chili depressingly bland.
The lackluster chili almost sank the similarly topped Sedona. Luckily that paean to Southwestern dining was salvaged by the collaboration of sliced jalapeno (extra spicy), chipotle ketchup (sassy saucing) and zesty pico de gallo (salsariffic).
Does brb make the best burger around? Not quite.
They have some work to do to overtake reigning neighborhood champ, Clyde’s smokehouse burger (a 1/2-pound mountain of cooked-to-order beef outfitted with your choice of cheese, tangy barbecue sauce, crunchy, beer-battered onion ring and unctuous pork belly).
But they’re also just getting started.
Breaux suggests that monthly specials could join the menu rotation after the restaurant really hits its stride. “He’s not short on ideas,” Breaux says of Beckel’s burger acumen.
Thompson, meanwhile, has already committed to exporting brb downtown (it’ll help initiate “The Yards” complex, a proposed residential/dining mecca near Nationals Park in Southeast D.C.). And Breaux believes management could fast-track two more regional outlets within the next year.
“The concept is proving to be a viable business model,” he suggests.
Be Right Burger
1820 Discovery St., Reston; 571-926-9428; (www.eatbrb.com)
Hours: Open for lunch and dinner daily, late-night dining Thursday through Saturday.
Prices: Under $12 ($).