It was after a trip to Italy where they spent time enjoying amazing food and life in general -- you can color me jealous right now -- that Dean Gold thought to himself: why not open my own restaurant?
Just about three years later, in July 2005, Gold and his wife Kay Zimmerman opened Dino in Cleveland Park. With subsequent annual trips to Italy, Gold continued to taste some of the best restaurants and foods the country had to offer, and also meet with producers and distributors of great artisan inputs directly, much of which now forms the foundation for the menu at the restaurant today.
So far, so good for Gold & Zimmerman. Their restaurant is consistently rated amongst the very best Italian restaurants in the DC area by readers of Washingtonian magazine, and rightfully so. Their handmade pastas look insanely delicious and their antipasti look about as authentic as you could possibly get in the DC area, and yet this place isn’t just about authentic & phenomenal Italian food. When word quickly spread that Dino had an incredible cheeseburger, it was as if the burger signal was lit in the sky, and the DMVBW gang quickly gathered to visit Dino and sample their burger faster than you can say “Commissioner Gordon.”
Their all day deal of a burger and beer for $15, served all night long at the bar, was devilishly tempting. When you can offer me the opportunity of getting a burger and a brew during a Friday happy hour (when I happened to make my visit) alongside the likelihood of getting a lot more than just a couple of coins back in return after I hand you a $20, we’re going to be great friends.
Let’s just say that we’ve had some interesting experiences during our visits to Dino, spanning both ends of the “interesting” spectrum. On one of our visits, a couple of us had the chance to chat with the owner, Dean Gold, himself, as well as enjoying a meal at the bar with the fine folks at DonRockwell.com.
On my visit, my wife and I had the chance to sit next to a somewhat disheveled wierdo at the bar, who spent the the next half hour or so shoveling down copious amounts of free antipasti (I lost count somewhere around his fifth plate) and obnoxiously asking for refills of his club soda (the only thing he actually ordered). Needless to say, our bartender wasn’t expecting much of a tip from the guy’s bar tab (I’m pretty sure the guy gave exact change anyway; stay classy).
Nutjobs aside, if you’re planning on dining at the bar in order to take advantage of the aforementioned dynamic duo of dinner (the burger & brew), come as early as possible. The bar area has very limited seating, and it can get filled up pretty quickly (rightfully so) on prime evenings.
If/when you do get a seat, you won’t be disappointed. The large platters of antipasti are an inviting alternative to your typical stale chips or dirty peanuts at a given watering hole, and they’re served on large complimentary plates for those dining at the bar (as our vagrant bar neighbor excessively helped himself to). The bartenders are friendly and do a fine job checking up on you, making sure that another cold beer -- from their great selection of local brews -- is never far away.
As soon as my burger was placed in front of me, I knew I’d have my hands full -- both figuratively and literally -- when trying to put away this burger. It’s positively massive, enough to where some people may even say it’s “too big” (although such a phrase doesn’t really exist in our lexicon). If we’re comparing burgers to boats, some burgers are yachts, some burgers are speed boats, some burgers are cruise liners, but this burger was an aircraft carrier.
Dino deserves huge credit, because the novelty-sized 10 oz. burger patty made from hormone & antibiotic free local Roseda Farms beef was cooked to an almost perfect medium. And it shouldn’t be any surprise, then, that this perfectly cooked burger was also incredibly juicy, evident from my very first few bites into it.
The meat was really flavorful, even if it didn’t really have much of the traditional seasoning that we look for in a great burger. But, in this case and like many other venues that use very high quality beef, there’s no need to either augment or kill the natural flavor of the dry aged Roseda beef used for this hamburger patty.
[I]t shouldn’t be any surprise, then, that this perfectly cooked burger was also incredibly juicy, evident from my very first few bites into it.
We also need to take a moment or three to talk about the ciabatta bread bun used for Dino’s Hamburger, because it’s truly a game changer for this burger. The deliciously crusty bread blended the elements of a great sandwich together with the enormous and juicy beef patty, giving this burger a unique twist that we haven’t enjoyed anywhere. Because of the natural construct of ciabatta bread, the crusty exterior of the bread held together wonderfully despite holding up such a juicy burger; I believe any other bun would’ve turned into a jar of baby food when trying to hold together this juicy behemoth.
Like some of the other “fancier” burgers we’ve tried, there weren’t any of the standard produce offerings -- lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles -- instead going with the simple offering of beef, buns, cheese, and anchovy & Sriracha aioli. A lot of places serve their own house made sauce that’s almost always ketchup or mayonnaise-based, and usually ending up tasting like every other burger sauce from every other restaurant out there. But the sauce at Dino doesn’t fall into that trap. I loved the taste of the Sriracha mixed with other spices -- does my palate taste Turmeric, perhaps -- as well as the fact that the sauce was liberally applied, yet didn’t overwhelm the burger whatsoever.
We were all fans of the standard “Prairie Breeze American Cheddar cheese” on this burger, easily some of the better cheddar we’ve tried to date. It did everything you could possibly ask from cheese on a burger, adding the key buttery, salty, and gooey aspects that one would expect.
Instead of your traditional side accompaniment of french fries or anything of that ilk, you get a side of a very basic house salad that’s really nothing more than some mixed greens tossed in a light olive oil dressing, and a small bowl of what I like to call a “modern deconstructed Cole Slaw.” I’m not really a cole slaw guy myself, so I happily used the basic-but-just-right salad to help cleanse the palate every so often, so that I could enjoy my burger to the level it deserved to be enjoyed.
Usually when a place serves you such a burger leviathan in a manner like Dino’s does, it ends up looking better than it tastes. You can’t say that about the burger here, though. It does a masterful job of mixing together a huge burger, optimally cooked juicy patty, very thick and very sharp cheddar, grilled ciabatta bun, and house made sauce, without any particular component really overpowering the next.
So here’s my recommendation: if you’re a guy, tell your significant other that you’re taking her out to a fancy Italian dinner, somewhere that she can get a glass of great wine and plate of awesome handmade pasta. It’s a win-win; she gets to say she got to enjoy high end Italian food and wine, and you can still stuff your face with one of the top burgers in the DMV area. You can thank us later, hopefully after she does the same to you (if you catch our drift!).