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Friday, February 01, 2019

Bliss on a Bun

FIRST, A CONFESSION: I have only ordered burgers at this place. Yes, I need to try different things, and I've tasted some of the alternate offerings ordered by friends, but the pursuit of superior hamburgers is a calling, a mission, and I have been so called. What you’re getting at Dave’s Gourmet Burgers and More is both a gustatory and architectural marvel, a jumbo-sized creation tamed by a knife through its heart.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
This incarnation of Dave Khan’s burger-joint concept has been operating in Schenectady for two years; his previous locations include a stint on Albany’s Fuller road. What he’s doing, and doing well, is offering an alternative to the more upscale burger chains. If you’re dining at McDonald’s, forget it: you’re not interested in flavor. But next time you’re thinking about Smashburger or Red Robin or Sonic or the like, try this place instead.

You won’t find fancy pre-fab decor – far from it. It has a couple of picnic tables in the center of the room, more tables against a wall; a reach-in cooler with drinks, a TV spitting out cable news, and walls covered with homilies, wise saws, and other such sayings. The restaurant is located in Rotterdam, on lower Broadway, with on-street parking and a few parking spaces in the rear.

If you’re not immediately welcomed by Dave, it’s because he has something on the stove. He’s the do-it-all factotum of the place, and the first thing he’s going to do is get an order of black fries cooking for you. Black fries? you wonder, and your gaze lights on a menu or wall notice informing you that unlimited black fries are part of your meal.

It’s a recipe Dave developed that includes a secret array of spices in a combination that renders the potato slivers a mahogany color, although lately, perhaps in pursuit of culinary parity, he’s offering them alongside a serving of the more conventional color. Whatever the case, the fries – particularly the black fries – are freshly fried and delicious. When you’ve polished off your serving, ring the small handbell on your table and he’ll plunge a follow-up helping into the fryer.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
This is a good strategic move for him, because he’s back there making things to order. Dave has been cooking in a variety of kitchens for a quarter-century, and has the versatile chef’s ability to prepare just about anything. So he combines his Pakistani roots with a general love of a variety of cuisines to offer a menu that roams the world.

Indian entrées include chicken tikkah ($14), in which the meat is cooked in a tomato-yogurt sauce, and palak paneer ($11), a dish that combines creamy spinach with Indian cheese. Greek items include chicken souvlaki ($10), and lamb gyro ($16), both served on pita with tzatziki and a salad array. I’ve sampled the latter; it’s the real thing, and very difficult to find anywhere at that price.

There are bison-based offerings, including a burger with bacon and cheese ($16), curry ($15), and a bison gyro ($15). And there are Philly steak sandwiches ($12 and $14), veggie burgers ($9-$13), and burgers of exotic game like camel, kangaroo, alligator, or elk ($25 each).

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
In the veggie realm, we sampled the pakora burger ($9), which puts a fried chickpea-based patty on a bun with trimmings. Pakora by its lonesome is a standard Indian-restaurant appetizer, so it’s an amusing enhancement to encounter its burger-ized version, which is satisfyingly crunchy and delicious.

But let’s get to the meat of matter. Among the menu’s gourmet burger offerings are the Juicy Lucy ($15), which puts the cheese inside the meat; the Six-Cheese Melt ($11), which arrays an assortment of cheeses over the patty; a California Stack or Chicago Stack ($15 each), both of which feature a beef patty, cheese, and fried egg, but California gets bacon while it’s hot dogs added to Chicago. Meanwhile, the $15 Philadelphia features ribeye steak with fried egg, cheese, and sautéed onion.

Diversifying a bit – for this is nothing if not a fusion menu – the Marsala Chef ($15) is a portobello burger marinated in Marsala wine, with melted provolone and parmesan cheeses, onion and a butter-garlic sauce. Lamb Masala ($15) is a lamb burger seasoned with aromatic Indian spices, and is next on my to-sample list. There’s also a twenty-dollar challenge modestly monikered “Dave’s Wonderful,” and consisting of beef, bacon, cheese, egg, onion, hot dog, and Philly steak in a garlic butter wine sauce.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
But don’t order the Blacken Blue ($11). It’s a great concept – Italian blue cheese is melted over the meat – and it’s Dave’s best seller. But he doesn’t think it’s all that splendid and offers it only because he knows it’s popular. Ask for the Ring Burger ($13), however, and he lights right up. “It’s the one I eat,” he insists, and it features a stack of beer-battered onion rings.

Dave will upsell you, and with food reason. If we’re going to be eating beef, we should be eating the grass-fed stuff. Which he has on hand, but it costs a little extra. I’ve been talked into it a couple of times, forked over the extra bucks, and didn’t regret it. But the bill does build quickly.

These are tall burgers. These are messy. I’ve attacked them with knife and fork, and they still seemed to be winning. But there’s no doubt that these are among the best burgers I’ve had. Now, if I could only restrain myself from all those helpings of fries . . .

Dave's Gourmet Burgers and More, 2535 Broadway, Schenectady, NY 12306;  schenectadygourmetburgers.com, 518-282-0266. Serving Mon-Sat 11 AM-9 PM, Sun 11 AM-6 PM. Cash and credit cards.

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