Thursday, July 10, 2008

I don't think he gets it

Spike Mendelsohn and his Good Stuff Eatery have been getting a lot of press as of late from myself and almost everyone else who writes about food in this city. Yet in stark contrast to another (although actually established) chef's new burger joint, some of that press hasn't been positive.

It's not because his burgers aren't good (in full disclosure, I haven't been yet), or the service isn't friendly, it's because Spike keeps saying things in the media that piss people like me off.

Here's an example from today's Washington Post Express:

Tall and lanky, with a wiry beard and a rotating collection of pork-pies, fedoras, and panamas, Evangelos "Spike" Mendelsohn left his job and his digs for what he calls the next gastronomic frontier: "D.C. is the next big food city. It's like Vegas was a few years ago. And nobody is doing what we are yet. We're paving a way for ourselves here in D.C., but also, we're paving a new direction for the food culture here."

I don't even know where to begin with this. There's so much wrong on that quote I'm stumped. The idea that "D.C. is the next big food city" and is "like Vegas was a few years ago" is perposterous. We're not an up and coming, we're not an emerging, we are a culinary powerhouse. Just look at the Beard awards - Richard, Andres, Ziebold, Armstrong - two winners among four nominees (Ziebold for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic and Richard for Best New Restaurant Nationwide). How many winners did Las Vegas have? None, out of two nominees.

D.C. might not be New York, or Chicago, or San Francisco, but this is an area with incredible talent both home grown and brought in from around the world, and to say that "nobody is doing what we are yet" is just plain old ignorance. Tell that to Ruta, Richard, Landrum, and the other award winning, nationally recognized (from their work behind a stove, not in front of a camera) chefs who put together burgers that transcend the genre.

Spike might have a winner in Good Stuff, and honestly, I hope he does. I can't wait to stop by for a toasted marshmallow shake and a burger, but in the meantime he's got to focus on his product and his restaurant - he's not the pioneer he thinks he is, there were others before him who are, and will always be better - he needs to realize that right now he's just another guy flippin burgers, and the sooner he sees that, the sooner he'll gain complete acceptance.


Anonymous said...

Went to Good Stuff last night for a bacon cheeseburger and fries, no shake. The thyme-rosemary-pepper fries were good, but they cut the fries really short so you end up with a cup of half good fries and half tiny hard burnt bits. I would order them again.

The burger was not good. Maybe it's just that they are overwhelmed (it was pretty busy for a weeknight), but they are PRE-COOKING their burgers, then reheating. Mine was well-done, pretty dry, full of gristle, and not super flavorful. The bacon was undercooked so it was chewy and hard to bite through. The bun and other condiments were good.

If I go back, it'll probably only be to try the shakes with more fries.

The Ex said...

It's a little asinine to focus on what Spike says, isn't it? I mean, he's trying to prove he can cook not be a PR genius.

But technically speaking, saying ridiculous things and having a shitload of people give you free PR IS pretty genius.

Anthony said...

Great point on the free PR. There's no media like earned media.

But if he's going to be a celeb-chef, he's got to know that his words are just as fair game as his food.

He can learn from a guy like Frank Ruta (Palena) who simply speaks with his product.

Alicia said...

I think you're right; he doesn't seem to get it. Though, based on his attitude on Top Chef, I'm not really surprised. I feel like he's really milking his 10 seconds of reality tv stardom. Plus, you have to be pretty cocky to wear all those ridiculous hats. ;) If the food is good, perhaps it won't matter. But if it doesn't live up to the hype, Spike's puffery will look even worse.

Anonymous said...

I've tried the burgers in a much less slammed atmosphere than they've been experiencing this week, and I can say that when they're done right they're delicious.

Good post all around. Having spoken to Spike in person, I can say that he really doesn't come across with the same kind of cocky, "let me show you how a real chef does it" attitude when you talk with him. It's a shame that he keeps saying things like this to the press.

As for the idea that Ruta and Richard were already doing what Spike is doing now, that's just not true. Ruta and Richard each have a single burger (though Richard also has the lobster and shrimp variations) on a larger bistro-style menu. Those burgers are upscale and use gourmet ingredients (truffle cheese on the Palena burger, brioche buns, etc.). Good Stuff Eatery's concept doesn't seem to have anything to do with gourmet - they're aiming for the burger joint atmosphere and talking up the quality of the ingredients...not their gourmet pedigree.

The only burger on the menu that really stands out as something beyond the traditional is the Blazin' Barn, the banh mi riff that everyone talks about.

The most legitimate comparisons that I've been hearing are to Five Guys (the preparation style, the limited menu, the intention to grow from one location to many, etc.) and, in a bit of unfortunate timing, to Ray's Hell.

Even the comparison to Landrum's place is a bit off, though, because the approach to burgercraft is so much different at Ray's.

At the end of the day, Spike has brought something good to the DC casual dining scene. Is it going to have a profound impact? Probably not, though Spike has indicated that the Good Stuff burger joints are just his first entry into DC dining. Once he's settled in we can better judge what he brings to the table.

For now, unfortunately, his words are already souring a lot of people on him.