If there is a list of the most controversial people in the Capital District food world over the past decade, Dave Khan is surely in the top 5. If you want to relive the highlights, all you need to do is a quick search for something like “Dave Khan burger”…maybe throw in “lion” for good measure. Yes, Dave’s Gourmet Burgers and More is the newish shop (since about January of this year) of Dave Khan, mostly known for his ‘exotic’ burgers, including lion at one time. After seeing the Memphis King himself post something about a great burger at Dave’s, I thought this might be a good stop for my unofficial, impromptu Friday burger tour.
You can see on the website that Dave still has a few ‘exotic’ choices on his menu, but it’s considerably toned down compared to what you read about his two earlier attempts in Albany and Colonie. Kangaroo and rabbit are really the only two that even raise a bit of an eyebrow. Bison, boar, and alligator are practically standard in some places. This incarnation is in an unassuming spot on Broadway in Schenectady. There’s plenty of parking, especially when you consider that there are only four 4-person tables.
And, as for service…there’s Dave. Just Dave. Depending on what you may have read or experienced before, this could be a good or bad thing. Based on a few responses to comments on Steve Barnes’ blog and my own experience, if the Dave people used to lose their minds over was real, then Dave is a new Dave. A kinder, gentler Dave if you will. Still garrulous, but welcoming and friendly, based on my initial impression. Dave says he’s changed, that’s he’s “nicer”. If so, and people give the new, less ‘out there’ menu a chance, new Dave has a shot.
Let’s talk about atmosphere. As I said, the outside isn’t much to look at, but that’s the kind of thing that will come with time if things are going well. Inside is pleasant and still a work in progress based on hearing Dave talk to other patrons.
You almost have a pizza shop, chinese takeout vibe with the signage, but overall it’s actually pretty homey. As for the comments (oddly from a lot of people that said they never went into his earlier shops) about earlier places not being clean, that’s certainly not the case here. Everything was clean in the customer area and you can see right into the kitchen through what would ordinarily be the order passthrough window from the kitchen when you give Dave your order through it. The kitchen also looks fine. Again, it’s just Dave, waiting tables, taking orders, cooking the food, taking your money. Just Dave.
While there were a lot of good looking things on the menu, I knew before I got there that I would probably keep it simple and get the Juicy Lucy, Dave’s take on a simple cheeseburger. Next time, and there should be a next time, I’m going for the lamb masala burger. Being from Pakistan, I bet Dave knocks that out of the park. That’s my burger, obviously, up above. Overflowing with torn, not industrial bagged shredded iceberg lettuce. Also had decent looking tomato and big, crisp pickle chips along with Dave’s secret sauce. I asked for no onion that would otherwise be included. Speared with a knife, that’s a good looking burger on a fresh, tasty roll.
I’ll tell you what, after that BurgerFi burger, anyone responsible would keel over in shame after tasting one of Dave’s seasoned beef patties. No fooling, I’m not sure you could season a burger better. Maybe you like something a little more up front – pepper, salt, garlic, I dunno – but for a general seasoning, this is seriously good. The meat was seared, but still had some pink and was certainly juicy. How about a cross-section?
You can see how loosely packed the burger is by the crumb that’s almost falling apart where I cut it in half (it would have been ridiculous trying to cram that thing into my face without cutting it).
You can also see my one gripe about this monster – the cheese. There are at least two different kinds torn up and stuffed into the burger. Unfortunately, the thinness of the burger around it means that the burger is done before any of that wad of American has even started to melt – it was actually still cool. It’s excess for the sake of excess and the burger suffered, slightly, for it. Form over function = fail. I didn’t let it get me down, though 🙂
The price is not on the bargain scale, that’s for sure. Higher quality ingredients and a hefty menu are probably responsible. I will say this, Dave’s prices are probably more on par with what this type of meal should cost. The $5 mega deal and $4 burger bucket have really done a number on our ability to judge value. If I bought all these ingredients I could probably do a little better on price, but not like pennies on the dollar. Dave’s not buying the quantities that the creepy king and friends buy to keep costs low. Still, even knowing this, and knowing that I am in a position to support someone making better food like this as some are not, it still feels a little expensive. Just a little. Thinking about it impartially, though, I feel like at this price point it is me that needs to recalibrate my value meter, not people like Dave that should be cutting prices to the point that they can’t survive. Dave can cut until he’s out of business in no time and still not compete with the clown, so why do it?
So my Juicy Lucy was $15, but it does come with bottomless “black fries”. I didn’t ask why exactly they are ‘black’ since they aren’t ‘black’ for the most part. According to posted signs, both the fries and oil are aged to increase flavor. I’m not sure how you do that with fries, but they are good fries.
Dave doesn’t mess around with his fries – when they are hot and ready, they come out. If that means a bit after you get your burger, like the other table when I was there, or a couple of minutes before, like me, that’s when you get them. Fresh and hot. I ate all of those with my burger, but didn’t need more. Dave did come out twice while I ate to ask if I or the other table needed more fries. He’s not kidding about the ‘bottomless’ part. I’ve had someone ask if I wanted more “bottomless steak fries” at Red Robin once – (of course they would get you more if you asked). These are probably hand cut, they look like the Five Guys cut and I know they hand cut their fries. These are cooked through and fluffy inside, just the tiniest bit on the soft side, but with some crispness. Not soggy at all and not floppy. I guess any longer you’d probably dry them out actually and the smaller pieces would be just a crunchy shell. I personally get quite a kick out of the fact that Dave can’t even say how many spices he uses on them on the menu – it literally says “12 to 17”. It’s like he’s constantly tinkering with them for optimal yum, or maybe even adapting them a little depending on how a particular batch of potatoes tastes.
Beverages are whatever is in the cooler you can see in that picture. I had a Brisk Lemonade…there were a bunch of Snapples, Mountain Dew, water, Gatorade, Dr. Pepper, root beer, Vitamin Water, etc.
So that’s my first, but hopefully not last, experience with Dave Khan’s burgers. Generally impressive. And let me say one other thing in closing about the food – that pretty big burger and a good sized helping of fries…and I didn’t feel stuffed when I left or later. Oh, I had plenty to eat, but I actually realized like an hour later that I didn’t feel like I’d just forced down a cow. I think the loose pack of the burger provided a decent size with plenty of veggies without ending up like a lead weight in your stomach. And one final thought on price – given the neighborhood and difficulty with getting people over the hump to this price point, I wonder whether Dave should consider doing a basic cheeseburger with a serving of fries, not bottomless, for a lower price point…and whether he could. Just wondering if he could get guys to come in for lunch break and buy that or get a bag of them for lunch at a job site at more of a $10 price point.
I’m pulling for the new Dave and Dave’s Gourmet Burgers…and hope to even try some of the More sometime.