Sietsema Review Burger Heaven By Tom Sietsema The Washington Post Magazine Sunday, Feb. 25, 2007 David Calkins and Lee Howard have done it again. The 30-somethings behind the popular Urban Bar-B-Que Company in Rockville have opened a restaurant celebrating another American standard -- hamburgers -- and infused the place with the kind of charm that you'd love to find at the Golden Arches (or even at Five Guys) but seldom do. If there's a friendlier fast-food joint than the Urban Burger Company, it's not on my radar. The virtual pats on the back start as soon as you walk through the doors and stroll to the self-service counter, where a bright-eyed cashier (likely a student from Rockville High School) takes your requests. A sign on the counter explains that cops, firefighters, postal workers, teachers, senior citizens -- why, just about everybody but restaurant critics -- get a 10 percent discount on their meals. "We owe the community a lot" for the success of three-year-old Urban Bar-B-Que, says Calkins, who also put up two bulletin boards for his customers to communicate with one another. Young families are embraced with a playroom for kids, which is enclosed in glass and wood so as not to disrupt other diners, and offers two TVs, one tuned to the Cartoon Network. Ever-present at their new work site, which opened late last year, Calkins and Howard are a two-man Chamber of Commerce. The choices here will be familiar to fans of Urban Bar-B-Que -- picture chicken wings, "soul" rolls and sides that suggest a church picnic -- and so will their execution. Those wings are meaty as breasts, their teasing heat offset by a dip in buttermilk dressing. The soul rolls pack ground beef, onions and cheese in a fried egg-roll wrapper, a snack made more decadent with a dunk in melted cheese. My affections are torn among the fresh and crunchy chopped cabbage, the smoky baked beans and the sweet onion rings dipped in beer batter. My ardor cools, though, when it comes to the potato and corn chowder, which tastes as if it came from a can. Hamburgers, lean and lightly seasoned, are the main attraction, and they require a bit more patience than at the competition. "We cook your burger fresh to order," the menu says, explaining the usual eight-to-10-minute wait. If you don't ask, the patty is cooked medium-well; if you ask for something rosier, however, that's what you get. Either way, the burger is slipped into a glossy, griddle-kissed brioche bun, at which time it can be personalized with a trip to Urban's free toppings bar or by paying a little more than a buck extra for one of six enhancements. "Blazin' Saddle" piles on chili, cheese and scallions; "So-Cal, USA" makes its point with creamy avocado, a cap of provolone and a swirl of honey-lime sauce. Not interested in a burger? The kitchen also serves a snappy, spicy bratwurst from Baltimore; a decent (by fast-food standards) crab cake; and salads for lighter appetites, including a "tree hugger" with chopped green apple, blue cheese, pecans and bell peppers -- a forest of food for $7. The owners are big on the details: Urban's dressings taste freshly made because they are, and the choices go beyond the usual to include orange-ginger and basil vinaigrette. A help-yourself soda bar includes a draft handle for root beer, my beverage of choice if I can't have something stronger. Desserts are inspired by county fair staples. Caramel apple on a stick? Yes, and it comes with a roll in candy if you want. Deep-fried Twinkie with ice cream? You'll find that curiosity, as well. A slice of pecan pie is based on shortbread and dipped in chocolate; a single bite is likely to send you into sugar shock. Flashier (and bigger) than its sibling, Urban Burger Company inherited the shiny, dark-blue tile from what used to be the Chicken Out in the Rock Creek Village Shopping Center, and the owners have taken advantage of that fact to pay tribute to Calkins's father, who served in the U.S. Navy for more than three decades. Pictures and medals from that long career dress up the walls and underscore Urban's family appeal. "Go, Navy!" the design shouts. Go check out the burgers and hospitality, this chowhound would add.