Restaurant entrepreneur Mark DiMartino fairly brims awith ideas. His latest project, Grind Burger Bar & Lounge, is one of the few attempts to bring the build-it-yourself burger concept—so successful on the Strip—to an off-Strip location, and at a price point well below what you have to pay in a casino.
The idea, also employed at predecessors Burger Bar, Le Burger Brasserie and BLT Burger, is a relatively fail-safe one. Choose between four types of patties (in this case: premium ground chuck, fresh ground turkey, a patty-shaped chicken breast and meatless, a fat disc that tastes vaguely like falafel), pick one of four buns and choose from a selection of imaginative toppings, sauces or cheese. The permutations are endless.
An aside: Perhaps DiMartino wasn’t aware that one of the restaurant’s trademarks, a woman seated Japanese-style in what is called the seiza position (legs folded, rump on the heels), would cause controversy. Because the figure is divided into cuts of meat like a cow in a butcher shop—rump, round, rib—well, you get the idea. Naturally, this isn’t what most people would call politically correct. DiMartino says it’s all in good fun, of course. He’s already had restaurants called the Slanted Clam and the Tilted Kilt, though, so it’s safe to say he won’t be given an honorary NOW membership anytime soon. But if the rumor that one UNLV professor is offering extra credit to anyone who will write a complaint letter is true, hey, lighten up.
Beyond that, it’s all good news. This is a casual spot, with brick walls and wooden tables, a deconstructed post-modern ceiling space, and individual salt and pepper grinders on all the tables.
Grind’s kitchen actually puts out more than just burgers. Thai calamari is delicious, pieces of deftly fried calamari tossed with a sweet hot Asian-style sauce. Grind does Japanese edamame, those green soy beans you pop out of the pod, a tad better by tossing them around with tiny bits of fried garlic and sea salt. There is an addictively good Buffalo-style half chicken, given the same treatment as chicken wings—fried crisp and accompanied by ranch dressing and little sticks of celery. I would have liked my Grind Chop Chop, a chopped salad, if there were a little less lettuce and more tomato.
But I couldn’t find fault with any of the burgers, other than the fact that my tasty hand-pressed chuck, advertised at a half-pound, must have shrunk mightily during the cooking process. I had mine on a chewy ciabatta bun with cheddar cheese, a fried egg and Nueske’s bacon from Wisconsin. What can I say? I like egg on my hamburger. Is that so wrong?
For those who prefer turkey, this burger, often dry, was nicely moist, and seemed to come up to the eight-ounce billing. The best way to eat the chicken might be the Bump & Grind, a grilled chicken breast with provolone, hot cappacola and Sicilian olive dressing, rather like a New Orleans-style muffaletta. As for the meatless, this is a dense, filling, garbanzo bean patty, spiked with cumin and filled with flavor.
My vegetarian friend had it with ajvar, a roasted red-pepper spread from southern Europe (mostly Serbia), and the house garlic-mayo. You get two toppings and two sauces at no charge. I recommend the chipotle ketchup, the creamy cilantro dressing and the Napa Cabbage Three Pepper Slaw, which is just fine on its own as a side dish.
No one has forgotten the potatoes. You can have your fries sweet and neat (sweet potato), short and thick (your garden variety steak fries) or tall and thin (standard French fries and, in my opinion, the best choice here). Wash your meal down with one of the interesting house brews, or a thick, creamy chocolate or vanilla milk shake.
If you’ve saved room for dessert, there is only one, which Grind calls Vanilla Ice Cream Sliders. What these are, in reality, are profiteroles, French for cream-puff shells filled with ice cream, drizzled with chocolate and topped with whipped cream. DiMartino has no problem with oblique references to women, but French, sacre bleu. He wouldn’t want you to call him pretentious.