It would be very easy to discount B Spot, Michael Symon's east-side burger bar, as a gimmicky payday for an overextended celebrity chef. After all, how difficult is it to slap the Symon brand on the broadside of a burger while laughing all the way to the bank? But as even the casual observer of Cleveland's Iron Chef can attest, the man doesn't seem to know the meaning of half-assed.
With nothing short of burger bliss as his goal, Symon approached this project with as much zeal as he did Bar Symon, Lola and Lolita. And the task is in many ways tougher, when you think about it. While few of us may be qualified to adequately judge a slab of Berkshire pork belly, every red-blooded American fancies him or herself a hamburger critic.
Since opening in late November at Eton Chagrin, B Spot has been positively slammed with curious diners. Yes, many come simply because it's a Mike Symon joint, but just as many return because the hamburgers are that stinking good. Using beef supplied by legendary New York purveyor Pat LaFrieda — the source of New York's Shake Shack's equally addictive blend — the burgers have become something of an obsession for an already meat-obsessed populace.
Burgers come in all shapes and sizes, from slim diner-style versions to the four-finger-thick pub variety. B Spot aims right for the middle, offering a six-ounce patty that is neither too thin nor too thick. Despite its relatively slender chassis, the burgers leave the kitchen precisely as ordered. Here, that means warm red centers for burgers cooked medium-rare and warm pink centers for those prepared medium. If the faintest blush of color causes angst, I suggest you order nothing short of well done.
Comprising chuck, sirloin and brisket, the hamburgers explode with beefy goodness. A crusty shell from the griddle locks in juices. Call me a purist, but I believe a burger this good needs little more than lettuce, tomato and onion to reach perfection. At B Spot, that burger is called Plain Jane ($5.50). Fans of the ridiculously savory Lola burger — topped with bacon, cheddar, fried egg and pickled onions — can get that here ($9). But don't expect the English muffin; this one comes on the same sturdy bun as all the burgers. Folks who like to gild the proverbial lily can go nuts, as the menu includes renditions piled high with pastrami and slaw (Fat Doug), corned beef and kraut (Breuben), and flipsteak and Cheez Whiz (Philly Witt).
The "B" in B Spot refers not only to burgers, but also bar snacks, brats, bologna, beer and "bad ass" milkshakes. Under the snacks column are blazing-hot sriracha wings ($7), heavenly battered onion rings ($3) and the omnipresent rosemary-scented Lola fries ($3). For an extra two bucks, you can get those fries buried beneath a hill o' bean-free chili, cheddar cheese and scallions.
In comparison to the burgers, the bratwurst sandwiches are wholly underwhelming. The sausages are soft, bland and forgettable. Two bites into my Clevelander ($5), Symon's take on the Polish Boy, the brat decided to part ways with the bun by sneaking out the bottom. Measuring in at damn near an inch thick, a fried bologna sandwich ($6) has a pleasingly mild taste and smooth texture, which is offset by crisp pickles and yellow mustard.
Diners can doll up their sandwiches by visiting the well-stocked relish bar, loaded with sweet, spicy and pickled condiments. Each table is also outfitted with a caddy of six great sauces, ranging from coffee barbecue to ShaSha, an addictive Symon family recipe sporting peppers and mustard.
Mitchell's ice cream forms the basis for thick, delicious milkshakes ($5), all of which can be kicked up with a shot of booze for $3. As is the case at Bar Symon, the beer selection at B Spot boasts some of the best names in craft brewing.
Despite its home in a former Cold Stone Creamery, B Spot is eminently cool. Industrial touches like a smooth concrete bartop and galvanized chairs are warmed up with wooden booths, a shotgun-chic antler chandelier and a wall-size mosaic of beer cans. The less appealing mall-side seats will be swapped with patio seats come finer weather.
To keep things moving, Symon wisely has instituted some rules of play. Parties are seated only when complete. Meals are served not in courses but en masse. And while ingredient subtraction is permissible, substitutions are not. This may sound inhospitable, but it definitely trims wait times. When a restaurant is besieged by 500 or more guests a day, every little bit helps.