[Ed. Note: We'll be the first to concede that VOLT is a little off the beaten path. But, given Chef Bryan's reputation and notoriety, we agreed to include this venue on our list -- even if it is on the very outskirts of the "traditional" DMV.]
If you happen to be a one of those DMV locals who likes to keep his finger on the pulse of the happenings in the world of food, or if you’re one of those guys whose other half likes to keep the television on Bravo for an inordinate amount of time, chances are, you’ve heard of Chef Bryan Voltaggio.
Voltaggio rose to national food-fame by showcasing his exquisite culinary abilities on season six of the popular show Top Chef. While he ended up losing the title to his brother Michael in the finale of the show (I’d like to be at that family’s Thanksgiving table), us locals can spin it as a positive since Chef Bryan brought us an amazing restaurant with fantastic food ever since. If he had won Top Chef, who knows where he might have gone or what other projects he might have ventured into. All I’m saying is: his loss is the DMV’s collective gain!
Voltaggio’s restaurant, VOLT, is located in a circa-1890s mansion in the heart of Frederick, Maryland. Given Chef Bryan’s reputation and skill -- and rumors of one of the best burgers in the area -- we knew we had to make a trek out there and sample it for ourselves.
VOLT’s Angus Beef Burger is actually on the snack menu, available in the lounge (the super-cool-looking bar area within the restaurant), and not on the uber-fancy, and probably ungodly delicious, dinner menu. Calling their burger a "bar snack" may seem to trivialize its typical position as the headliner with french fries, but for a place like this, $10 is an amazingly reasonable and snack-ish price -- you might as well just order two and make an epic meal out of it.
As I sat down at the bar on a quiet, late Sunday afternoon, I was immediately greeted by the friendly bartender and began to shoot the proverbial breeze.
I nonchalantly asked about the burger, which he highly recommended, and found out that the beef used for the burger is grass-fed and raised by Pineland farms in Maine. Why Maine? Apparently, VOLT had previously approached a local farm right in Frederick to source the beef for their burger offering, but weren’t able to strike a deal with said farm, thus forcing them to look elsewhere for their beef supply.
Since there were no sports game of interest going on while I was there, the big flat-screen television above the bar served as my window to the kitchen, allowing me to watch my burger as it was prepared -- very cool!
But, of course, what’s a burger without a couple of drinks to accompany it? Lord knows I, like the majority of the DMVBW crew, am a beer guy, so my burger was accompanied by a bottle of the Estrella Damm: a solid lager like Stella Artois, except ten times smoother.
And if you happen to be a bourbon person, then take my word for it and order yourself a “Manhattany” (their version of the classic Manhattan cocktail), and thank me later. My wife ordered the drink, which ended up being a combination of half bar theater and half amazing cocktail. It’s made with Maker’s Mark, blackberry, Vya Sweet vermouth and burnt orange. When they say “burnt orange,” they mean it; they actually take a piece of orange peel, place the flame from a lighter on said peel (to activate the natural oils and essences of the fruit that are found on the peel) and rub the edge of your glass with the still-smoldering peel. If you’re interested in getting straight dropkicked with some orange flavor in your cocktail, this will do it. It’s unreal tasty.
Beer and bourbon are well and good, but let’s get back to what’s important: the burger.
My burger arrived on almost a comically-small plate, once again reminding me that this is supposed to be a “snack” instead of my meal. Right. If burgers (especially this one) are a snack, then I’m the Queen of England. The burger came with homemade kettle chips that were seasoned impeccably.
Elegance, in my mind, is something that’s so incredibly complex, yet presented in a perfectly simple and effective manner. That, my friends, was this burger: a good-sized beef patty, perfectly melted cheese, arugula, tomato and a perfectly baked bun with a shimmery outside and toasty, crusty inside.
The meat was juicy, downright silky and incredibly succulent.
But here’s my favorite part, which occurred before I even took a bite: it simply couldn’t have been cooked any better. If you looked up the dictionary definition for “a burger cooked medium,” you’d see a picture of my burger. When I cut through the burger, it was soft and just the right amount of juice oozed onto the bottom of my plate -- exactly what should happen with a great medium-cooked burger.
And after taking my first bite into this burger? It tasted just as good as it looked, if not better. The meat was juicy, downright silky and incredibly succulent. By no means was this burger greasy; it was like an offering of the most delicious burger juice that money could buy. The beef flavor was so incredibly clean, it felt like I was eating a high quality filet that costs as much as a mortgage payment.
I simply don’t believe you could season a burger better than the one I enjoyed. The hints of salt and pepper were perfectly balanced into each bite of the incredibly juicy and flavorful beef. The seasoning was powerful yet subtle enough to make you acknowledge its presence yet still let the meat, bun, and cheese shine.
The bun was just the right amount of chewy and fluffy, doing its part as the perfect accompaniment to this burger, taking nothing away from the burger itself. It was almost like sticking the best burger patty you ever had inside of a flakey, buttery croissant that was masquerading as a hamburger bun. Even more notable about the bun, though, was how it was perfectly proportional to the patty and overall burger itself; this is a key element to any burger that is quite often overlooked, but VOLT absolutely nailed this aspect.
The aged Grafton cheddar cheese on my burger was creamy and salty, accentuating the burger patty exactly how it’s supposed to. I could taste the cheese in every bite -- a surprising rarity -- making its presence known while blending in immaculately with all the other flavors.
If I’m being picky, the only reason this burger didn't get top marks in every category is because the one or two leaves of arugula on the burger might as well have not even been there. They were completely overwhelmed by the omnipresent deliciousness of everything else. Likewise, the tomato was there to the extent where I noticed its cool presence, but it didn’t really add (or subtract) anything from the product overall. Both aspects were an afterthought on this burger. But, those are essentially the only negative things I can (or could) say about it.
As I demolished the incredible burger offering before me, the buzzwords for this burger that kept flashing in my head, over and over, like the neon sign from a sleazy motel, were “rich” and “clean.” There was so much flavor in this burger, yet each component and flavor came together in the most harmonious way you could possibly imagine.
The DMV Burger Wars crew has visited over 100 unique venues in and around the greater DMV. So we’d like to think it bears just a little bit of weight when we say the following about VOLT’s burger offering: this could be as close to burger perfection as you can get. To put it succinctly, this burger had virtually no weakness.
It was the kind of burger that, on my drive home, I was tempted to impulsively stop in the middle of I-270, turn my car around and drive back up to the restaurant just to get another.
Every member of the DMVBW crew who’s had the pleasure of tasting this burger tips our hat to you, Chef Bryan. Outstanding, incredible and “holy sh*t” just seem like they don’t do this burger enough justice.
The Angus Beef Burger (with cheese) at VOLT