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'Top Chef' Alumnus Sinks His Teeth Into NoMa | Food Court

Warren Rojas/CQ Roll Call
The SCOTUS-themed Sonia from the Bronx burger features avocado, sharp cheddar, herb-spiked mushrooms and flame-licked Romaine lettuce heaped atop a turkey patty.

The bar is a work in progress but already shows promise. Draft and bottled brews run from $6 for a local pour (DC Brau) to $15 for coveted imports (Chimay Grande Reserve), with plenty of craft brews — Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils, Founders All Day IPA, Allagash White, Magic Hat #9 — floating around in between. Dean said he has about 30 hand-picked selections in place now but stressed that he hopes to double that catalog in short order.

Much like his geographically tagged burgers (more on that in a minute), Dean has slapped some familiar monikers on his signature cocktails including a rum-spiked cooler dubbed the “Marco Rubio” and a bourbon-basil thirst quencher known as the “Rand Paul.”

The menu is basically a rehashing of established favorites from Largo, with a few modifications. The “classic” cheeseburger there has become the George Washington here. Same deal for the Loree Blue (Timothy Blue there), Abe Lincoln (Martin O’Malley there) and the RG3 (grilled ahi there) offerings.

Nomenclature aside, simplicity trumps garishly over-the-top productions.

Take the Obama burger. What good are the dulcet Maui onions and tangy honey mustard woven into the tribute to 44 if the underlying beef is distressingly dry?

Likewise for the SCOTUS-themed Sonia from the Bronx burger. Did we appreciate the lush avocado, sharp cheddar, herb-spiked mushrooms and flame-licked Romaine lettuce heaped atop the featured protein? Absolutely. Were we able to actually taste the terribly bland turkey patty? Not so much.

Our mouths made out much better with the standard Loree Blue. The mouthwatering treat delivered sanguine meat nestled on a bed of vibrant blue cheese crumbles and was crisscrossed with strips of savory-sweet, maple-tweaked bacon.

The other crowd pleaser was the dressed-to-the-nines Thomas Jefferson. “I think people love seeing that fried egg come out,” Dean said of the top seller.

The TJ fired on all cylinders, draping the juicy meat in gooey Muenster, a lacy sunny-side-up egg, lusty Applewood bacon and zesty house-made dressing. Each bite was an absolute pleasure.

According to Dean, Jefferson leads the pack, but others are quickly catching up.

The George Washington burger, topped with American cheese, juicy tomatoes, piquant red onions and crisp lettuce, is tied with the Sonia as second-most-popular sandwich. The Abe Lincoln, seasoned with Dean’s secret, Baltimore-born 21-spice rub and capped with smoked Gouda, house-made barbecue sauce and pickles, rounds out the list of favored grill fare.

“Pizza’s in third place right now,” Dean said of his oven-baked stragglers.

We get why.

The Palladin pie, named for Dean’s mentor, the iconic, late chef Jean-Louis Palladin, literally took our companions’ breath away, inundated as it was with truffle oil. Many slices proved uneven, boasting some, but never all, of the promised ingredients (roasted foie gras, grilled figs, duck confit, rhubarb). We managed to identify the duck and indulge in some foie but remained hard-pressed to pick out a piece of fig or rhubarb.

Dean insists the burger version ($13; the most expensive sandwich of the bunch) is slowly gaining ground.

“It hasn’t sold as much because of the price ... but they’re loving it,” he said of the foie fans who know from gourmet dining.

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