Shark jaws hang over the front door, which means you’re somewhere else right now. Oyster brine and lemons — the bartender slices neat zest strips — create the cologne in the air. This is Dallas’ Preston Center, but once inside Montlake Cut, there is a retreat disguised as a seafood restaurant cheeseburger. It’s a vacation. Behind this sandwich, you’re miles away.
Montlake Cut is quieter than usual at 11 a.m., a few minutes after opening — dinnertime is typically packed at the small bar. The clean marble counters host a few solo diners already. It’s one of the best spots in the city to dine and drink alone. Why? Because food, no matter what it is, tastes better when the aroma of freshly shucked oysters is nearby. For the cold-beer-only folks, Goldfish crackers make an appearance.
At $17, Montlake’s cheeseburger is one of the more expensive lunch sandwiches in the city. It’s also worth every ounce of the currency in your pocket, including those dust pellets and the balled-up CVS receipt. The cheeseburger is a hulking two-hander that is guaranteed to send rivulets of charred, griddle-darkened juices running down the back of your hand.
It's a minimalist retreat of a sandwich — there is no flown-in bacon or extraordinary sauces. Ingredients are few, executed with the same sharpness as the shark teeth above the door. Stacked under the patty are neat shreds of lettuce; deeply red, drunk-with-sunshine tomatoes (sliced thin); and onions slight enough to be invisible when held to a light. They accept the brisket-short rib patty’s juices into their open arms.
“A lot of time when you have the toppings on top, everything just falls apart,” says Andrew Jardim, a sous chef with Flavorhook, Nick Badovinus’ company that manages each of his restaurants. Jardim has been running things in Montlake’s kitchen for the past few weeks.
“All the accompaniments, vegetable-wise — onions, lettuce, tomato — that’s all cut fresh to order,” Jardim says. “So none of that’s prepared ahead of time.”
The brioche bun caps in the toppings, including a thick slice of Tillamook cheddar. The Thousand Island dressing is another luxury. It mixes mayo, chili sauce, ketchup, sweet relish, golden balsamic vinegar, lemon, parsley and Hungarian paprika. All of that's swiped over the bottom bun before it receives the lettuce.
The patty, seasoned with salt and a heavy grind of pepper, is seared with a good crust under the melted cheddar. This is the kind of cheeseburger for which you set an out-of-office away message. Here is a sample auto reply for your copy and pasting needs:
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SHOW ME HOW
I am knee deep in a cheeseburger until [fill in the date] and responding to email when the blood continues to flow again to my brain. For urgent needs, please email [insert co-worker’s name]. I appreciate your patience.
[Insert your name]
It takes time to devour a Montlake Cut cheeseburger, and it should. This should not be the sandwich you attack in between conference calls. It deserves a Twitter-free existence. Halfway through the cheeseburger, juices running onto the plate, the price fades away. Once it's gone, there's a momentary sadness, like any vacation that's over, and then you're refreshed. We appreciate your patience.
Montlake Cut, 8220 Westchester Drive (Preston Center)