3312 SE Belmont St., Portland OR 97214 (map); 503-235-0146; dkportland.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Dubbed "the world's first Stone Age diner," Dick's Kitchen promotes the Paleolithic Diet, to its detriment. Crushingly disappointing burgers are missing one crucial element: salt
Want Fries with That? These tough-as-nails air-baked "not fries" are "not good"
Prices: 5-ounce Bacon Burger with pimento cheese, $10.75; Wild Boar Burger w/cheddar and "not fries," $10.45
Salt. Without it, your precious all-natural grass-fed ground beef is nothing. Nowhere is this more painfully obvious than Dick's Kitchen, a bizarre pastiche of old-school '50s diners, greasy spoons, and upscale sit-down restaurants that works on none of these levels.
Owner Richard Satnick based the Dick's Kitchen menu off the Paleolithic Diet popularized by gastroenterologist Walter L. Voegtlin in the 1970s. It was designed to mirror the actual diet of ancient man: primarily carnivorous, with little to no grains, dairy, refined sugar, or salt.
There it is again—salt—the key to a great burger (the key to great meat, really), and the restaurant's very foundation is dead set against it. Dick's Kitchen never had a chance.
That much was clear from the first bite of the Bacon Burger, to which I added the housemade pimento cheese. The patty of grass-fed Carman Ranch beef got a toasty sear and came out tasting oddly carbonized despite the lack of over-charring. Cooked a bit past the requested medium, it was dry and flavorless, nothing more than a physical presence under a chapeau of cheese, bacon, veggies, and bun.
Despite the tower of toppings, only the bacon came through. The pimento cheese, so delicious and sharp when it's done well, also fell victim to this egregious aversion to sodium.
As if to make up for the fact that the food is minimally salted in the kitchen, a grinder of sea salt rests on every table near a conspicuous placard suggesting that, should you find the food's salt content a little lacking, you may feel free to add more at your discretion. Fine in theory, but...no, not fine in theory. Adding salt to the patty after it's already been cooked doesn't draw out the flavors in the beef nearly as well and leaves a crunchy, grainy texture on the outside of your burger. In the words of Alton Brown, that's not good eats.
Let's move on. Every week, Dick's Kitchen makes a specialty burger with an unconventional meat. This week it was wild boar, so I gave it a shot, opting to top it with Wisconsin farmhouse cheddar. What a waste of a buck. As I've said time and time again, if you're not using extra sharp cheddar (and a lot of it), then there's no reason to use cheddar at all. Mild cheddar is flavorless on a burger, and it was most certainly flavorless on this one.
As to the boar itself, I would love to know how the restaurant managed to make a patty as crammed with pockets of gristle as this one so very, very dry. The boar was expectedly gamey, with a pronounced funkiness that instantly put me off. I ate about a third of the burger and could tread that path no further.
Well, how about the fries? First of all, they're not fries at all, but "not-fries," as they quite literally are not fried. Instead, they're air-baked, which is code for "transmogrified into balsa wood." Hot from the oven, they're lightly (very lightly) dusted with a seasoned salt that does virtually nothing to bring out any flavor in the potato. Tough as leather, they're saved only by the housemade chipotle ketchup, the first thing here that actually tastes like something. The mayo-heavy "secret special sauce," on the other hand, had an interesting chunky texture going for it, but no flavor to speak of. But that ketchup ... it has a mean kick to it, so don't go horking it down unless you have your water glass handy, or in my case ...
... a chocolate malt. And while Dick's Kitchen has long way to go toward getting the consistency of the shake right, they have the maltiness down in spades. Seriously, this was the single maltiest milkshake I have ever consumed. It was like liquid Whoppers. The shake itself is quite thin, but the malt is so powerful and delicious that it's a forgivable sin. Dick's Kitchen's one forgivable sin.
I don't mean to bring on the hate, but everything about this meal (except the shake) frustrated me. Do people actually want to eat like this? At these prices? The owner seems to think so: he's opening a second location on NW 21st. I don't wish Satnick any ill will, I just wish he'd put salt in his food. Oh the difference those little white crystals would make.
About the author: Adam Lindsley is a Seattle-based writer, musician, and the author of the pizza blog, This Is Pizza. As a contributor for both Slice and A Hamburger Today, he is contractually obligated to say he loves pizza and burgers in equal amounts. Which is to say he is a polygamist.