It’s happening beneath your feet. You’re standing in line at The Commissary, eyeing the glossy candy apples painted like they were plucked out of a dark fairy tale. Underneath your feet, there’s a frosty basement.
You won't get to see the basement, but one afternoon, we did. Clean, cold air set to 45 degrees causes breath to fog and keeps the chuck cold as it passes through the gleaming Hobart grinder. The meat production — the dry-aging of 44 Farms chuck alongside fresh chuck going through the grinder — happens in the basement at downtown’s new butcher shop, bakery and cafe.
Pass through Commissary's kitchen, behind a blistering log of porchetta rotating calmly in front of flames, and you'll find enough backrooms and compartments that you’ll think you’ve entered the food version of the Titanic, without the classism and the iceberg. Homemade buns, painted by a butter sprayer until they shine, are hot and puffy and sitting on metal rack. Some are dipped in poppy seeds.
Chef Zach Dunphy, sporting a 44 Farms hat and neat apron, ushers us through a narrow hallway that slopes upward to an elevator. We take the elevator one floor down and are greeted by two more swinging saloon doors that lead to a frigid room. Inside are the dry-aged beef program, a walk-in fridge of sheer beauty and slumbering mountains of aging chuck. It’s Dunphy’s baby. A humming box in the corner sucks the moisture out of the air, coddling the chuck as it ages. The beef is aged a minimum of 28 days before it's made into burgers.
“We try to cap it at 35 days — if a little 35-day chuck gets in there, I’m not going to get mad about it," Dunphy says.
Why take the month to dry-age 44 Farms beef? Simply put, the process intensifies the beef flavor. The longer the chuck sits in a proper cold room, moisture vacuumed out, the mightier the beef flavor is. The moisture dissolves from the lean parts, not the fat, and the fat carries the gorgeous flavor. Dunphy grinds everything twice.
The burger patties are hand formed in the chilly air, then ushered upstairs. There, the patties are seasoned with salt only, no pepper, and grilled until medium rare. Make sure you request pink; this is a burger that’s sourced as locally as the floor below you.
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“I like grilled flavor, too, but when you have a nice patty and you get that sear, and it gets browned and crusted on the bottom, there’s nothing better," Dunphy says.
The real treat of this $10 burger is that it’s approachable. In this age of the artisan, getting lost in the process of chef-driven bar food is easy. Flavor, in this weird food age, sometimes takes a back seat to maximizing a burger’s Instagram presence. Commissary, for all its effort, keeps things simple. It’s a lunch-sized burger, clocking in at around 6.3 ounces, made with precision and care. There’s one single seasoning. The dry-age, about 25 percent of the burger grind, causes deltas of buttery meat juices. In a city of $18 burgers, this one is priced just right.
Homemade everything — including the jalapeño relish, the fancy mayonnaise and the bun — isn’t just flash and bragging rights. The burger’s kept simple because it’s practical. Everything needed is an elevator ride away.
The Commissary, 1217 Main St.