138-A Maple Ave.
Vienna, VA 22180
CUISINE American, Burgers, Sweets
PRICE Under $12
HOURS Open for lunch and dinner daily.
NVM AWARDS None
NEARBY METRO None
By Warren Rojas
As they approach their 10-year anniversary (the concept debuted in Manassas in June 1999), Foster’s Grille cofounder Shawn Foster said he remains most proud of the roots they’ve put down with each neighborhood incursion.
“That’s what keeps us separated from some of the bigger chains: community service,” he estimated, stressing that they always reach out to local schools/churches/emergency personnel in order to build relationships that both keep the seats filled and support the incarnate infrastructure of every new market.
Burgers as societal glue? Kooky.
Having spent nearly 30 years in the hospitality trade—including almost a decade as a corporate chef with The Palm, where he helped launch 11 outposts and got a crash course in all things high-end beef—Foster doesn’t take anything for granted when it comes to his thriving burger enterprise.
“The emphasis is on fresh food and great customer service,” he said of the company’s guiding vision—a philosophy that helped Foster’s Grille establish 25 locations up and down the East Coast, with three more set to come online in early 2009.
I suspect their success may also be tied to their handling of perhaps the most oft-neglected slice of local diners: children. From the made-to-order menus (everyone orders via old-fashioned checklist) to the banks of video games tucked back into mini arcades, the restaurant fosters the kind of free-wheeling attitude that appeals to everyone from toddlers to teens.
“The more comfortable the kids are, the more comfortable you are,” one server postulated—which probably explains why every location around here seems to be perennially packed with youngsters and their (surprisingly) mellow parents.
“Oh, hi! The whole neighborhood’s here,” exclaims one mom as she bumps into yet another acquaintance one night (that poor couple couldn’t seem to take a bite before somebody new popped by to say hello/catch up).
Adults, on the other hand, most likely come for the signature Charburger.
According to Foster, the flagship hamburger—forged from 8 ounces of 75 (muscle)/25 (fat) beef, seasoned with a proprietary spice blend and cooked to “roughly medium-well”—accounts for roughly 60 percent of their total sales.
The unfettered burger has homemade grilling written all over it, from the prominent grate marks to the meaty wallop of each bite (slightly burnt exterior belies the warm juices residing within). Although each burger can be outfitted with a slew of traditional toppings (lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, onions, pickles, American cheese; bacon is $0.75 extra), we prefer to game the system by slopping on an order of chili-cheese fries (interlocking spuds caked together with molten Whiz and perfectly respectable beef- and bean-laden chili), which effectively double/triple the volume of your sandwich (shazam!).
For now, every entree includes a side of fries and a beverage (Foster claims the combo meal packaging really streamlines the ordering process).
But the chainlet recently began experimenting with a “5 for $5.45” promotion, allowing customers to try any solo sandwich—burger, roast beef, turkey, garden or the new BLT (boasting six strips of bacon) for just $5.45. Foster said they are also working on some potential “quick bites” candidates, including: black Angus steak sliders (somewhat skimpy burger gets a big boost from a sassy-sweet onion-diced pickle relish), buffalo-chicken sliders, chili-cheese nachos and chili-cheese fries.
But don’t read any menu tweaks as signs that the Foster’s folks feel they’ve lost a step in today’s gourmet-burger wars.
“There’s room out there for the avocado burgers,” Foster suggested, adding that “obviously everybody’s going to try the new guy on the block. But I’ll put our product up against anybody.”