I often get asked by chefs and restaurateurs to suggest ways to separate themselves from the competition -- what they can do to stay relevant, especially in a city that's exploding with new restaurants and a swell of culinary talent. It's usually a long discussion, but if there's one piece of advice that I never stray from, it's this: Always have at least one dish on your menu that stands over -- and above -- everyone else's version of that same dish. Take the cheeseburger, for example. The number of burger joints in Denver is beyond staggering, and every place that flips a burger would have you believe that their burger is the meat to beat. I have news: The burger at the Squeaky Bean, whose kitchen is steered by Theo Adley, is the meat to beat, the boss of all burgers, the best damn burger in the city.
I had it for the first time yesterday, which also marked the first day of the Bean's new lunch service, an added bonus for anyone working downtown."Part of our jam is being more accessible to the neighborhood, and to diversify," says Adley. "There's a lot of daytime foot traffic down here, and adding lunch is an opportunity for people to try us out and then come back for dinner, or vice versa," he adds. Plus, he says, "It's a consistent menu with core items, so if you find something that you really love, it'll still be on the menu the next time you come in."
Like that magnificent burger, a composition of two griddled Niman Ranch, Prime-grade, lightly charred and salted beef patties, their thickness the right side of thin, painted with melted onions, American cheese that's slightly burnt from sizzling on the flattop, straps of pickles (they're from Trü, a local company) to give it a ballpark blitz, and a smear of "special sauce" that's a blend of Hellmann's mayonnaise, Heinz ketchup, Montreal Steak Seasoning, lemon juice, minced onions, razer-thin shards of cornichons and Worcestershire sauce. It's cushioned by a soft bun baked by Grateful Bread, and it's beautifully unfussy, the way a burger should be, and because it's not bastardized by a cargo of gimmicky toppings, the burger tastes like meat -- very, very good meat that, when you bite into it, leaks scarlet juices.
The burger, says Adley, a Jersey boy, was inspired by classic, old-school burger joints like White Castle and White Manna and White Mana, both of which are New Jersey diners. "It's a delicious, comforting, homey throwback to the burgers I grew up with," says Adley, who sold at least one of those burgers to every table yesterday. I suspect he sold plenty of bowls of mussels, too, their plump flesh glossed with a lemongrass-scented broth, the shells crowned with rings of fresh jalapenos. A spring salad of pea shoots, mustard seeds and housemade burrata dressed with a raspberry vinaigrette and toasted crumbs of bread for texture, was excellent, too.
The Squeaky Bean, which serves dinner Tuesday through Saturday and Bingo brunch on Sunday, offers lunch service from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday though Friday.
And honestly, that burger really is a marvel (as was Adley's fried chicken when he was the chef of the now-closed Pinyon in Boulder), and I challenge you to find one better. This is a burger will become a culinary legacy, a singularly fantastic burger that raises the bar for all others.
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Get it, and make sure you try Adley's other lunch additions, too, some of which are photographed below, along with the new lunch menu.