DBGB Kitchen and Bar, 299 Bowery, 212-933-5300
Price range: $19-$29 Rating: 5L's
Frequently, during fine-dining experiences, I find myself wanting a pizza. But of all the high-class meals I’ve sat through, none have distracted me from the lure of gooey mozzarella more than my feast at Daniel. It was like smoking crack and making babies at the same time, and didn’t even give me that much indigestion. So when I heard Daniel Boulud would be heading downtown to serve burgers, sausage and beer, I freaked a little and made about sixteen different reservations on Open Table.
The Bowery isn’t the toilet it once was, but still, the move south symbolizes the fact that even the Frenchie elite are embracing a younger crowd. DBGB’s front bar and dining room are industrial-modern like an Urban Outfitters and buzz with a mostly casual crowd: definitely the only Boulud restaurant blasting Kid A. And if John Varvatos hadn’t already bastardized the CBGBs legacy with $500 loafers, I’d be put off by the name. But he has, so what the hell, bring on the fancy sausage.
First, start with something cool, like the awesomely pedestrian iceberg and blue cheese salad ($9). Then order as many multi-culti wieners as possible ($11-$15). They’re small and meant as apps or sides; on my two visits I tried five, all of which killed. The Toscane was like Jimmy Dean had back-packed through Italy after college and gotten all cultured: three pan-grilled hockey pucks loaded with a rich pork and fennel flavor typically paired with peppers and onions. Or go North African with the spice-heavy Tunisienne, a lamb and mint merguez with fiery harissa. And my favorite: The Vermont, a smoky pork and cheddar link paired with crispy hash browns. A handful of funny animal parts rounded out the starters, like veal tongue, beef marrow and tripe.
Now onto burgers, which at class restaurants are usually over-priced and under-satisfying. Not so at DBGB, where they’re over-priced ($14-$19 for a mere 6 oz.) but immensely satisfying. Boulud’s three patties get progressively more decadent, starting with The Yankee: iceberg, tomato, Vidalia onion and Essex Street pickles on a sesame-seed bun — add Vermont cheddar and crispy bacon for one of NYC’s newest best-burger contenders. Next, The Piggie comes heaped with Daisy May’s pulled pork BBQ for an oozy, tangy, Dixie-fied experience on a cheddar-cornbread bun. The trio culminates with the ridiculously rich Frenchie, topped with confit pork belly and morbier cheese. It left me eating quinoa for a week. And definitely get a side of fries, because smartly, even super chef Daniel recognizes it’s best to suck it up and replicate McDonald’s as close as humanly possible: thin, crisp, salty, perfect.
The non-burger entrees are categorically solid — like the sautéed salmon and juicy roasted chicken with ratatouille — as are the beer-heavy desserts, but DBGB is patently best suited for ground meat lovers.
As expected, the wines are stellar. But it’s all about the beer because — with the influence of big names like Boulud — food and wine folk are finally embracing the world’s greatest alcoholic beverage (personal opinion). There’s a long list of drafts and bottles stocked with insanely complex Belgians like Houblin Chouffe and bold American crafts like the funky Avery Sixteen and Sixpoint’s biting Righteous Rye. My only nitpick: the wine-schooled staff was occasionally befuddled at my beer order.
So Boulud’s empire expands, seamlessly uniting worldly sausage with American fast-food and amazing beer. Call it Boulud’s humbled embrace of lowly comfort food. Or overt capitalist trend-watching. Whatever the motivation, DBGB is a total success. And at a price that could almost be considered affordable for a Michelin-starred chef. Also, bonus points for the ketchup squeeze bottles, which must be totally painful for a French master.