Frank’s Burger Place review: Wheaton’s shop offers classic comfort

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As you look out the window of Frank’s Burger Place, nestled in the Wheaton Triangle on a street that looks like a city planner’s footnote, you can see the past, present and future of the community of at a glance. In the foreground you can see the squat cinderblock structures that house a few oldies: Barbarian Comics, Chicago Bakery, Filippo’s Italian Specialties and other local favorites. But you can also see the Arrive Wheaton skyscraper looming in the background, a reminder that America moves in one direction, sweeping away all that gets in the way.

Frank fits in well here. Dedicated to burgers, the shop trades in classic comfort, the taste equivalent of leafing through a comic book that we loved as a child, forgetting for a few sweet moments the problems of an adult world. But Frank’s also approaches its task with a contemporary mindset, relying on the kind of ingredients typically reserved for chef-led restaurants, not a neighborhood burger joint where just about everything on the menu can be had for 10 dollars or less.

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Frank’s may even be a glimpse of a post-pandemic future, in which chefs who once worked in kitchens with far grander ambitions, serving arguably more discerning customers, have reconsidered their career plans. They are giving their bodies a break while giving people what they want at a time when everything – American democracy, the economy, the environment, the ability to agree on basic facts – is collapsing under our eyes. Who would not do you want a burger right now?

Maybe I’m just planning.

Chef Pedro Matamoros opened Frank’s Burger Place last summer in Wheaton after years of working in finer kitchens. His story has cinematic significance: he grew from a teenager living on the streets of Leon, Nicaragua, his hometown, to a chef serving some of Washington’s most sophisticated palates. As a chef, he has been a journeyman, moving from restaurant to restaurant, from the historic Tabard Inn in Washington to the Barrel and Crow neighborhood in Bethesda, with many places in between.

But whether or not Matamoros’ cooking struck a chord with customers, he could rarely capture the attention of the two diners who mattered most: his mother, Ana Rosario-Espinal, and his stepfather, Francisco Reyes. “He and my mother are not gourmets,” Matamoros tells me. “I don’t think my mother has ever been to any of my restaurants. She just loves Nicaraguan food. That’s all she wants to eat.

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The pandemic has given Matamoros, 53, time to materialize an idea he had only considered in the abstract until then: open a more casual restaurant, one with just a handful of dishes but each developed in-house. from quality products. The chef’s youngest son, Marlon, 20, made sure to keep his father on track, reminding the eldest to avoid the kind of ingredients that drive up prices – and push Frank’s into more territory. rarefied.

Matamoros suspected he had had a stroke when he asked his stepfather to taste a burger the chef had assembled at home, months before Frank served his first patty. You have to see this impromptu tasting through Reyes’ eyes: Originally from the Dominican Republic, Reyes didn’t grow up with American food culture. When the eldest thinks of a burger, Matamoros says, he thinks of McDonald’s or Wendy’s, with patties pressed with cheap beef. The Matamoros burger was built with good local ground beef.

“My dad just fell in love,” Matamoros says. “He couldn’t believe it could taste so good.”

To honor the man he calls dad, a sign of the goodwill Reyes has generated in the Matamoros household, the chef has named his new project after him: Frank’s Burger Place, a Maryland restaurant started by an immigrant Nicaraguan, named after a native of the Dominican Republic and dedicated to burgers, fries and shakes. Did I mention that Matamoros started his culinary career as a dishwasher? If you need a story to feel good about America right now, I suggest this one will do.

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The burgers are as good as advertised, thanks in large part to Matamoros’ obsessive search for good beef. It worked with Creekstone Farms to develop a mix for its three- and five-ounce patties, which incorporate not only brisket and chuck, but also leftover tenderloin, rib eye and New York strip. The kitchen doesn’t cook the ground beef to temperature, but the patties usually sport a light shade of pink in the center, more medium-well than medium-rare. They also often feature the crispy edges of a solid burger smash.

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The best delivery system for this beef is the all-American burger, a two-patty tower with American cottage cheese, lettuce, tomato, and pickles, all wrapped in a fresh brioche bun from Lyon Bakery. I might have liked the Oklahoma Fried Onion Burger more if it stuck to its Depression-era roots – and was stuffed with softer sliced ​​onion rings. My smoker burger would have been great if it had barbecue sauce on it.

The smokehouse burger highlights an inconsistency that can creep into Frank’s operations. One day you’ll pledge allegiance to the kitchen fries, which are hand-cut from Idaho potatoes, soaked, double-fried, and sprinkled with enough coarse salt to amp up the earthy flavors of these potatoes. . The next day, you’ll pretty much give up the soft, soggy strips of fried potatoes, even if you keep dipping them, over and over again, into homemade ketchup or garlic aioli, the latter of which may actually be a treat. of the gods.

Despite its name, Frank’s Burger Place also serves up great chicken. Matamoros prefers thigh meat over the breast cutlets favored by most other sandwich shops, and this decision makes all the difference. Juicy dark meat, for example, keeps the Chipotle Coffee-Rubbed Chicken Sandwich from exploding in a cloud of spice vapor. I’d suggest pairing the sandwich with a vanilla shake, its fresh streams of blended ice cream providing a kind of balm after every bite of this mighty bird.

Matamoros tells me that his mother has become a regular at Frank’s, although she apparently likes the coffee-chipotle chicken more than the burgers. But earlier this year, Matamoros also introduced a side concept to its Wheaton restaurant, one that will no doubt delight Ana even more than a chicken sandwich or a plate of fries: El Chante Comedor y Fritanga Nica specializes in Nicaraguan dishes. It’s a reminder that some changes in our country are about addition, not subtraction.

11265 Triangle Lane, Wheaton, Md., 301-686-3091; franksburgerplace.com.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Nearest metro: Wheaton, a short walk from the restaurant.

Prices: $2 to $8.75 for all menu items. Some promotions may be more expensive.

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