Before any patty hits the griddle at Kitchen LTO, there’s plenty of work to be done. Cream, butter and vegetable stock bubble up in a pan before receiving shards of smoked cheddar, white cheddar and cream cheese. It’s kept at a very low temperature so it doesn’t burn on the edges. If it burns, it’s going to the garbage. With a little agar powder at the end, the sauce gets poured into sheet trays and chilled. Then, removing the trays, it’s cut it into thin squares and wrapped in parchment. This is Kitchen LTO’s house-made American cheese, and it’s the star of chef Joshua Harmon’s spectacular new smashed burger.
“I’ve always loved American cheese,” young exec chef Harmon says, overflowing with excitement while he talks about the burger. He’s sitting at the bar, wearing a small cap with the lid flipped up, his beard scruffy. “A big thing we try to do with this menu is invoke emotion.” In other words, he wants to stir your memories with an elevated burger. He wants his 12-buck burger to remind you of the drive-thru burgers you got as a kid.
On my first visit, I ordered LTO’s burger at brunch with some friends. I was immediately intoxicated by the saucy, sticky American cheese. Harmon’s created his own liquid gold, damn it. I may have missed several points of my friends’ conversation, brain numbed and pupils dilated. I found myself drifting off, pondering the burger’s ingredients at work. What was in that mayo that made it so damn good? Garlic, black pepper and lemon juice, Harmon says.
The burger itself is fatty and tender and rich all at once. Dry-aged ground beef, from Arrowhead in Kansas, is ground into the Texas Akaushi (like wagyu) beef, along with fat from LTO’s beef tenderloin for steak-level burgering. Harmon was inspired by burgers from his childhood, like those tiny, steamed dashes of white onion that merged with the beef at McDonald's.
“This is the best part about this burger,” Harmon says. “You have texture from the char. I want texture.” Sheets of onion are slapped directly onto the hot griddle under the patty so they steam the beef from the bottom up and ultimately caramelize. It gets a coat of salt and pepper and one good flip.
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On a second visit, there were more of those griddle-smashed onions to go around. A crown of sheer, tender white onions seared right into the crust of my patty. Rounds of paper-thin pickles knife through the richness of the cheese and fresh mayo. The bun is soft, a brioche from Village Bakery. The flavor will transport you. I imagined eating the whole thing off the hood of a ’57 Ford Thunderbird at a drive-in.
“That ground beef is ... I’ll go ahead and throw it out there. That’s like the best ground beef in DFW,” Harmon says. “If anyone wants to throw down, we can. That’s the one.”
Talking with Harmon, you’ll believe that he’s ready to toss the gloves. He’s ready for his food to cause a stir. And it will. The sandwich comes with sweet potato fries and a kimchi ketchup that’s worth its weight in Velveeta gold. The burger is big and flavorful and indulgent — and ready to throw down.
Kitchen LTO, 2901 Elm St.