A chalkboard outside of Positively 4th Street reads “Best Burger in Town”. If you’re going to make that proclamation only 10 yards from the entrance to a Five Guys, you had better be legit, right? Hamburgers occupy a special spot in the hearts of American diners. A well-constructed, perfectly cooked hamburger is a thing of beauty and is not to be messed with.
Upon settling in and evaluating the bill of fare at Positively 4th St, my hopes were high. The menu reads incredibly well (especially the burgers). Each selection is American comfort food at heart, but with a creative twist that entices and fills a niche in the Charlottesville dining scene. The execution of these dishes, however, is not currently up to par.
The namesake burger sounds absolutely stunning based on its components (onion straws, house-made pickles, roasted garlic mayo & bacon onion marmalade to name a few), but upon arrival I felt let down. My wife was actually convinced we were brought the wrong order based on it being such a visual disappointment. That’s never a good sign. The aforementioned bacon onion marmalade, however, managed to save the burger from being a complete disaster. Salty, sweet and delicious. They should consider selling the spread in jars; put me down for a case.
Their SW (Southwest) burger similarly left me dissatisfied. I expected a bold flavor to shine though given the assertive key ingredients (pepper jack cheese, roasted poblano and chipotle mayo) but no such luck. It needed salt and more heat.
On the upside, both burgers that I sampled were cooked to a perfect medium-rare. Additionally, one of my discerning dining companions remarked that the “noBull” veggie burger was the best he has ever eaten in Charlottesville.
Since I’m always a sucker for melted fromage, the grown up grilled cheese on their menu immediately spoke to me. Interestingly enough there was the option to add crab for $1 more. I love crab. Sounds like a great bargain right? Wrong. Trust me – do not even think about adding crab as its poor quality masked the cheese flavors entirely. If given a second chance, I would have paid them $5 to take the crab off.
(Note: I planned to comment more extensively on the Monkey Bread appetizer, but I’m at a complete loss for words. I’m hoping readers will chime in and provide their own feedback.)
On our first visit servers struggled to keep up with six total tables. Customers were melting down all around us and upset with staff for a variety of reasons (long waits, food not coming out together, orders keyed in wrong). Incidentally, our order was keyed wrong and dishes came out of the kitchen at completely random times. On my second visit the restaurant was considerably more crowded…and predictably service continued to suffer. I can attribute some of this to standard new restaurant “gettin’ the kinks out” but there is still a lot of work to be done.
In the adult beverage category, I loved seeing Gruet sparkling wine from New Mexico offered by the glass. Fantastic wine – more can be read here. It was also a pleasant surprise to see a mint julep on the permanent menu, but the execution needs work. It was pretty clear that whoever made the drink had never done so before.
All said and done, I can’t give Positively 4th St. much positive feedback but I can’t completely write them off either. The menu has tremendous potential, the space is comfortable and the location is obviously first-rate. I want it to be great. I want to be a regular there. Perhaps after a little soul searching and some good old-fashioned trial and error the end result will improve. I sincerely hope that some day 4th St. can rightfully boast “Best Burger in Town”, but for now the folks next door at 5 Guys aren’t worried one bit.
Pros: Great location on the mall, welcoming interior, high-quality veggie burger
Cons: Mediocre food execution, service, monkey bread
Price: Appetizers $5-6, Sandwiches and Burgers $9-11, Entrées $12-19.
Parking: Usual downtown mall options.