Saturday, July 31, 2010

Rolling Thunder

Here's the thing: I hail from cow country. I love steak, refuse to think about barbeque as "seasonal food," and commiserate with Anthony Bourdain when he expresses his disdain for the vegetarian lifestyle. Comeuppance can take many forms, and for me, it has appeared in the form of gallstones. Too young to part with any of my internal organs just yet, I've had to adjust my diet and cut out fats whenever possible. In this new fat and spicy food offset modality of eating, I have to look for alternatives that will not deprive my dining companions of the good eats they so rightly deserve.

As burger places are giving cupcake shops a run for their money in our fair city, I've decided to try the leanest thing on the menu at several places, including vegetarian patties (the one I'll happily eat again: the house-made patties available as any of the Band of Burgers at DC9). But alas, something was always missing. The lean burger (be it turkey or veggie) was an afterthought, underwhelming and barely seasoned.

Last week, A., B. and I wen to check out Thunder Burger and Bar, sister restaurant to Bodega, at the site of the well-intentioned but often unfocused News Cafe on M street. Anyone familiar with Bodega will see the same designer's hand at work: bold colors, dramatic lighting, dark wood and, to drive the biker motif home, graffiti. Except for the narrow door, you'd be hard-pressed to remember what News Cafe looked like (as DC-Wrapped Dates nailed it, Ed Hardy-esque). The design, flatware and sheer size put it in the realm of restaurant, (though its burgers are at a similar price point to BGR, except for the tip). Service is attentive, but not overly fussy. Condiments are served with the burgers or brought out on request.

Thunder has an extensive beer list with the usual suspects and some brewers I had never seen in DC. As it was a hot summer day we all ordered draft beers on the lighter side of the spectrum.

For starters, we ordered Buffalo Wings and some breaded oysters (which seem to go on and off the menu). The oysters were fine, but nothing special. The real standout were the wings, which are both grilled and fried. We ordered them medium (again, in deference to my gall bladder) and the grilling gives them a hint of smoke, coupled with a wonderful crunch from the lightly fried skin. The blue cheese is on the less pungent side and serve its purpose of cooling off the wing. I would happily go back to Thunder just for these.

For our main course, A. and B. dutifully joined me on my quest for lean options. Aside from 4 different types of salads, Thunder offers venison and buffalo burgers as well as salmon and crab cake alternatives. For the sake of methodology (it pained me to ignore the Love Me Tender, a kobe beef burger), we ordered Expecting to Fly, a turkey burger, and the Portobello Road. The Portobello was wonderful-in a nod to tradition it is served with roasted red peppers and swiss cheese, but the zucchini and walnut pesto makes this a true original. To my delight, the lettuce (Boston Bibb) and tomato were fresh and flavorful. The turkey burger was missing some salt, but made up for this shortcoming with its toppings: avocado, paired with the acidity and crunch of endives and apples. Burgers come with a side of fries (which came close to imperiling the good efforts on my behalf to cut fats but the ones I did have were lovely and piping hot).

Desserts are American classics, but what drew our attention was the Banana Split. Caramelized bananas, with three scoops of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream. The best one by far was the chocolate, which had the consistency of frozen pudding. The strawberry was remarkably fresh, and it was topped by chocolate croutons and shave almonds that gave the plate some crunch. An ideal and very fun dessert to share, and one that could well warrant its own trip to Thunder.

A burger bar with a well-rounded menu within walking distance from my house makes gallstones seem less like a cosmic joke.

Thunder Burger and Bar on Urbanspoon
Thunder Burger and Bar
(202) 333-2888
3056 M St NW
Washington, DC 20007

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