Posts Tagged Spike Mendelsohn

The Good Stuff Eatery Is Merely Okay

Good Stuff - Outside

The Good Stuff Eatery

It’s ironic that the tagline of Spike Mendelsohn’s burger restaurant, Good Stuff Eatery, is “say hello to fresh,” since Spike got kicked off Top Chef for trying to pass off frozen scallops on some of the most sophisticated pallets in the country. Needless to say, the judges noticed something was amiss with the scallops, and promptly sent Spike packing.

It’s because of flubs like that on season four of the famous Bravo reality show that I was wary when Spike Mendelsohn opened up DC’s Good Stuff Eatery back in July 2008. After all, Spike was more famous for his crazy hats on Top Chef than he was for his cooking prowess.

Now that Spike is planning on opening two more restaurants in DC – a Greek restaurant and a pizzeria – I thought it was even more important to take a look at Good Stuff Eatery, to see the kind of restaurant DC can expect from this celebrity chef. And from my dining experiences there, I think we can expect a greasy, crumpled bag of mixed…um…stuff.

The Good Stuff Eatery walks the line between modern chic and American nostalgia. The restaurant space itself, housed in an old row house on Capitol Hill, is a mix of modern design with retro details. The clean and open red and white decor is accented with large blown up photos and vintage-style signs explaining Good Stuff’s philosophy on food, along with a few not-too-subtle reminders of Spike’s supposed “celebrity” status. The space takes the simplicity of the 1950s and repackages it with 21st century savvy.

Good Stuff - Motto

The restaurant's ironic tagline.

The same could be said of the menu, which serves up America’s favorites – burgers, fries, milkshakes, and salads – with a gourmet twist. The “hand cut” fries are topped with sea salt, while the “hand spun” milkshakes come in trendy flavors like toasted marshmallow and dulche de leche. You can’t just order a hamburger – you have to order a “farmhouse” burger. There’s even an Obama burger, served with foodie-friendly toppings like red onion marmalade, horseradish mayo, and blue cheese.

Usually I’m a complete sucker for these types of places. I’m the cash-strapped foodie that is Spike’s ideal target audience. I nodded approvingly when the menu specified that the French fries were “hand cut” and that the milkshakes were “hand spun,” even though I wasn’t really sure what that meant. Just looking at the menu is like a who’s who of trendy gourmet ingredients – burgers are topped with Vermont cheddar cheese, vidalia onion rings, and “dairy fresh” American cheese.

But staring at the menu was by far the highest point in our visit to the Good Stuff Eatery. The food Wonk the Plank and I ate in our two visits there was just okay stuff.

First of all, the restaurant has a problem with the way it serves its food. The place operates fast food style – you order and pick up your food at the counter. This would be fine, but there’s no “dine in” option; even if you’re eating at the restaurant (and there’s ample seating), you can only get your food “to go,” with everything wrapped in paper and placed in a paper bag.

This is a horrible way to serve food. As soon as the “hand cut fries” are placed in a paper bag, they become damp and soggy and stick together in an unappetizing mass. The burgers come out of their wrapping paper with squished, slightly sweaty buns. To make it even more bizarre, there’s a large sign in the restaurant proclaiming its commitment to reducing its carbon footprint. So why serve the food in a manner that generates huge amounts of unnecessary waste?

Good Stuff - Enviro Sign

Another ironic sign . . .

Good Stuff - Packaging

. . . in light of all the wasteful packaging.

The packaging would be more forgivable if the food was top quality, but we had an uneven meal both times we visited the Good Stuff Eatery.

I was especially disappointed with “Spike’s Five Napkin,” a burger served on a brioche bun and topped with cheese, bacon, a fried egg, and “Good Stuff Sauce.” The burger was nicely cooked, but the bacon was so salty that it overpowered all the other toppings. I couldn’t even taste the egg and cheese, which might have well been left off entirely. The brioche bun held up better to the packaging and was less squished than Wonk’s burger, but I couldn’t taste it through the salt, so it didn’t end up adding much to the dish. And as far as I could tell, the “Good Stuff Sauce” tasted like mayonnaise.

Good Stuff - Five Napkin

"Spike's Five Napkin" - only one napkin required.

I had a much better experience with the “Colleti’s Smokehouse.” The onions, chipotle BBQ sauce and bacon worked together in a tangy, salty harmony, although the squished and untoasted burger bun didn’t add much to the equation.

Like the burgers, the fries were inconsistent and underwhelming. On both of our visits, the fries were soggy, probably due to their packaging. And on one occasion the fries were incredibly salty, to the point of being inedible. And believe me, I like salty food – usually I’m the person in the group insisting the french fries need more salt.

Good Stuff - Fries

A mass of stuck-together French fries.

The milkshakes were the best part of the visit, although they also had consistency problems. On our first visit, the chocolate shake had a weird, “off” flavor that neither Wonk nor I could place. Thankfully, on the second visit the chocolate shake tasted fine and had a nice, thick consistency. Wonk ordered the Black and White milkshake, which was a hit both times; its rich vanilla flavor amply satisfied my sweet tooth.

Good Stuff - Milkshake

Thankfully, the milkshake was good - the second time, at least.

Given that Spike is slated to open two new restaurants in DC, I think it’s high time to hammer out some of the problems at Good Stuff. Is it so hard to offer a dine-in option for people eating at the restaurant? Could they figure out a way to package the French fries in a cardboard holder? And could they figure out the right level of saltiness? Just a couple of tweaks could make a huge difference in the quality of the food.

The most frustrating thing about my entire Good Stuff experience is that DC needs more places like the Good Stuff Eatery – moderately priced restaurants that care about quality. But the bad thing about catering to cash-strapped foodies is that, even though they’re strapped for cash, they still pay attention to their food. Talking about “dairy fresh cheese” sounds great in theory, but if I can’t taste it because the burger’s too salty, then there’s no point.

Spike needs to take a couple notes from his Top Chef days and start paying better attention to the details of his food. If his food could match the quality of his branding, Spike could take Good Stuff from good to great.

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Weekly Roundup: DC Gossip Edition

Red Tulips

More tulips near the Wardman Park Mariott. Before this week's rain ripped all the petals off the flowers.

I posted this photo to remind you that, in fact, it used to be spring in DC. It used to be sunny. Not that you would know this from our solid week of rain and insane thunder storms. Hopefully this weekend is supposed to be nicer. I can only hope. Here’s what I’ve been reading this week:

Recipes I want to try:

  • Hibiscus Mimosas from The Kitchn. Actually, I feel that any time is mimosa time, but having a good recipe would give me an excuse to buy the sparkling wine.

And in non-recipe news:

  • Young and Hungry has a follow up piece on the challenges of the commercial bread  business.
  • Lemmonex defends the DC Dining scene, by way of the fabulous lunch deal at Proof. The only time Wonk the Plank tried and I to go there these really snotty girls stole our table, and we haven’t wanted to go back. Maybe this will convince me to give it another try.
  • The Tipsy Baker, aka writer Jennifer Reese, is not so hot on David Tanis’ cookbook A Platter of Figs. How bad do I feel now that I got this for my mother for Christmas! Reese’s blog, by the way, is my latest favorite internet discovery. Great writing, commentary, and recipes.
  • Spike Mendelsohn (that’s Top Chef Season Four Spike of the crazy hats) is on a roll – first he’s going to open a pizzeria, now he’s going to open a Greek restaurant next to Good Stuff Eatery. But before he opens two new restaurants, could he fix the fries at Good Stuff? Because last time I ate there they were unconscionably soggy. Via Capital Spice’s DC TV Chef’s Roundup.
  • The Metro may start selling food. Um, but you still can’t eat food on the metro. Maybe they want to increase revenues by handing out more tickets for eating food on the Metro? Via We Love DC.

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Real World, Top Chef

Good Stuff Eatery

A photo of Spike Mendelsohn, a contestant from Top Chef Season Four. The photo hangs in his restaurant, the Good Stuff Eatery, proving that life does indeed go on after Top Chef.

Still annoyed that Hosea won season five of Top Chef? I am. However, The New York Times had a rather soothing article on Friday about how fame after Top Chef can be more of a nuisance than a blessing, and that winning the show doesn’t really prove anything about one’s professional ability.

In many ways, I found this article painfully obvious – and a rehash of an article New York Magazine wrote back in 2007. After all, has Top Chef really produced an actual Top Chef? Has the likes of Marco Pierre White or Thomas Keller or even Tom Colicchio ever graced the studios of Top Chef – as a contestant? I would argue that the closest Top Chef has gotten to that kind of talent is Harod Dieterle, winner of season one, who won over the judges with his precision, finesse, and passion. And, as the Times article points out, Harold’s restaurant, Perilla, received a tepid review from New York Times’ restaurant critic Frank Bruni.

No, I think that actual Top Chefs are probably too busy opening restaurants and honing their craft to appear on Top Chef. At least, in the vast majority of cases.

Like I said, I found this article rather soothing – and maybe just a little sad. It points out that the artificial rules of reality TV shows aren’t the best predictor for success in life. I would argue that the same thing could be said for high school, or college, or grad school, where one can successfully navigate the arbitrary, rule-bound bubbles and be completely unprepared for the real world. And yes, in case you’re wondering, I’m totally speaking from personal experience here.

Reading this article and finding out that Hung Huynh, the cocky and competitive winner of Season Two, isn’t even working right now, is kind of like finding out that the brilliant kid that used to sit next to you in English class ended up working at his father’s auto dealership.

That being said, it’s also good to know that the chefs we loved are still going strong – even if they didn’t do well on the show. Nikki Cascone, from season four, is planning on opening a second restaurant. Harold may not have pleased Bruni, but his restaurant is popular and successful.

I was sad that the article failed to mention the two DC-based Top Chef alums: Spike Mendelsohn, and Carla Hall, both of whom have successfully cooking careers in DC. After the success of his first restaurant, The Good Stuff Eatery, Spike is planning on opening up a pizzeria, and rumor has it that Carla is eying a cooking school space in Columbia Heights.

But what this article really made me want to do it go eat. After all, the frustrating thing about watching Top Chef is that you can’t taste the actual dishes – but now I have the good fortune of being able to eat the cuisine of at least one Top Chef alum. Anyone up for a run to Good Stuff this Friday?

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Top Chef: Battle of The Runners Up

ep-10-chefs1

The Top Chef All Stars have nary a final contestant among them.

Before we start, I have to say that the only reason I was able to get this recap up is because Wonktheplank figured out how to restore our cable service after it went out during DC’s first snow store of the winter. Please thank him by checking out his latest post on “fungible assets” (haven’t a clue what that is).

Now, on to the show. We start off with the usual recap of last episode, where we learn that Hosea and Leah’s smooch fest was indeed alcohol fueled! I knew it! I knew it! The way this show purposely liquors up the chefs to film their drunken exploits must violate a international human rights treaty – maybe I should alert the UN.

Also of note in the mini recap is an opening shot of Whole Foods. Product Placement Number One already? Are they getting lazy or what?

Moving on, the Quickfire guest judge is Scott Conant, whose newly opened Scarpetta restaurant received a three star rating from The Times. So unlike some past guest judges, he really knows what he’s doing.

The Quickfire challenge is Superbowl-themed, which seems straightforward enough, but the way Padma (looking ravishing in purple, by the way) reveals the true nature of the challenge is convoluted. The chefs play a game of culinary “football squares” (am I the only one that has no idea what that is?) to pick a main food group they’ll be using in the challenge. But then Padma reveals that the chefs have to pair their main food group with oats. No, it really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but that can only mean one thing on Top Chef:

Product Placement Number two! That’s right: this is the Quaker Oat Quickfire Challenge! Wow! It almost rivals the stupidity and arbitrary nature of the Swanson Broth Quickfire Challenge. We see some nice pornographic shots of the Quaker Oats label as the chefs prepare their dishes, as though the oat boxes just “happened” to be there and weren’t strategically placed in front of the cameras.

Next: Not-So-All Stars and Padma in a Sexy Ref Outfit

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