Kraze Burgers is the newest burger place to come to Bethesda, located at the corner of Woodmont and Elm Street (previously home to Haagen Dazs and the Jean Company). The chain Kraze Burgers was born in Korea—the owner introduced gourmet hamburgers first to the Koreans, and then world-wide. When the chain opened its first location in the United States, they selected our humble neighborhood--beautiful downtown Bethesda.
Kraze Burgers' bright green letters beckon, along with the smell of charred beef. Naturally, the curious responded to the call. Yet, the opportunity to make a good first impression on people who work in Bethesda may have been lost.
The staff at Kraze Burgers worked diligently to please the influx of a hungry, weekday lunch crowd--but they failed miserably. My husband calls me the eternal optimist, doubting I would criticize this new operation, because I am often sympathetic to new businesses. He’s wrong this time. Kraze Burgers has close to 50 locations around the world; they should have been functioning more efficiently before they opened their doors a week ago.
Nevertheless, the eternal optimist has some good things to say about Kraze Burgers: first, they make a good burger. Second, they have appealing sides like sweet potato fries and grilled asparagus. Third, they offer options like turkey, tofu and veggie burgers—when they don’t run out. In addition, they have cute boxes for carryout and lip-smacking toppings, like fried leeks.
It’s not a disaster. The lunch crowd just needs to give Kraze Burger time to improve their delivery system. This bungling contrasts mightily with the finesse in which Jetties, a new sandwich place in Woodmont Triangle, handled their early crowds. No waiting, no grumbling at Jetties.
While at Kraze Burgers, I saw several frustrated patrons demand their money back after waiting more than 25 minutes for their order. Dozens of people stood around in this cramped space (which is expanding according to the sign) waiting to pick up their to-go orders. My order took 30 minutes, and it wasn’t done correctly. I had to go back and show the manager my receipt to demonstrate I had indeed paid for the asparagus but did not receive it. I also had to walk through an annoyed crowd to pick up my order served in multiple stages.
Kraze Burgers does have a handy pager system that alerts you noiselessly when your order is ready. That’s a nice innovation. However, you can tell there are just too many jitters in the system to say Kraze Burger is ready to satisfy a crowd of demanding, often impatient Americans.
Let’s talk food, shall we? First, I will say that the original burger was generous in size, flavorful and not greasy. It was topped with toasted bun, mustard, mayonnaise; lettuce and tomato—true American comfort food. My guests thought it was lighter and better than Five Guys’ burgers.
My turkey burger fell apart, as turkey burgers often do, but the crunchy fried leeks on top, and sautéed leeks on the bottom, encrusted the burger with flavor. This concerto was completed with melted tart Swiss cheese on a soft bun. This is the “French Burger.” Kraze burger allows you to have a turkey burger with any of their signature toppings.
You can design your own burger here--the price starts at $5.95 and builds from there. Cheeses like bleu, provolone, mozzarella or cheddar, add 95 cents; specials are another 95 cents each, including grilled mushrooms, fried egg, smoked bacon or grilled pineapple. The classics, like tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, etc. are free. So, you can see from the appetizing choices, Kraze Burger could be a fine place for lunch, when they improve their delivery.
Besides burgers, Kraze Burger serves some interesting sides--sweet potatoes, which were crisp and perfectly salted, but cold when we received them. They offer bowls of chili, herb fries, fruit cups, and I was enamored by the asparagus as an alternative to potato fries. The asparagus was chopped into the shape of a fry, lightly coated with oil, grilled, and then sprinkled with parmesan. A guiltless pleasure.
We sampled the $7.95 Cajun chicken salad, a modest bowl of fresh, mixed greens with two tangy dressings, crowned with bite-sized pieces of fried chicken, which were mostly batter. It was tasty but unremarkable.
Kraze Burgers' menu notes that their patties are made with hormone-free beef, their bread is fresh and made from scratch, and they do offer imaginative sauces, such as Kraze cream cheese sauce and some unnamed serve-yourself sauce—a playfully blended condiment made from mayo, mustard and ketchup. We were eating cups of it, while waiting endlessly for our meal.
The decor and space is modern with environmentally friendly touches like reusable, metal trays and recycled paper goods for food. No one wiped down the tables when you were lucky enough to find an empty one.
When one patron noticed me writing notes (we all had time to get to know one another), he suggested, “This place isn’t going to make it. Write that!” So, I did. But we will see if Kraze Burgers can work out the kinks, and through expansion and experience, become a favorite among Bethesda's workers and teens who roam around here after school. It has the right ingredients, but opening jitters may stall this growing empire.