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DINING: Burger eatery hip, new

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Good stuff is happening at Good Stuff Eatery, a shake-and-burger joint almost in the shadow of the Capitol.

It's particularly good if you're hipster chef and co-owner Spike Mendelsohn (a former contender on Bravo's "Top Chef"), who reports that the crowds just keep growing at the 17-month-old restaurant.

"We could never have imagined this kind of success," the young Mr. Mendelsohn says, adding that he estimates the average number of guests at up to 1,000 a day.

On a recent late Tuesday night, several dozen youngsters - Hill staffers, perhaps - waited to order at the downstairs old-time-diner-style counter. It seems this could pose a crowd-control dilemma in the smallish space.

But somehow orders were taken and filled quickly, and the young ones could head upstairs to the 80-seat dining area and flat-screen central within minutes, bearing trays brimming with hand-cut fries, milkshakes and burgers.

"Our goal is no more than a seven-minute wait," Mr. Mendelsohn says.

We believe it.

The most popular burger is Colletti's smokehouse. Besides a generous burger, the potato-bread bun holds bacon, cheddar, fried Vidalia onion rings and chipotle barbecue sauce. It's tasty and greasy.

Then there's the best-selling treat: the toasted marshmallow milkshake. It's divine and probably contains a day's worth of calories.

But to hear Mr. Mendelsohn talk about it, you'd think Good Stuff Eatery was a vegan diner.

"People can come in for a balanced, healthy meal," he says.

Really?

"We serve 100 percent natural beef. It's low in sodium," he says.

This is truly part of Mr. Mendelsohn's talent. With charm and smarts - in addition to cooking skills, naturally - he turns an otherwise tired concept into a winning, hip one. He even can sell fast food to an obese nation and make us feel good about it.

Also, a probable part of the success is pricing. With complete meals for less than $20, price and quality seem to intersect at a sweet spot for diners (who, incidentally, include President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama) especially in this economy.

Mr. Mendelsohn, who calls the restaurant "an approachable concept," hopes to duplicate his success with his newest, next-door endeavor, We, the Pizza, which he plans to open in mid-February. It will feature thin-crust pizza, homemade sodas and authentic gelato.

"You can't find good pizza on the Hill. We feel we can bring it here," he says.

Good stuff.

If anyone can make pizza, the tried and true, feel hip and new, Spike Mendelsohn can.

RESTAURANT: Good Stuff Eatery, 303 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; 202/543-8222

HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday

PRICES: Burgers $5.49 to $7.69, sides and salads $2.97 to $6.89, desserts $3.29 to $5.25

PARKING: Limited street parking

WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes

METRO: Capitol South