Casual-dining powerhouse elevates better burgers to steakhouse equivalent. The hamburger is elevated to fine-dining status at The Capital Burger, the burger-centric new concept from the parent of The Capital Grille, Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse, to name a few of the big brands in Darden Restaurants’ fold. It’s not a coincidence that full-service Capital Burger sports a name reminiscent of Capital Grille, a high-end steakhouse: It’s based on what Darden calls a luxury burger, or one that’s presented as being equal in desirability to a strip or sirloin.
But of course, a burger costs a fraction of what a steak does, even if it’s a custom blend from celebrity butcher Pat LaFrieda, who is to beef what Rick Bayless is to Mexican food. Take the burger away, and Darden’s place sounds like a steakhouse. Indeed, someone hearing a description would think they’re getting a rundown on a new rival to Sullivan’s or Morton’s.
The drink list sports expense-account-caliber wines by the glass. The bar is a crucial element, according to Darden. Wine is dispensed from bottles, but via a new generation of machines that prevents oxidation. Other alcohol options include spiked milkshakes, an array of classic cocktails and craft beer.
Other distinctions include a number of high-craft touches that don’t sound costly. The pickles, for instance, are brined on-premise (every table is presented with a Mason-jarful). The fries are hand-cut. And considerable attention is drawn to an artful music playlist that guests can also catch on Spotify.
The steakhouse echoes aren’t carried into the design, though. The napery is cloth, but the tables are bare-topped and the dishware is more diner than fine dining. And though the menu touches may be upscale, the prices are a far cry from the starched-tablecloth world. Burgers run from $15 to $17. Salads topped with a protein top out at $20 (for the seared tuna version), and no beer is more than $8.
Capital Burger doesn’t fall in line with all of the trends in casual dining. The menu looks like a specials list compared with the tomes grill and bar casuals usually sport—it’s the epitome of the simplification trend. Only 13 main dish-type items are offered, and six of those are burgers. Instead of appetizers, the place offers nine “snacks,” two of which are soups.
Currently, only one Capital Burger is open, across from Washington, D.C.’s convention center, which will provide Darden with a sense of how a national clientele receives the brand. The company says there’s no plan yet to open a second unit.
$16: Price of signature The Capital Burger
9: Number of snacks on the menu