Local burger chains are invading the Northeast, targeting not the fast food market but a level slightly above. Five Guys and Shake Shack have been the loudest arrivals, bringing fandom and hype along with them, and Colorado import Smashburger is on its way. But the Virginia-based Elevation Burger chain established itself in South Portland more quietly—at least to these Boston ears. The placemat's mission statement reads like a treehugger's dream: 100% organic, grass fed, free range beef, no antibiotics, sustainable buildouts, environmentally-friendly operating practices, and I'm just listing the highlights. The corporate motto is "Ingredients matter." It could get you totally excited or be a total turnoff. Me? I came in with an open mind.
This particular Elevation Burger occupies the corner spot in a mini mall on Route 9, but the sign and entry are a little tough to spot if you're heading in from Route I-295. I like that there's a very open kitchen, even more open than Five Guys. As you're waiting in line to order, you can see the stacks of buns, then the burgers cooking on the griddle. And here the griddle is right up against the glass, so the staff are facing you, not away from you, while they cook. Catch them at the right time and you'll see stacks of skin-on potatoes being cut by hand into fries.
Everybody's using Martin's potato rolls these days, but here they're Schmidt's potato rolls—just as soft, a little more voluminous but not as sweet. A key aspect of the buns and a talking point on the website is that they're a little smaller than the beef patties, letting the beef take the lead.
The all-natural, hormone- and antibiotic-free, grass fed 85/15 blend is shipped in large blocks rather than prefab patties. It's ground in house and cooked on a flat top griddle positioned right up against the fish tank glass you can peer through while waiting in line.
The standard Elevation Burger uses two patties totaling about 6 ounces. You can add extra patties to include however many you want, and add whatever toppings you want, but unlike most joints, there aren't myriad burger configurations to choose from. They keep it simple and execute (so far, at least).
Let's back up a bit. Grass fed and 85/15 are two of my warning signs for a bland, dry burger. While not screaming with flavor and only lightly seasoned if at all, my burger was hardly bland. And this burger not only wasn't dry but was juicier than most, releasing juices upon squeeze and continuing with each successive bite. Crusting was there but minimal. The thing that stands out most is how soft and bumpy and gentle the burger was—jumbly and tender like scrambled eggs (that's a good thing) and well-cared-for.
Cheese is six month aged cheddar. It may be orange and look processed, but it's a little better. Beyond the aging that gives it a little bite, I like that it's a little thicker than what everybody else is doing. There's not much melt, but that's fine—it helps one of the better components stand out a little more, but still without upstaging the beef. You get two slices in the standard Elevation Burger.
Caramelized onions arrive in just a small spoonful but it's just enough to, uh... elevate the burger.
The Fries (and Such)
Fries: Cut in house (you can watch the proceedings as a pile of potatoes
becomes fries), these fries are long, thin, dark shoestrings with skins
on, cooked in 100% olive oil to good crispness, with a decent salting. Maybe a little oily despite the crispness, but not bad. One order should be enough for
The soft drinks are Coca Cola products, dispensed from one of those newfangled machines that supplies every product in the catalog, with every cherry- and lime-flavored offshoot. I went for a Diet Cherry Dr. Pepper. You can also get craft bottled sodas available in a mini fridge near the counter.
I may have been drinking a Dr. Pepper variant, but the staff was drinking the Kool Aid. All were clearly buying in to the advantages and methodologies of Elevation Burger, and all were knowledgable, enthusiastic and upbeat. Call me old fashioned, but I love that kind of attitude. The pride they displayed translated to a quality product. Yes, we're only talking one step above fast food, but within that realm it was very good.
The Bottom Line
Overall, a good burger that succeeded with the bun, beef and toppings. No wow factor, but for a chain, an over-the-counter operation, grass fed beef and 85/15, it was a very pleasant surprise four times over. I'll be back.
Other Opinion/ Info
Yelp reviews of Elevation Burger
Urbanspoon reviews of Elevation Burger
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