Dining and food culture in Chicago

Food Courting: Will DMK Burger Bar steal your heart?

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IMG_5790By Michael Nagrant

Maybe I’ve been lookin’ for love in all the wrong places, but DMK Burger Bar, the new Lakeview burger joint from Michael Kornick (MK) and David Morton, says its meat patties are made from “grass-fed beef with love” and all I’m finding is a strong sense of like. You could be friends with the pillowy-soft toasted potato buns, but the floury residue on top is a deal-breaker for any long-term relationship. All beef patties here are grilled to a medium-well, but if I were to commit to something bigger, I need mine medium-rare.

The NY pastrami burger topped with grand cru gruyere, sauerkraut and “Leroy’s remoulade” reads like the Match.com girl of my dreams, but as anyone who’s been on an uncomfortably silent date knows, some people just give good profile. The gruyere lacks funk, the pastrami exhibits little pepperiness or punchy garlic and the sauerkraut has no tang. You don’t want a topping to overpower, but like any good partner you want it to complement and challenge. The pastrami-burger toppings are like a devoted trophy wife, “Mad Men”’s Betty Draper (before the affairs), who never says a damn thing.

The turkey burger, which my waitress refers to as an “alternative” burger (less like it’s a seven-inch single from Sub Pop Records and more like it’s a dirty patchouli-scented hippie), clucks along with a righteous juiciness, albeit displaying little inherent flavor, and the same dusty bun. The eggplant topping shows a touch of subtle fruitiness, like a good Jane Lynch performance. But, alas, Lynch is gay, and I’m a straight beef-eating fool.

The DMK burger is Sandra Bullock to Kuma’s Angelina Jolie. You’d look at the pictures of the burgers in a magazine, but you wouldn’t hang them on your wall. You certainly wouldn’t want to spend an hour waiting for a DMK Burger, which on weekend nights is what you have to do right now. This isn’t chef Michael Kornick’s first rodeo. I know he knows this burger is good, but that it’s not great. If he’s really the big-time chef, why isn’t he opening with a burger as good as or better than Kuma’s? He knows the proper ratios of meat to fat and he’s got a solid palate. A particular phrase used in corporate America to speed the rollout of a product is “good enough” and certainly this burger is good enough for a national franchise, and maybe that’s all that matters. Then again, maybe Kornick just doesn’t believe in soul mates. I do, and whether it’s the fried chicken at Gus’s World Famous in Memphis, the beefy soup at Pho 888 on Argyle Street, or the haute Denny’s Grand Slam-like Plogue à Champlain topped with foie gras at Montreal’s Au Pied de Cochon, I’d wait for a lifetime. With these burgers I’m hoping I can get away with a hug and an empty promise to call back in a few days.

Though, one rule of dating, or hook-ups anyway, is with much good drink, everything looks a little better, and on that count, DMK’s got a cocktail program that includes a Death + Company Whirling Tiger featuring a splash of bourbon lifted by bright apple, lemon and ginger and silky foam that would have you sucking down factory-farmed beef topped with slices of Kraft American singles with guilt-free devotion.

IMG_5792If Kornick doesn’t know love, his partner David Morton certainly knows lust. Morton’s father is the late Arnie Morton, Hef’s boy, founder of the defunct swinging Playboy key clubs and slinger of porn-worthy fleshy steak and plump potatoes at his namesake steakhouses. On that count, the fries at DMK are some serious come-hither carbs. The crispy sticks sport the occasional spot of Jack Palance-like wrinkled leathery skin, steamy interior fluff, and a blizzard of grated parmesan. You’d don’t even need the money-shot drizzle of pheremonally funky truffle cream served on the side, but it sure doesn’t hurt.

The sweet-potato fries at DMK are both sugary and sexy, the Anne Hathaway of Chicago-area spuds. Any potential toothache is tempered by the spice of lemon-Tabasco aioli, and the crispness here is a welcome respite from the limp sweet taters slung most at other places.

Though not everything fried flies off the plate. The fried dill pickles and okra swaddled in crispy panko were cooked well, but the lack of salt and flavorless veg certainly wouldn’t make Elvis thrust his pelvis.

Despite some of my misgivings, there’s something about this place that I like. Maybe it’s the long black church-pew seating, the Harry Potter-worthy candelabra-style chandeliers, or the lush red banquettes that swaddle you like a good bar should. Or maybe it’s the Picasso-esque black-and-white drawings on the west wall, which look like an arty riff and remind one of the celebrity caricatures that line the walls at the famous Palm steakhouse. I’m not sure, but I want to find out, which I guess means that at the very least, DMK Burger Bar is second-date material.

2954 North Sheffield, (773)360-8686, dmkburgerbar.com

4 Responses to “Food Courting: Will DMK Burger Bar steal your heart?”

  1. michael kornick Says:

    Mr. Nagrent,
    I am sorry you did not dig the place. We love our buns. I designed the flour top potato rolls specifically to allow the flavors inside to shine. The bun is only 2.8oz finnished (the weight of a 4″ bun stretched to five inches, so it is not too much too eat as some larger, heavier versions). The bun is toasted with sweet cream butter on the griddle prior to assembly with gently heated, room temperature and chilled ingredients.In the #3 you samplede the ingredients were carefully chosen. The N.Y. Pastrami is fresh from Eisenberg’s in Chicago (peppered navel only) the cheese raw milk Comte from Jura, France, an artisan cheese, delicate and earthy in flavor and my personal favorite in the gruyuere family. As for Kuma’s I love the place. I feel our thin (5oz) patties griddled crisp and fully cooked are simply great and in balance with the other ingredients in my cresations. I am sorry you did not pick up on the spices and herbs in our turkey burger, so far most of our guests have seemed to enjoy them a lot!
    I look forward to your second date and hope you find the flavors more satisfying, Michael Kornick, Chief Burger Cook, DMK Burger Bar

  2. Mike Nagrant Says:

    Appreciate the response chef. Don’t doubt the ingredients may be top notch, but something gets lost with the flavor of the toppings from the heat of the burger. And as I wrote, it’s not that the burger’s not good (it’s probably in the top 20%) it’s just not so exciting that I’m thinking about it days later and want to come back for it. I guess I’d also ask the question, do you think your basic burger (toppings aside) is as good or better than the ones at Rosebud, Labriola, Kuma’s, and Schoops? I lust after the the last three and salivate just thinking about them. If the answer’s yes, then I guess we have different palates. If the answer is no, is that a function of cost? All of those, except Schoops are certainly more expensive than the DMK burger.

    The bun is decent and the size ratio is right, but there is dustiness with that flour on top that doesn’t give a good finished mouth feel. I’ll come back for the fries and your drinks progam anytime, and maybe in the process I’ll find I was wrong about the burger. I’ve always loved MK.

  3. Sky Full of Bacon » Blog Archive » The Nagrant-Gebert Sessions Rematch, Pt. 4: Faster, Cheaper, Tastier Says:

    […] bar? This is a set-up, right? I mean I’m sort of reluctant to say any more than I did in my column because I don’t want Michael Kornick to think I have some weird vendetta. Because, I don’t. […]

  4. j Says:

    Dude is wrong – DMK burgers will rule the world. Every time I am back in Chicago I cannot miss this place. I hate living so far away from it.

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