The Good Stuff Eatery Is Merely Okay

by moderndomestic on May 11, 2009

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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Shawn May 12, 2009 at 8:00 am

… DC needs more places UN-like the Good Stuff Eatery – moderately priced restaurants that care about quality.

Completely agree with the quality assessment, and at $15 a pop for lunch, I find it overpriced

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moderndomestic May 12, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Yes, for what it is, it’s pricey. It’s frustrating because you would think that focusing on doing one thing really well (burgers, fries, milkshakes) would make it easier to succeed.

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Bonnie May 12, 2009 at 11:32 am

I can see the grease and fat oozing off both the burger and the fries. As far as serving french fries, envision the cover of last month’s Gourmet magazine. Perfectly cooked french fry potatoes lightly wrapped in a paper cone which is then placed in a small glass. Wonder what the calorie and sodium count would be on that burger with the bacon, egg, cheese and sauce. Scary thought!

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moderndomestic May 12, 2009 at 1:57 pm

Well, thankfully (or scarily) I never think about calories when I’m eating a burger. Too scary!

Totally agree about the french fries. Going here made me want to go back to the Marche for their burger and fries.

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Kate May 12, 2009 at 12:20 pm

“Vermont Cheddar Cheese,” oh, big woop, Spike. One can purchase such a product at practically every Giant in the city. It’s hardly an exotic delicacy.

I do admit to harboring a certain fascination with this place, despite never having been. Always looks too crowded to bother. Perhaps someday.

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moderndomestic May 12, 2009 at 1:57 pm

It was surprisingly empty when we went there last Saturday (around 7:00 – prime dinner time). Maybe word has gotten out?

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Jeff D May 12, 2009 at 12:34 pm

I’m glad someone finally said it. Good Stuff is far from it. I’ve tried it 3-4 times since it opened hoping they’d work out the kinks, but it seems to get progressivly worse.

I agree with you on the packaging – it does nothing to help a substandard product and the chaotic atmosphere in the restaurant with everyone crowding around the counter/entrance/condiment/drink area in a big jumble does nothing to put you in the mood for some good grub. Ultimately, however, it is the substandard product that will keep me from recommending the place. The burgers are an almost impossible combination of dry and soggy at the same time and the fries and onion rings seem like they have been sitting in lukewarm oil for way too long.

It is too bad b/c, as you note, DC needs more places like what Good Stuff is trying to be. Ultimately, I fear that in this day when style often wins out over substance we’ll continue to get more place like what Good Stuff currently is.

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moderndomestic May 12, 2009 at 2:00 pm

I actually went back a second time because I wanted to make sure I hadn’t hit the place on an “off” night. But no, it was exactly the same the second time we went there.

Is it too much to ask for a place with style and substance, that’s still a mid-ranged restaurant? I mean, they seem to have figured it out in other places.

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Claire May 13, 2009 at 12:33 am

This was a very enlightening post! I’m a bus ride away from DC and I put this on my list of “places to check-out” when I visit DC. Hoping for improvements!

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Shaw Girl May 14, 2009 at 3:40 pm

I went twice and found it to be very underwhelming as well. And I also found for the “quality” of food they were serving, they were waaay overpriced. My boyfriend’s burger was so salty and the middle was bleeding! He didn’t even finish it and he loves his burgers rare. I had the bacon cheeseburger and I couldn’t taste the cheese at all…mostly because the salt of the bacon and the overwhelming taste of grease. We tried the onion rings and were very disappointed. And on both visits, the service was horrible. My friend waited 20 minutes for her burger and fries, watching other people who came in way after her get served first.

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Capital Spice May 15, 2009 at 12:05 pm

I’m always disappointed to hear that others have had sub-par experiences at Good Stuff. Maybe I’ve been going in with lower expectations, but I’ve always felt like I got a decent burger when I’ve eaten there. And the shakes are consistently delicious.

I have given up on the fries and onion rings, though…they just aren’t good enough to justify the extra calories and fat.

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moderndomestic May 15, 2009 at 2:57 pm

I do think that my expectations were higher than they would have been for another burger place, but the menu, interior design, prices, and Spike’s “celebrity” status naturally made me expect more.

It’s sad, because I really want to like Good Stuff. I’m interested to see what Spike’s pizzeria is like.

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mary May 15, 2009 at 4:05 pm

I personally think that Goodstuff is delicious. I agree, the constant self-promotion and packaging are enough to drive anyone away, but the food is pretty good. I really liked the Coletti’s smokehouse burger and the fries.

As a side note I once suggested that Goodstuff is better than Ray’s Hell Burger on a chowhound burger and the internets went crazy on me. I guess people have different tastebuds.

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Capital Spice May 15, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Spike’s pizzeria concept is getting inflated out of proportion, I think.

My understanding (from speaking with the Mendelsohn family about it) is that they are planning to operate Taverna as a Mediterranean restaurant with Greek and Italian influences. They will start out by paring the current menu down (as Tim Carman reported) and then introducing new, lighter and more creative dishes along the way.

Right now, the pizzeria concept is being considered for the basement space of the restaurant, which is currently a carry-out.

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Kate June 22, 2009 at 11:37 am

I finally got around to going on Saturday. Overall, I really enjoyed my meal. I found my burger delicious and well-seasoned. I happen to really like soggy fries, so that didn’t bother me at all. Moreover, I had a chance to chat with Spike briefly and found him polite and rather pleasant. I’d like to go back to explore the rest of the menu.

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gwen July 6, 2009 at 11:19 am

DON’T ORDER A TURKEY BURGER…unless you like yours rare! I ordered two turkey burgers and both of mine were RARE! And the cashier did not want to give me my receipt back with my money! And I’m 6 months pregnant…doesn’t that sucks! You suck BadStuffEatery!!! NEVER AGAIN!

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