Black & Orange

$$$$ ($14 and under)
Black & Orange photo

Editorial Review

A burger with colorful story

By Alex Baldinger
Friday, Feb. 10, 2012

The world can be a difficult place for a rogue state, just as the 10-story office building at 1300 Connecticut Ave. NW was for Rogue States. Chef Raynold Mendizabal's street-level burgers-and-fries bureau had to close in fall 2010 after a building tenant sued, alleging that fumes from Mendizabal's grill were permeating its offices.

Eight months and a reported $300,000 in ventilation upgrades later, Mendizabal reemerged in June 2011 as Black & Orange, in the same location that drew lunch crowds and clubgoers alike. Most important for burger lovers, the internationally accented menu remained unchanged.

Mendizabal's beef patties, which come in seven varieties, are more likely to be studded with seasonings blended in the ground beef than bathed in unctuous toppings; there's no fried egg option or "special sauce" here. "In Cuba, when we make hamburgers, we make all of the ingredients inside," Mendizabal said.

Served in quarter-pound and half-pound varieties and cooked "pink or no pink," the standouts include the No Burger, No Cry, flecked with habanero peppers, red onion and jerk seasoning; Curried Away, packed with hot chilies, onion and curry powder; and the Pardon My French, which is blended with black truffle oil and thyme. The Rogue State, peppered with a house spice blend, cilantro and chipotle recalls the flavors of the hamburgers Mendizabal grew up with. ("We call them fritas in Cuba," he said.)

"To have such beautiful beef and then put on that a lot of toppings, it kind of destroys the idea of good beef," Mendizabal said, noting that, while it's not one of Black & Orange's menu options, he often consumes his burgers nearly raw.

Turkey patty and chicken breast options join the Old MacDonald (with portobello mushrooms, grilled vegetables, sprouts and goat cheese) to serve as the menu's beef alternatives. The fries - potato or sweet potato - are girthy and served with a trio of wasabi, chipotle and Old Bay mayonnaises. A lunch combo, including a quarter-pound burger, fries and a beverage, is $8.95.

As for the name, Black & Orange is meant to recall flames licking at a hot iron grill as the meat's natural oils ignite the coals below. "I'm still a little bit nostalgic about it," Mendizabal said of Rogue States, the moniker he decided to retire after the lawsuit. The name still adorns the placard above the door, as well as the beverage and fry cups.

"The fact that we had to change the name affected the business greatly," he added. "People knew Rogue States. We were open eight months; we were busy. We had to change the name, and it caused confusion."

Possibly more disruptive than the name change, however, was the major hoopla surrounding the May opening of Shake Shack one block south, before Black & Orange reemerged.

Despite the competition for burger business on Connecticut Avenue, Black & Orange opened a second location, on 14th Street NW just south of U Street, last week. The new location has the same hours and shares the original location's menu, with one addition: the Hair of the Dog burger, which sports horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, chilies, diced tomatoes and celery. ("Dedicated to the U St. Community," says the menu.)

Asked if it was more challenging to open the second location from scratch or reopen the flagship, Mendizabal, who runs the kitchen at K Street lounge Lima, said: "When you have to reopen, it's way more difficult because you have to regain what you had before. When you open the new place, you have the momentum, you have the energy; when you open something fresh and new, everything is vibrant."