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Which former 'Top Chef' contestant makes a better burger? Mendelsohn or Blais?

During the fourth season of Top Chef, Richard Blais and Spike Mendelsohn were two of the more memorable contestants. Both made it to the Final 5. Now each has a burger joint — Blais in Atlanta, Mendelsohn in Washington, D.C. — and on a recent road trip that took me through both cities, I decided to conduct my own Quickfire Challenge. Contestants, you have one lunch to prove why your restaurant deserves immunity. The results start now.

THE RESTAURANTS

Spike Mendelsohn's Good Stuff Eatery

Address: 303 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Washington Phone: (202) 543-8222 Web site: goodstuffeatery.com Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mon.-Sat. (Closed Sun.)

Slogan: "Say hello to fresh"

Bay area connection: Grew up in Clearwater

Richard Blais' Flip Burger Boutique

Address: 1587 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta Phone: (404) 352-3547 Web site: flipburgerboutique.com Hours: Open at 11 a.m. daily. Closing time varies; closed 3 to 5 p.m. weekdays.

Slogan: "Fine dining between two buns"

Bay area connection: Has family in Tampa

'TOP CHEF' PERSONA

Mendelsohn: The strategic instigator with big knife skills and big hat collection.

Blais: The foie-hawked mad scientist that everyone wanted on their team.

ELIMINATED

Mendelsohn: Episode 12. Undone by frozen scallops.

Blais: Lost in finals. Undone by nerves.

RESTAURANT ATMOSPHERE

Mendelsohn's Good Stuff Eatery: Two-story storefront with historic character behind the Capitol. Downstairs is counter service and kitchen. Tables are upstairs and outside.

Blais' Flip Burger Boutique: A standalone building outside downtown Atlanta. A sleek, graphic, red, white and aluminum motif. Table service and a bar.

THE MENU

Good Stuff Eatery: A dozen options, almost all beef. Salads, fries, onion rings and shakes, beer.

Flip Burger Boutique: 20 burgers, nine of which are beef burgers; 11 sides, liquid nitrogen shakes, full bar.

THE BURGERS

Good Stuff Eatery: Paper-wrapped, squeezed-together mass in a plastic basket. They were kind of greasy, but what they lacked in aesthetics, they made up for in flavor. They were a guilty pleasure. We were not asked how we wanted them cooked. One came well done, another was a perfect still-pink medium.

Flip Burger Boutique: There were four of us, and only one ordered a beef burger, the American Kobe, which included a slice of seared foie gras and truffle oil and cost double most anything else on the menu (double it again if you want Japanese Kobe). Others we had were shrimp, pork (above) and tempura lobster. They were presented open-faced on plates and were gorgeous. And remarkably good.

THE SIDES

Good Stuff Eatery: We split a bag of Spike's Village Fries. In Spike's Village, fries have fresh thyme, rosemary and cracked pepper. They were possibly the best tasting fries I have ever had. But they were not crisp or hot. A condiment bar included four flavored mayos. Neat.

Flip Burger Boutique: I had been looking forward to the sweet potato tots. They were good, but not what I was expecting. They were more discs of fried mashed sweet potato than the textural treat of school cafeterias. The other fried items we tried — duck fat fries, vodka onion rings and tempura asparagus — were addictive. Our fresh side, pickled vegetables, was good but tame.

THE SHAKES

Good Stuff Eatery: The Milky Way Malt was an amazing shake. Malt-y vanilla base, layered with strata of caramel and fudge, topped with crushed malted milk balls.

Flip Burger Boutique: It's just fun to watch liquid nitrogen freeze your shake. It looks like a prop from a horror movie. There are four shakes; we tried them all. The Krispy Kreme shake has earned Blais acclaim, others are Nutella, Mexican mole and foie gras.

THE PRICES

Good Stuff Eatery: Burgers: $6 to $8. Sides: $3 to $4. Shakes: $5.

Flip Burger Boutique: Burgers: Most are $6 to $9. Sides: $3 to $4. Shakes: $4 to $9.

WHAT WE'D GO BACK FOR

Good Stuff Eatery: The Southeast Asian-inspired Blazin' Barn sounded interesting, with pickled daikon and carrots, mint and cilantro.

Flip Burger Boutique: Definitely would like to try the rBQ, his pulled brisket sandwich with smoked mayo. And the pate melt of veal and pork pate.

THE VERDICT

As on Top Chef, it was close. But the judges conferred and decided that although Spike scored big with the shake and good burgers, Richard's burgers and atmosphere were special. It is worth going to Good Stuff if you are in D.C., but it is worth making up an excuse to go to Atlanta to go to Flip.

In addition to his duties as a Times copy editor, Jim Webster is a culinary tourist and amateur caterer. He can be reached at jwebster@sptimes.com.

Top Chef Masters premieres at 10 tonight on Bravo.

Tune in tonight: Top Chef Masters

All that ties Bravo's new spinoff series Top Chef Masters to its predecessor is its name and the show's trademark cooking challenges. Instead of virtually unknown chefs fumbling about the kitchen in a grueling race against the clock, Masters pits some of the best chefs — Wylie Dufresne, Roy Yamaguchi, Rick Bayless, John Besh — against each other.

How it works: In the first six episodes, four different chefs will compete each week, with each week's winner earning a spot in the Top 6. The final six chefs will then go head to head (like the original show) with one being eliminated each week. The winning chef will get to donate $100,000 to the charity of his or her choosing.

Top Chef Masters premieres at 10 p.m. today on Bravo. Tonight's cheftestants are Hubert Keller (Fleur de Lys), Christopher Lee (Aureole), Michael Schlow (Radius Restaurant) and Tim Love (Lonesome Dove Western Bistro).

Which former 'Top Chef' contestant makes a better burger? Mendelsohn or Blais? 06/09/09 [Last modified: Thursday, June 11, 2009 2:18pm]

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