Chicago: Burgers at DMK Burger Bar Are a BFD

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[Photographs: Daniel Zemans]

DMK Burger Bar

2954 N. Sheffield Avenue, Chicago IL 60657 (map); 773-360-8686 ; dmkburgerbar.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Outstanding patties with wide selection of complementary toppings make this a standout burger spot
Want Fries With That? Oh hells yeah. Only hard part is picking which ones to get (hint: sweet potato)
Price: Singles, $8; doubles, $11

Michael Kornick, best known for the work he does at MK, is one of Chicago's most highly regarded chefs. David Morton, a member of the family that gave the world Morton's of Chicago and Hard Rock Café, grew up in the restaurant business. Together, they are the force behind DMK Burger Bar which has been blowing minds in Lakeview since it opened just over a year ago.

DMK offers nine different beef burgers along with five nontraditional patties (turkey, lamb, veggie, portobello, and salmon). All of the $8 burgers can served as a turkey or portobello burger, and they can all be transformed into a double for an extra $3. The vast array of burgers is complemented by an equally broad spread of tempting sides and drinks. With so much on the menu, it's easy to assume that Kornick and Morton allowed ambition to get in the way of excellence. That assumption would be dead wrong.

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There are nine beef burgers to choose from at DMK, ranging in complexity from a basic cheeseburger to ones like the roasted hatch green chile, fried egg, bacon and Sonoma Jack cheeseburger pictured above. Nobody would tell me what cut of beef is used but a few months ago the restaurant tweeted a picture of Kornick butchering a hind quarter. The patties are five ounces apiece and are griddled to medium well. Thin burgers made from grass fed beef cooked that long are obviously not going to be dripping with juice, but these things come with a very nice crust and are loaded with flavor.

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The beefiness is so strong that even though the patty was served with some seriously flavorful toppings, there was no danger of the extras overwhelming the centerpiece. The chiles are chopped and bring enough heat to let you know they're there, but not so much that they distract. The bacon, another accoutrement that often takes over, simply adds some smokiness and nice extra chew and then fades into the background. Taken together, this was one outstanding and well-balanced meal of a burger.

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The potato buns at DMK are a Kornick creation and are unique in the world of burger breads. The toasted buns weigh in at under three ounces, which Kornick claims is the weight of a standard four-inch bun. But these buns are actually five inches so the meat-to-bun ratio allows the five-ounce burgers to seem a little bigger than they are. The buns are not particularly flavorful, which keeps the focus on everything else, and they are incredibly soft yet more than sturdy enough to hold up to the burgers and toppings.

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If Big Macs could reproduce and eugenicists were allowed to explore their wildest fantasies, they would eventually create the Big DMK. This triple-decker with special sauce is an admitted rip-off of McDonald's signature burger except none of the flavors were created in a factory.

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Sea salt and pepper fries.

Speaking of McDonald's addictions, the fries at DMK are sensational. With small orders available, we were able to try three of the six fries. The Parmesan fries with truffle cream sauce are straight from the menu at MK and are merely excellent. The potatoes themselves, fresh-cut russets, are thicker than traditional fries but manage to bring a crisp exterior and a pillowy interior. The only knock on these was that the truffle overwhelmed a bit. The second russet fry we tries were the most basic ones, tossed in sea salt and black pepper and served with housemade ketchup. The simple presentation allowed the excellence of the potato to shine though.

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Sweet potato fries.

I loved the salt and pepper fries, but they are not in the same deep fryer as the sweet potato fries, previously raved about on Serious Eats by Michael Nagrant. The stunning sticks of potato are served with a lemon Tobasco aioli, which makes each bite a remarkable blend of sweet, salty, tangy, spicy, crisp, soft, and creamy. Of the seven sides available, we tried the cole slaw, which was a surprising hit. The wasabi kind of sneaks up on the taste buds, but is nicely restrained by the creamy mayonnaise.

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DMK offers a full bar that includes some very attractive cocktails. I wasn't drinking on my visit, but I did indulge in one of their homemade pops (inexplicably called soda on the menu). I opted for blood orange and got lightly carbonated drink that was more like intense regular orange than blood orange, but still quite good. After the meal, I was presented with a free peanut butter shake, proving that it pays to be the douchebag taking pictures of his food. I'm normally not a fan of peanut butter desserts, but this thick shake with ribbons of fudge along with malt and coffee extract was excellent despite the presence of a couple of ice crystals.

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Equally good, although not free, was the ice cream sandwich. Crafted freshly in-house, this thing was about as good as ice cream sandwiches get. The double-chocolate cookies from the nearby Cookie Bar come delightfully close to crossing the line into chewy browniehood, and are packed with rich chocolate. The heavy chocolate is balanced out by some excellent creamy espresso ice cream from legendary Petersen's Old Fashioned Ice Creams in west suburban Oak Park.

There are plenty of easy knocks on DMK. The waits can be long; the music—a blend of some of the most popular music from the '70s and '80s—is incredibly loud; a significant frat boy element; and, of course, the deep-seated self-hatred evidenced by Chicagoans referring to carbonated beverages as "soda" instead of pop. But the food—the thing that's really important—is unquestionably in the upper tier of burger emporiums in Chicago.