burgers, elevation burgers, grass fed beef hamburgers, mall dining, south portland

Elevation Burger

Exactly a year ago, burgers became a focus of my life, at least for a few months. Then it seemed that there was talk of burgers all over internet food press. Maine also saw its first Five Guys open back in April. In May I even wrote:

I agree with Kate and her assessment that these rounds of O-Rama have gotten some of us(me) thinking about burgers more than ever.

But, after that, I only went out once for burgers (Five Guys) and was horribly disappointed–and mildly disgusted–with the food. It seemed my love affair with burgers was not meant to last long.

Then, last week, Arlington, VA, based Elevation Burger opened its doors in South Portland and it looked like I had reason to rekindle my burger pursuits. This was solidified when an invite went out from their PR person to several local food bloggers, asking us to stop by and try their food. Kate and I made plans, along with Kate’s roommate, A., to head out to Exit 3 this past Monday night and see what they were about.

The first thing you notice when you walk in is how open and bright the space is. To your right is an open kitchen, where you can watch the employees prepare the orders through a glass window. The other thing you notice right off is how happy, polite and generally nice the people working there are. They were patient with us when the three of us stood, overwhelmed and overstimulated at the counter, trying to figure out what to order from the foreign menu. They offered suggestions with things they had tried and enjoyed during their past week of training. Most employees at fast food places just kind of stare at you with ambivalence or contempt–or a mixture of the two–these employees seemed pretty sincere.

But, not only do their employees seem different than other establishments, but Elevation Burger seems to pride itself on being a bit different overall. Their mantra, “Ingredients Matter,” is backed up by their use of daily ground organic, grass fed, free range beef. They also use organic eggs and butter in their cookies and opt to fry their french fries in olive oil. They use bamboo in the flooring, sorghum table tops and as much renewable products in their restaurants. They’re the Anti-Golden Arches, it seems… but, not quite.

Yes, they use beef that is better for you(grass fed is lower in fat than corn fed), but you can get their Vertical Burger with up to ten patties on it (which completely defeats the purpose of eating meat that’s lower in fat). They have a cool, futuristic Coke soda machine, that was developed in South Portland (which dispenses the obvious selection of beverages sweetened with High Fructose Corn Syrup)

But, they also offer a line of local, all-natural sodas (the Maine Root Lemonade is fantastic, by the way).

They proudly tout their choices for better, higher quality ingredients than you find at your typical fast food burger hut, and they should. The owners, Mark and Christopher, who picked up our tab and sat and chatted with us for a bit, said that they give options to their customers. If you want a Coke, you can have one, if you want a healthier option, they have that, too.

They have a ‘lettuce wrap’ option for those not wanting, or able, to eat bread and, while the hamburger is the star, they also offer vegetarian ones. To be fair to Mark, I poked at him a bit about not using organic potatoes, non-HFCS sweetened ketchup and a few other devil’s advocate questions and he answered them all, honestly and to the point. I couldn’t argue, the man had my respect for just entertaining my questions.

But, for all the hype, the food politics and all the industry buzz words, was the meal any good?

I opted for the standard, “Elevation Burger,” which is a double patty burger, served on a potato bun with your choice of 11 free toppings (blue cheese dressing is extra). I had mine with lettuce, pickles and ‘Elevation Sauce,” a secret recipe tomato-y condiment. The burger still had a bit of pink to the middle of it, which we all were surprised and appreciative about. The overall flavor was good and the portion size of the burgers was decent enough (coming in, I’d guess, at around 7oz total). However, I did notice that, at the end, that the patties did get a little dry. But, that’s one of the side effects of using a leaner meat, you lose a bit of that juiciness.

The pickles were in slices and relatively sweet. I did manage to drag both of them out on the second bite, which kind of sucked. The ES was a bit like Russian dressing, minus the relish, though there’s apparently no mayonnaise in it. I liked the sweetness of it and thought they put just enough on without killing the taste of the burger. And, well, the lettuce was a bit of a throw away. I do, however, give them bonus points for the potato bun, which I absolutely love with any burger.

The french fries were met with mixed reviews. We all loved the shoe string, bistro cut of the fries, but Kate and A. weren’t overly thrilled with the taste of them. I liked them more than I thought I would because you don’t generally associate frying french fries with olive oil, that’s something more for vegetable or peanut. But, probably because of the cut of the fry, it allowed them to crisp up at a lower temperature without becoming soggy and limp. They were also nicely salted and stood up to being dipped into the Vanilla milkshake I ordered. Which was funny because the milkshake was probably the least enjoyable piece of the meal for me. I think that my problem was the ice cream. I just straight out didn’t like it. Too sweet, maybe? I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I just wasn’t a fan.

Now, what I noticed and liked most about my meal, was the fact that I didn’t feel overfull or generally gross after it. I didn’t have that fast food sheen from the fries or that weight in my stomach from the burger. For me, the mall area is always a bit of a wasteland of really bad chains (we’ll usually stop at Chia Sen when we’re out in that general vicinity) and the quality that Elevation Burger brings is a much needed, and appreciated, relief.

Elevation Burger on Urbanspoon

burger-o-rama, burgers, cheese stuffed, cooking for the missus, mozarella

Burger-O-Rama pt4: Dream Burger

I dream about food quite a bit. One recent dream had me in an Old Port establishment while the chef came out of the kitchen and was berated by a customer over the quality of the meatloaf (Don’t read Yelp before bed is the lesson to take from this). I have also dreamed about sitting with the Missus and enjoying a seemingly endless plate of Foie Bon Bons at Bresca (This was a few days before we were going to celebrate New Years there). There was also the dream I had of cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen in an Italian country home (Damn you Lidia Bastianich for invading my dreams!). But, I cannot recall ever dreaming about a hamburger. Ever.

So, When A. told us our last round of O-Rama would keep us at home, crafting our ‘Dream Burger,’ I realized I didn’t have one. I don’t have one as burgers just aren’t something I spend a lot of time thinking about. Though, I agree with Kate and her assessment that these rounds of O-Rama have gotten some of us(me) thinking about burgers more than ever.

But, while we were left to the endless bounds of our imaginations, I seemed lost in mine. I couldn’t come up with anything that I would define as a “Dream” or even “Perfect” burger. Honestly, if it’s not overcooked and the meat is of somewhat passable quality(ie, better than the Golden Arches), I’m going to find it pretty enjoyable. So, when I finally gave in to the fact that I couldn’t construct a burger in my minds eye, I deferred to the Missus and asked her to call this round.

She surprised me with her response. I thought it would be a decadent burger with fancy cheese, truffle oil and possibly foie and it was so ridiculously far from it that it was… well, it was ridiculous. Her response to me was:

I liked the one you made that was stuffed with Mozzarella. That was a good one.

That was a complete off the cuff one, kids. I think I made it 2 or 3 years ago. I have the nagging feeling in the back of my brain that Rachel Ray was somehow behind it, though I think I used the Mozzarella because it was the only cheese on hand. I hardly remember it but, apparently, it stuck with the Missus and a small part of me couldn’t help but feel flattered by the fact that she remembered it.

I, of course, did have to put my spin on it and I decided to, rather than cheaping out and buying a bag of rolls, that I would make some homemade Brioche buns for the burgers. I made two batches and they weren’t exactly what I had hoped they would be. I’m mostly convinced that their failure had more to do with loose instructions given in the recipe than anything else. And the Missus also complained that they were too rich because they lacked the airiness that most brioche rolls have. She was right, they were far too dense and would have been better used to sop up a french onion soup or beef stew. So, I went with the old reliable source: King Arthur Flour and used their “Beautiful Burger Buns.

  1. 3/4 to 1 cup lukewarm water
  2. 2 tablespoons butter
  3. 1 large egg
  4. 3 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  5. 1/4 cup sugar
  6. 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  7. 1 tablespoon instant yeast


  1. 3 tablespoons melted butter


  1. Mix and knead all of the dough ingredients — by hand, mixer, or bread machine — to make a soft, smooth dough.
  2. Cover the dough, and let it rise for 1 to 2 hours, or until it’s nearly doubled in bulk.
  3. Gently deflate the dough, and divide it into 8 pieces. Shape each piece into a round ball; flatten to about 3″ across. Place the buns on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, cover, and let rise for about an hour, until noticeably puffy.
  4. Brush the buns with about half of the melted butter.
  5. Bake the buns in a preheated 375°F oven for 15 to 18 minutes, until golden. Remove them from the oven, and brush with the remaining melted butter. This will give the buns a satiny, buttery crust.
  6. Cool the buns on a rack.

The buns had more thought than the ingredients that went into the burger:

  • 85% lean ground chuck
  • Bosario seasoned salt
  • Ciliengine Mozzarella

Her choice of toppings were simple:

  • Caramelized onions (for me)
  • Backyard Farms tomato (for her)
  • Something Green
  • Pickles (the other something green)
  • Ketchup
  • Mayonnaise

The method was simple:

  • Form 4 4oz patties
  • Top two with some shredded Mozz
  • Combine it with another 4oz patty and form them together into one giant uberburger.
  • Add a bit of seasoning to the top
  • Cook in a searing hot pan on top of the stove.

Butter and toast buns in a separate pan.

The burgers were cooked to a medium temperature–perhaps a bit overdone for me but the juiciness and grease saved the burger from ever having a dry texture. They were served with pickles on the side and a helping of TJ’s Tater Tots.
The Missus took her first bite and, before even wiping away the juice that was collecting on her chin, she turned and said:

This is really, really good honey.

And that’s all that mattered to me. Dream burger or not, I made the Missus happy.

Want to read about some other dream burgers, visit the O-Rama gang and their reviews here, here, here and here.

burger-o-rama, burgers, falmouth, harmons lunch, perfect onions

Burger-O-Rama pt1: Diners and Sandwich Shops

A bit of a back note to this, A asked us what our 2011 O-Rama theme should be, just around the same time that all of Portland was at a stand still with our first snow storm. Rational people lost their minds and it took many over an hour to get across town. Like many connecting events, people posted their disgust over the weather on facebook. Joe Ricchio was one that I noticed in my feed, stuck in the middle of the storm. An hour later, after his post of disgust at the snow and the drivers, he posted:

I’m currently having a cheeseburger at 555 that is so good, I had to tell a lot of people immediately. Seriously – do yourself a favor here…

And there it was. Burgers… what a better idea for a theme. One singular dish with a ton of interpretations, which should make for a wider and, hopefully, more enjoyable review series for our readers. Joe planted a craving in my head and I passed it along to the group. So, if you have issue with this series, blame Joe. In fact, do it in person… he’ll love that.

But, on to our new task: Burger-O-Rama. The rules are a bit different this time kids. Instead of A. picking the restaurant we go to, or deferring to us for a suggestion, we’re going by theme like “Diners and Sandwich Shops”–the theme of this first entry–“Upscale,” “Alt-Burger,” etc. I believe he has about 6 different themes, with a V-day wild card thrown in there for an early break. So, with these theme months, all based upon burgers, it’s in the hopes that we open up the scale of the restaurants reviewed. My “Pub Burger” choice will probably be a different than Dawn’s or Malcom’s. It’s a win/win for both writer and reader (hopefully).

Now, burgers are a bit of a sacred thing to some, like a sports teams or caffeinated beverage. For me, they have always made me think of my mother. She is a ‘meat and potatoes’ kind of lady with very singular likes and a few simple rules:

  1. Food can’t touch.
  2. It can’t be spicy.
  3. All components have to be identifiable upon first glance.

Fair enough. On the rare occasion, like her visit to Maine this past October, she does have her palette and mind blown. She’s probably still plotting a way for me to ship her Caiola’s Homemade Pop Tarts and Gelato from Maple’s Organics. But, if my mother knew she were going to leave this world tomorrow, I am 99.9% sure that a hamburger or cheeseburger would be her last meal. Oh, and there would be a hot fudge sundae to end it all. I mentioned the new ‘O-Rama’ theme to her and she said back, “Oh, I was just thinking of a cheeseburger. I know what I’m having for dinner tonight!” My mother is a burgerholic. But, don’t go mucking it up with weird toppings, fancy rolls or any meat outside of beef. She is a purist.

So, Mom came to mind when I was looking over the list of places on A’s site. There were a few places I considered, like Steve and Renee’s, Becky’s and Artemisia Cafe. But, I wanted simple. I wanted the burger that would live up to my mom’s strict scrutiny. So, I said “Fuck it,” and ignored the list all together. Instead, I took the 15 minute drive out Washington Avenue, just beyond the Portland/Falmouth border, to Harmon’s Lunch. And there, in a very non-descript building, sits probably the best burger in Southern Maine.

Harmon’s is no frills–seriously, I’m sure there will soon be a sign hanging declaring frills unnecessary and bothersome. See, for those who haven’t been in, there are signs everywhere reminding you that this is just a lunch counter and your bullshit will not be tolerated. An example reads:

New record: 2/23/2009 2 people tying up a 4 person table with others waiting to sit. 2 hr 3min–Please have some consideration.

They take no gruff(and no credit cards–this is CASH ONLY, kids). In fact, I was a bit scared to take any photos for fear of being sassed out the door. Don’t go there asking for medium rare or ketchup or a gluten free roll because you will probably be told to read one of their other signs:

This is not Burger King. You do not get it your way. You get it my way or you don’t get a damn thing.

And, you know what? You don’t need it any other way but theirs. After 45 years doing this, between two different owners, they’ve got it down and chances are, if given too many options, we’d just ruin their perfect burger.

I’ve only ordered a burger one way from them: Loaded. Diced, perfectly caramelized onions, mystery red relish, mustard, meat and plain hamburger bun. Simple enough and insanely inexpensive to boot. But, let’s dote a little more on the burger, shall we? All of the components make this easily one of the best balanced burgers I’ve had because Sweet+Savory+Acidic=Satisfying. You would think that the burger, a quite respectable patty–cooked medium–all on it’s own, would be lost somewhere under all of the toppings, but it’s not. And the plain bun? It too serves a purpose, acting as a sponge for the greasy goodness and toppings that will, despite your valiant efforts, be running down your chin within a few bites. I found myself, alone at the table, giggling as I went through napkin after napkin trying to clean myself up.
And what’s a burger without it’s companion of fries?

Hand cut, fried to order and served hot in their little cardboard home. They, too, are just exactly perfect the way that they are. If there was salt on them, it was extremely light and barely noticeable, which was fine by me. There is ketchup at each table, if you so desire, but popping them in after every bite of burger was enough to sauce them up a bit. It’s nice knowing that these were not taken out of a bag delivered from SYSCO and that they put as much attention into their fries as they do their star burgers.

And how much, sans beverage, did this cost? Around $4.50. For the price of a Venti Caramel Macchiato from Starbucks, I had a lunch that kept satiated until dinner. A double patty, double toppings or cheese will cost you a wee bit more but it still puts it at the best deal in, or rather near, town for such a satisfying lunch. Something else mom would approve of.

Harmon's Lunch on Urbanspoon

Want to read about some other burgers, visit the O-Rama gang and their reviews here, here, here, here, here and here.