Up until now there hasn’t been a burger on the menu at The Old Sage, Dana Tough and Brian McCracken’s ten-month-old, smoke-fueled restaurant and bar on Capitol Hill. A bar without a burger? That’s like no S’mores at a campfire.
A burger builds trust. “A burger speaks to everyone, as opposed to say, lavender smoked pork cheeks,” said McCracken and Tough, speaking on the phone in tandem, as they tend to do. “You get someone to trust you on that level and they come in again and try other things.”
“A good burger has everything to do with the bread,” they contend. “We knew we could get the toppings right. It was the bun that took work.” A month of work. Fortunately, Old Sage chef de cuisine Matt Woolen is “a gifted baker.” He created a pain au lait, or milk bun, with a bit more texture than brioche. It’s designed to hold its structure as it soaks up the juices from an all-beef Painted Hills patty that’s been cold-smoked on hickory and mesquite then cooked in a 600-degree hearth oven.
Also between the bun: gruyere, bacon (cured and smoked in house, natch) and onion agrodolce, a jammy, sweet-and-sour melt-down enriched with veal demi-glace. (In the photo above, they also included, then nixed, pale, speckled leaves of Castelfranco radicchio.) There’s a hit of urfa biber (Turkish chili pepper) in the aioli. The side of root chips (taro, yucca, carrot and beet) are seasoned with spring onion-buttermilk powder (think ranch dressing, dehydrated and pulverized).
Just last week my colleague Rebekah Denn reported on a ranking in The Daily Meal of the best burgers nationwide. Sounds to me like The Old Sage burger could be a contender for the next list. The $15 dish made its debut this past weekend as a special. Look for it on the regular menu beginning this week.