Thursday, January 2, 2014

Bolt Burgers Food Review

Create Your Own Bolt Burger

It's not easy to "stand out" in DC's competitive burger wars. Credit upstart Bolt Burgers for a daring concept... one that stresses self-service, with a full-service back-up. Thankfully, initial confusion gets trumped by exemplary service and pretty darn good food. I wouldn't call it a bolt of lightning; but I'd be shocked if you didn't like it too.

Bolt Burgers gives the Convention Center area (it's less than two blocks away) a much needed fast-casual option that's sure to please travelers on a budget. Whether or not it attracts the local office crowd remains to be seen; but I noticed the General Manager asking customers if they worked nearby (he even brought a bag of Bolt cups for one guy to bring back to his office... a little pushy, but smart.)

Bolt Battered Onion Rings

One thing's for sure... The customer service couldn't be better. I arrived at 11:30 AM, and had the whole place to myself. A full staff (too many?) stood at attention, eager to help. A kindly hostess showed me to a window booth, and filled me in on the complicated order system. How complicated? It requires both a paper menu and a full-sized computer tablet to orchestrate. It turns out that not everyone gets the tablet either (something to do with timing, so everyone's food arrives at the same table simultaneously.) If you ask me, they may/should ditch the whole tablet idea in a month or two.

Eager to try new things, I went ahead and ordered the way co-founders (and eye doctors... go figure) Michael J. Davidson, Ender A. Adam & George F. Brown intended. Things were going well for about 30 seconds before the tablet OS started to reset, stalling the ordering process before thankfully kicking me back to the original screen a minute later. On my second try, it was all-systems-go. Burgers are available with your choice of (1) protein (2) spice and (3) sauce with further options (bacon, cheese, relishes) available for a dollar more each. The base price is $6.99 but adds up quick (especially if you add a second patty for $3 more.) I kept it simple, opting for prime Angus beef, a fiery chili, cumin & paprika rub, and tomato & sweet basil sauce served on the side. Instead of fries, I ordered a side of Bolt Battered Onion Rings (all sides are $3... signature fries and crispy, crunchy green beans.) Sodas cost $2.25, but smoothies, beer and wine are also available.

Any confusion is soon alleviated by the uber-attentive staff. After placing my order, I swiped my credit card on the tablet to no avail... prompting an employee to rush over, and show me how to do it properly. Order sent, another staffer comes by with a paper receipt and a soda cup (Coca-Cola Freestyle dispenser - Mello Yellow Zero Grape!) It seems efficient; but it would be a lot easier to just let the servers do their thing (sans technology.)

Condiments anyone?
Orders arrive quickly, and to your table (again I was a bit confused, thinking I had to go pick up my own order... I didn't.) Food is presented smartly (burgers, sauce on side... on a bright red plate) and rings in a mini deep fryer. No second plate for the rings seems like an oversight, especially if your sides arrive hot.

Brioche buns make for a gorgeous presentation, especially when you consider how beautifully assembled the burgers are. Visible spice rub had me all excited; but fear not, all four spices are available in the packed condiment tray at each table. Onions and tomato were perfectly fresh. My burger arrived MEDIUM-WELL, but you're not asked beforehand (please change.) Taste-wise, this burger is very good; although the tomato-basil sauce was white in color (mayo blend, or I got the wrong one.)

On to the onion rings, which are first-rate. You get plenty for just three bucks, and they enter a new stratosphere when paired with Bolt's incredible spicy ketchup. I had a conversation with Will, one of the on-site managers (and super helpful) and he explained that the spices were available for purchase; and that the sauce may be as well, in the future. I pray that he's right... and if he is, I'd like three bottles to go!

The space is expansive and spotless (one of my favorite combinations.) If customer service stays half as good in the future, Bolt Burgers could be a hit. For their sake, I hope they ditch the high-tech ordering system (even if they can fix the glitches.) Guys like me, will always prefer good food to smoke & mirrors (no matter how cool they appear.)

Atmosphere: B (Nice size. I like the blend of color and industrial fixtures.)
Burger: B (Looks great, tastes really good.)
Rings: A (Gets a bump, thanks to Bolt's amazing spicy ketchup.)
Service: A- (Can't imagine what more they could do.)
Value: B
Overall: B (Room for improvement, assuming they ditch the tablets, etc. But as is, a great option for the burger & fries crowd. Conventioneers rejoice!)