Matchbox in Rockville, the second branch of the restaurant by the same name in Chinatown, is located at 1699 Rockville Pike, in the Congressional Plaza shopping center. Why is this relevant? Because anyone from the Rockville and surrounding area is well aware that this venue has been nothing more than a revolving door of failed restaurants for the better part of the last decade. It started with a That's Amore, then became another restaurant, then probably something else. Then, it moonlighted as some golf-themed restaurant that seemed wildly unpopular--and there was also probably something else after that, but believe me, it wasn't memorable either.
Given that history, I'd place a very, very large wager that Matchbox Rockville is going to end that trend. Let's put it this way: if you go here any night of the week without a reservation--even on a Monday or Tuesday night--your wait for a table will be close to the better part of an hour. Thursday or Friday night? You'd probably be safe tripling that expected wait time. It's just that popular.
While Matchbox is renowned for its pizza (and believe me--it’s really damn good), their burgers are certainly a close second in notoriety. In fact, you'll see half the waitstaff in the place wearing shirts that simply say "3-6-9," a reference not to a song by Lil' Jon, but rather, the fact that their sliders can be ordered in sets of 3, 6, or 9--all topped with a massive mountain of onion straws. I could easily bang out another 500+ words on how good the sliders are here--there aren't any better sliders anywhere in the DMV, I promise you--but we're here to talk about the burger.
When we were finally seated at our table, the waiter immediately recommended Matchbox's Bistro Burger in the same breath as their pizza and sliders. The Bistro Burger's description states that it's made of grilled certified Angus beef, melted Gorgonzola, cremini mushrooms, applewood smoked bacon and thick-cut onion rings. So yeah, this sounded more like a gourmet "pre-made" burger instead of the standard cheeseburger that's being measured up in this competition, but for all intents and purposes, this is a cheeseburger with bacon and mushrooms. [Ed. note: We were able to get a cheddar cheeseburger custom-ordered here at a later date, but the option wasn’t presented on the menu, so we stuck with the Bistro Burger as our review object.]
Now, any carnivore worth his salt knows the culinary omnipotence of bacon. Bacon is to cooking what Nate Dogg (RIP) was to hip-hop: you add it to your product, and it's a guaranteed hit.
But to make sure that this burger didn’t get the unfair advantage over its competitors, I committed an act that could be considered heresy in some parts of this country: I ate and judged the burger without the bacon. Fair's fair.
Unequivocally, the game changer for this burger was the Gorgonzola.
Interestingly, my burger was actually still really warm--almost too warm--when it arrived at my table. Which was both genuinely surprising, yet refreshing, to me. My impressions after the first couple of bites? Even though the burger was cooked closer to medium-well, as opposed to the medium that I actually (and emphatically) asked for, the meat was excellent. It was seasoned the right way (with just a hint of salt) and when I actually got a good bite into the meat, I got the juicy drip down my face and onto my hands--the sign of a great burger.
Ironically, when I put the bun and all of the toppings together (and this isn’t even including the bacon, nor the tasty, if not novelty-sized, onion rings), the burger may have almost been too big, if such a thing even exists. I definitely had to hold this with two hands (that's what she said).
One thing that sets Matchbox's renowned sliders and burgers apart from many other restaurants is that they use brioche buns. This was something I was really eager to try on the bistro burger. Brioche's fluffy, airy and buttery flavor is a money combination when paired with great meat stuffed in-between. Yet, interestingly, even with the over-sized brioche bun doing a great job of holding this burger together, I didn't feel like the bun added a whole lot to the burger in totality, as much as that doesn’t make sense. When I took a bite and tried to distinguish all the different flavors I was busy masticating, the bun really didn’t jump at me. In some cases, that's a great thing, but it was actually surprising how M.I.A. this bun was.
Unequivocally, the game changer for this burger was the Gorgonzola. Listen: to me, Gorgonzola is about as appealing as it sounds. "Gorgonzola" sounds more like a torture device from ancient Greek mythology, than it does something I want to put on top of my burger.
I'm telling you, it made this burger. The creamy consistency plus the salty notes that it added to the high-quality meat easily made it one of the best cheeseburgers I've had to date.
If we're picking nits: even if it does taste like chewy water, I think lettuce does play an important role in a burger, adding just a little bit of crunch and chill as a contrast to everything else going on. In this case, my burger had a pretty pathetic-looking piece of romaine lettuce lazily and haphazardly thrown on. The cremini mushrooms were certainly there, yet unmemorable overall. But really, outside of those, plus the slight overcooking of the meat, that's about as much criticism as I can level on this thing.
After all, this judgement was made without the (high-quality) bacon adding a layer of fatty, hammy goodness to this already awesome burger, which would probably just give it it yet another dimension of flavor jumping into this already-awesome pool.
I'll make it simple: this is a great burger, and that's even after foregoing the bacon when consuming it. It hits all the right spots a cheeseburger should: huge, balanced, tender, juicy, messy, salty, fatty and I-think-I-have-to-loosen-my-belt-y.
While some of my fellow DMVBW homeboys might have liked some other burgers a bit better, I can guarantee that not one of us will tell you that this burger is anything less than great.
It's safe to say that amidst a sea of generic chain restaurants or your typical fast food and fast-casual joints in the suburbs, Matchbox has found a home for itself, and the tenants in unit 1699 are finally here to stay.
The Bistro Burger at Matchbox