New Burger Joint Is Not a Knock Out
Lance London, owner of The Carolina Kitchen, opened his fourth restaurant at 2350 Washington Place NE across from the Rhode Island Avenue metro station.
TKO Burger opened in mid-May about a month behind schedule beside the Carolina Kitchen in the Rhode Island Row mixed use development. But the new burger joint, in a town where gourmet burger restaurants are opening weekly, is more a side room of Carolina Kitchen than a stand-alone restaurant since they share kitchen, bar and managers with Carolina Kitchen. And, customers go next door to use the restrooms. (There is a communal sink in front of the cash registers to wash your hands without trekking through the restaurant next door.)
The restaurant, which has a boxing theme, was designed by Tom Mulhern of 2 Scale Interiors in Falls Church. Rustic hickory wood with black metal accents provides the backdrop for vintage boxing memorabilia and imagery. A 12-foot black and white mural depicting a boxing match towers over the cashiers and another covers the wall beside a reclaimed wood community table in the front of the restaurant. The chairs have the TKO logo engraved on the back and the banquettes are covered in white with unreadable black letters. Windows etched with boxing scenes look into Carolina Kitchen and the red walls are lined with black and white photos of Boxing Hall of Fame champions. The restaurant seats 40 with flat-screen televisions built into the booth walls to watch sports. On a recent visit, we watched the U.S.-Ghana in the FIFA World Cup playoffs.
The burgers, which come in beef, seafood, poultry and veggie varieties, range in price from $7 to $14. The TKO Original is your basic burger with 100 percent all-certified Angus beef, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions and TKO sauce or you can double the patty. They also have a BBQ bacon cheese burger with jalapeno bacon, smoky BBQ sauce, cheddar cheese, onion strings and chipotle mayo; the Philly cheese burger with sautéed mushrooms and onions, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato and TKO sauce; the brunch burger with bacon, fried egg, American cheese and strawberry jelly; and the fried green tomato burger with country friend green tomato, Swiss cheese, lettuce, onions and TKO sauce.
For non-beef eaters, there’s a ground salmon burger with capers, grilled asparagus and zesty tartar sauce and a soft shell burger with a battered and fried soft shell crab, arugula and Old Bay tartar sauce. Poultry burgers include the turkey burger with arugula, grilled onions, lettuce, tomato, Swiss cheese and cran mayo; grilled chicken breast with pepper jack cheese, avocado, lettuce, tomato and TKO sauce; and a crispy chicken breast with jalapeno bacon, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato sautéed onions and honey mustard. For vegetarians, there is a black bean burger with avocado, lettuce, pepper jack cheese and chipotle mayo; and a veggie burger with lettuce, tomato, Swiss cheese, red onions and mayo. TKO also offers a grilled beef hot dog with melted cheese, chopped tomato, grilled onions and BBQ sauce.
During a recent visit, the restaurant was out of the soft shell crab burger. Since we’re a big fan of Carolina Kitchen and its killer house-made macaroni and cheese, we figured the mac n cheese burger with that same macaroni and cheese on top couldn’t miss. But instead, the burger reminded us more of a fast-food burger rather than a thick, juice gourmet burger and the mac n cheese along with the bacon, American cheese and TKO sauce just made the bun soggy to the point that it fell apart while eating it. Also, there was a sweet taste to it – nothing we could determine from the ingredient list. We also ordered the crab cake burger made with Maryland lump crab, Old Bay and tartar sauce, which was tasty and better than the burger.
Also on the menu were a barnyard salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, carrots, bacon crumbles and cheddar cheese and the TKO salad with apples, cranberries, mandarin oranges, grapes and blue cheese crumbles. Both are served with Carolina Kitchen cornbread for $7. Add chicken for $3. Desserts include house-made red velvet, lemon, pineapple-coconut and chocolate cake for $4.99. We tried the pineapple-coconut, which was way too sweet. They also have house-made banana pudding ice cream cones for $2.99.
The real star of TKO’s menu are the sides, which range from $3-$4. We tried the sweet potato tots, the fried pickles and the eggplant fries. The tots were good, but frozen, and served with whipped cream and maple syrup. I didn’t care for the whipped cream mixture and would have preferred sour cream. But the fried pickles were excellent as were the eggplant fries. The pickle spears were breaded and fried to a crispy crunch, while we the gobbled down the eggplant fries dipped in the TKO sauce (and I don’t usually like eggplant). Other sides include hand-cut fries, sweet potato fries, onion rings, coleslaw, plantains, fried okra, potato salad, grilled corn on the cob and baked beans.
And like Carolina Kitchen, TKO offers southern style milkshakes in banana pudding, sweet potato, peach cobbler, strawberry short cake, chocolate and vanilla for $5 or spiked for $7. However, unlike our visit to Carolina Kitchen, the banana shake was too sweet and the peach cobbler wasn’t very peachy.
Don’t rely on the restaurant’s website since it isn’t correct. There are no appetizers – no Rocky Mount wings or Buffalo shrimp, no jerk burger, fish sandwich or pulled chicken sandwich. No sweet potato cake or Big Country’s kettle corn for dessert. And while the website advertised a full bar with 15 bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., $5 select draft pints and Champagne cocktails, $6 sparkling, red and white wines, $7 Sobieski vodka martinis, $8 mojitos and discounted bites and appetizers during happy hour from 5-7 p.m. and half off select wines and brew from 7-10 p.m., there were only draft beers for $4-$7 listed on the menu. Sure the counter staff could go next door to the bar, there was no indication of the availability in the restaurant.
TKO Burger is open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 11 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday.