Chicago: Flawed Execution Dooms Promising Burger at Duchamp
2118 North Damen Avenue, Chicago IL 60647 (map); 773-235-6434; duchamp-chicago.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Strong ideas but poor execution doomed this burger to a drawer of disappointing memories
Want Fries With That? Repeat the preceding answer and replace "burger" with "fries"
Price: $13.95 (fried egg, + 95¢)
Few burgers in Chicago have gotten as much national acclaim as the one at Duchamp, the over two-year-old bistro in Bucktown. The burger made Travel & Leisure's list of the ten best burgers in America in 2009 and earlier this month, Food & Wine ranked it among the top 25 in the country.
These "best in the country" lists are often slapped together by people who don't actually try all of the foods listed and I suspect that's what happened with the inclusion of Duchamp. I think Duchamp can put out a very good burger, but poor execution rendered it mediocre at best on my recent visit.
The patty is a half-pound of hand-formed coarsely ground chuck. It comes topped with Havarti cheese, lettuce, tomato and tomato remoulade (college-boy talk for Thousand Island dressing). I also splurged and added a sunny-side up egg for 95¢. The burger looked great when it arrived, but as soon as I cut into it, I knew there would be trouble.
Remember what Kenji taught you, kids, if you salt your burger meat too early, no matter how beautifully coarse your beef may start, you're going to end up with a dense patty like I did at Duchamp where the meat noodles have melded together. The essentially crustless patty wasn't rubber-chewy, but eating the burger required more work than is acceptable. The execution was also plagued by insufficient resting. I appreciated that the patty was cooked to rare as requested, but the juice that poured out upon cutting it in half destroyed the bottom bun.
Not everything about the burger was bad. The meat was of good quality and had strong beef flavor, and the part of the bun that didn't disintegrate was a nice soft roll. The remoulade added a little tang, but I thought a lot of flavor from it was covered by the egg. Havarti was a new cheese for me on a burger and I thought the soft buttery cheese worked very well even if a sharper variety would have worked better with the egg.
The fries, which come with the burger, come dressed with bits of Romano cheese and garlic and are listed on the menu as "crispy." The thick fries we got were not crisp at all and were a bit underdone. Our server assured us the hand-cut fries are blanched and then fried, but my dining companion and I would have only believed her if she told us they were baked. On a positive note, the Romano added some nice tanginess, just not enough to counteract the raw potato flavor.
Even with my skepticism about Duchamp's place on the best burger lists, I went in with high expectations. The description of the burger makes clear that some serious thought went into the design. But someone has to take great plans and turn them into reality for them to really matter and, at least on this visit to Duchamp, that didn't happen.