Burger of a different persuasion

There is an unofficial but generally accepted rule that critics aren't supposed to visit a new restaurant until it's been open at least six weeks. Obviously, it is a rule invented by restaurateurs, not reviewers.

In theory, that cushion of time gives the restaurant time to "iron out the kinks"; but I don't really see the logic of letting the public be the guinea pig, especially at full price.

A reviewer's job is to amuse, to inform, to judge; we're supposed to be half entertainment, half consumer advocate, half arbiter of taste. (That's right, three halves.) The consumer advocate part of me bristles a little at the notion that the public is supposed to foot the bill for the kitchen and wait staff's learning experience. I think a restaurant should take care of its laundry--that "ironing out" job--before it opens its doors to the public.

It's nice of a critic to wait awhile, but it's not necessary.
So you could say I wasn't so nice about Johnny's--the World's Greatest Burger. I took a full crew up there the very night it opened. And a good thing, too, since we were just about the only people there.

The name conjures visions of paper-capped waiters, ketchup bottles and milkshakes, sesame-crusted buns, French fries and onion rings. And the stripped-down space, dominated by a big bar, furthers that idea with old soda pop posters decorating the walls. But this is a burger of a different persuasion.

Costas Arrabatzis had sublet this space, formerly the M Street Grill, when he opened Ziziki's, his neo-Greek bistro in Travis Walk. And when he was forced to take it back over, he went in doing what he does best.

So while what they serve at Johnny's may be considered the world's best burger in Greece, on Greenville Avenue, which has plenty of good burgers, I'd call what they call a burger souvlaki.

Costas serves a thick, ultra-lean beef patty (or grilled chicken breast, the beef patty of the '90s) inside soft pita bread slathered with herbed yogurt. Instead of French fries, he serves his quartered roasted new potatoes, with more yogurt.

If you ever ate at Greek Bistro, M Street Grill, or Ziziki's, you've eaten this food. I've certainly eaten it, and reviewed it, each time Costas has changed his restaurant's name and location. And I like it, too.

So, even though I was expecting a Happy Days-type burger meal, I was happy to have Zorba standing in for the Fonz, so to speak. Just be warned: if you're looking for an old-fashioned American hamburger, John's Cafe across the street is a better bet.

First night or last night open, though, certainly Costas didn't need any more time to get his act together. (If he can't do this kind of food by now, he'd better hang it up and head back to Hawaii.) Service was smooth, the food was good and delivered quickly.

And there can be certain advantages to checking out a restaurant early--since Johnny's liquor license wasn't in place, the beer was fre

--Mary Brown Malouf

Johnny's--The World's Greatest Burger, 2014 Greenville Ave., 826-8989. Open Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 12 midnight.

World's Greatest Burger (beef) $4.95
Chicken sandwich $5.50
Russet potatoes: samll order $1, large order $2.95


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