When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: The Dirty Drummer
Location: 2303 North 44th Street
Open: About six weeks
Eats: Bar food like burgers, wings, and appetizers
Price: $12 to $20 per person
Hours: 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., daily
Good luck entering the reopened, remodeled Dirty Drummer for a one and done. It’s too welcoming, with its wood-paneled walls, soft country or classic rock playing, and the variety of seating options.
But the big pusher for extending your stay, or maybe the reason you’re going in the first place, is the open grill behind the bar. After all, it is an eating and drinking place, and there’s a reason the “eating” descriptor comes first.
The grill is a nod to the bars of yesteryear, like Robert's Western World in Nashville and The Old Pink in Buffalo, New York. The smell of the fryer and the sizzle of the grill make you want a fried baloney sandwich, chicken wings, or better yet, a big, juicy burger.
That’s the specialty at The Dirty Drummer: the aptly named Drummer burger.
The one-third-pound burgers are cooked on the spot, and you can even watch, depending on your seat. Patties are, as it states on the menu, made with “fresh, lean specially ground beef delivered daily, prepared the way you like them, flavored with wine.”
There’s the Drummer, the Cheese Drummer with choice of American, Swiss, cheddar, or pepper jack, the Chili Drummer, and the Super Drummer — clocking in at two-thirds of a pound. The Dirty Drummer has also recently introduced an Impossible Burger to the menu, with a vegan-friendly plant-based patty, as well as meat and cheese boards and a few more additions.
All burgers are served with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, and mayo on the side, if requested, along with ice-cream-scoop-style potato salad, cottage cheese, bagged chips, or crinkle fries. You can also add sautéed mushrooms, sautéed peppers and onions, bacon, grilled green chile, or jalapeños.
My dining companion and partner, when asked his thoughts on the Super Drummer, made two points. “It was good. I liked it.”
And that’s because it was. And he did.
The burgers here are perfectly cooked, perfectly juicy — soaking the bottom bun to make the last couple of bites more malleable and flavorful. Sometimes, a poofy bun will overpower the meat and cheese of an otherwise good burger. Not the case here. The flavor of that wine-cooked patty rings through.
Everything else is backyard barbecue-grade — buns, lettuce and tomato, crisp white onion, Heinz ketchup and mustard — which is fine. But the patty, the patty could be eaten alone like a steak with a fork and knife.
Dana Armstrong, owner of the Dirty Drummer in its 2019 version, and daughter to one of its original owners, Frank "Drummer" Armstrong, made it a point to keep the Drummer burger legend alive — as well as the rest of the menu.
The reopening saw not only a return of the word-for-word menu from 1975 (though, some additions will be made this week), but some people as well.
Eddie Chavez worked as a cook at the Dirty Drummer for 10 years before it closed in December 2018. He then started a job at the Ole Brass Rail on Thomas Road not too far away. When the Drummer reopened, Armstrong says regulars kept mentioning him. That’s when Armstrong and business partner Tom Bernard went on a mission to offer Chavez some hours back at the Drummer.
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After a couple of shifts, Chavez came back to the Drummer full time as kitchen manager.
“It was key to us getting the kitchen operating on all cylinders,” Armstrong says. “And it felt kind of like a Cheers, Gary's Olde Towne Tavern scenario.”
Therefore, the Drummer burgers here taste as they did — as they should.
This is the type of bar burger that brings people in on their lunch break, returning to the office smelling faintly of the grill. It sticks to your ribs and stays on your fingertips, prepping you for a night of back-to-back Hamm’s or Old Style.