I've had such ill luck with the latest crop of premium burger places in Houston that I held out no great hopes for Elevation Burger, a franchise operation out of the D.C. area with snappy blue-and-white trade dress and the usual promises of quality, quality, quality. But surprise: I liked my first visit a lot. Here's the deal.
*PRICE:$6.99 Elevation burger with cheese; $2.79 french fries; $4.50 chocolate shake.
*ORDERING: Step up to the counter and place your order, then find a table. They'll bring your food to you if it's not too busy; otherwise you fetch it from up front when they call your order.
*ARCHITECTURE: It's a build-your-own-burger proposition here, picking from the assorted condiments and vegetables on offer. and here's how my standard Elevation cheeseburger stacked up, with salad stuff on the bottom. On a toasted bun went a swipe of balsamic mustard, a scattering of hot pepper relish, some thin raw onion rings, a very thin slice of tomato and an iceberg lettuce leaf. Then came a quarter-inch patty topped with a square of cheddar cheese, followed by another quarter-inch patty topped with a second square of cheddar. Over and out.
*QUALITY:The expansive flavor of the fresh-ground, grass-fed beef really made this burger. They cook to the upper end of medium here, yet the patties retained their juices and had a nicely coarse crumb to it, with a decent sear. The taste was compelling enough that I could have eaten the burger plain, with absolutely no adornments, and been reasonably happy.
But that wouldn't have been nearly as much fun as the racy flavor profile I got by combining the tart heat of the red-pepper relish with the sharp, subtly sweet edge of the balsamic mustard and the savory bloom of raw onion. I admired the way the thin-cut tomato and modest amount of lettuce didn't take over the sandwich; and the way the melty squares of cheddar delivered a serious cheesy pop, Last but by no means least, I approved of the way the modestly proportioned bun provided adequate support while remaining in the background. Elevation takes a risk by keeping its meat-to-bread ratio this high. (At a certain point, the bottom bun could compress to a vanishing point, but it didn't.) To my mind, the risk pays off.
*OOZE RATING: good.
*GRADE: solid A.
*BONUS POINTS: Good, thick Blue Bell shakes with a list of semi-preposterous add-ins that are included with the price. (Tempted by the thought of black cherry in your chocolate shake? Don't be: the too-sweet syrup involved just muddies the waters.) And the skinny French fries done in olive oil are surprisingly effective: crisp, hot, and clearly fried to order.
*LOCAL COLOR:The remake of a little Thai restaurant on Kirby near the Southwest Freeway has transformed the space into a sleek but antiseptic box with the air of a college cafeteria. It's pleasant enough, with its selection of regular tables, high bar-type seating and informal picnic tables, but the factor that warms everything up is the friendly, caring service. It's the best I've ever encountered in an upper-end burger joint. I wasn't surprised to see customers from students to middle-aged professionals being greeted like regulars. I felt like one by the time I walked out the door, vowing that I'd come back on my own dime.
Elevation Burger, 3819 Kirby Drive, 713-524-7909.