Saddle Up!
[from December 2005 issue]

By the time you read this, all traces of Hamburger Mary’s will be erased, and rising like some casual Phoenix from its ashes: Dakota Cowgirl. For a very brief period, Cowgirl (read, “D-C”) lived in the same rather worn Mary’s skin, with the same string of Christmas lights, shabby painted walls, overhead TVs tuned to CNN, and oversized pin-up posters enlivening the wall by the bar. At this writing, and with only the word of the man in charge, all will become new, shiny, and renovated within a few weeks. Will it look Western? You’ll soon find out.

But, as the man in charge admonished, we will have the same D-C menu, with, as with Hamburger Mary’s, a definite tilt towards the burger repertoire. Spotlighting big, big burgers, the menu reads like a meat-eater’s prescription for ODing on beef: BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger, Meaty Mushroom & Swiss Burger, Frontier Burger, and Blue Cowboy Burger. You get the idea.

From among those, and second on the lineup, the D-C burger struck a familiar chord: two types of cheese (Cheddar and Monterey Jack) are melted on a half-pound hamburger, and accented with grilled onions and crisp bacon strips. With a side of fries, and an appetizer of the diet-blocking Cowgirl Chili Cheese Fries, what could possibly go wrong with lunchtime?

Well, plenty, if you are in something of a hurry, and also happen to be hungry. After what seemed like hours, though really only about 45 minutes, the waitress came fussing to the table to apologize that my entire sit-down lunch, plus some takeout, had been boxed and waiting -- and waiting -- for carry-out pickup. Would I like it served at the table now?

Too little time, and besides, I could readily forego the dessert cheesecake -- a banana caramel cheesecake Xangos topped with ice cream —- that I’d planned on. It’s really delicious, she had promised when she had taken the lunch order. That, or maybe the hot cherry cobbler might have put the exclamation point to the D-C lunch. But guess I won’t find out until some future time.

Was the wait worth it? Sadly, the thick wedges of fried onion rings -- probably crunchy when hot out of the fryer -- had turned into cold and soggy slices, a not very appetizing add-on to the burger order. As for the burger itself, ordered medium-rare but served well-done -- the wait in a Styrofoam box probably didn’t help much either. Fresh from the kitchen, it could have proven a worthy candidate for a stellar burger award.

What stood up to the lag time were the quesadillas -- spinach tortillas wrap around a flavor-charged filling of grilled chicken, melted cheeses, onion, jalapeños, and what tasted like a slathering of chipotle flavors. If you want to underscore the Big West taste, dip sections of the quesadilla into the accompanying scoops of guacamole, sour cream, and salsa. At $8 per order, this could become lunch. Forget the burgers!

The chili cheese fries are also true palate pleasers: a heap of fries are gilded with melted cheddar cheese and spiked with a ladleful of homemade chili. This appetizer could also stand in for lunch, if you just want to bulk up on calories and flavor.

In the mood for something besides casual eats? D-C offers a decent salad selection, from their Capitol Cobb to the hearty Steak and Potato creation. And meat-eaters foregoing the burger scene can pick up a plate of whisky pork chops, a flat-iron steak, baby back ribs, or a 12-ounce ribeye with a choice of sides that include mashed potatoes or Caesar salad. Breakfast, sandwiches and soups, which are served daily until 2 pm, wind up the selection. And starting your day with Texas French toast might not be a bad idea.

But my final thoughts: Service needs a little polishing. Yes, management reduced the bill to apologize for the mix-up, but the order apparently did languish by the kitchen in its white plastic bag. Hmmmmm. . . .

Dakota Cowgirl, 1337 14th St.; tel., 202-232-7010.Hours: Sun., 10am-10:30pm; Mon., 11am-10pm; Tue.-Thu., 11am-10:30pm; Fri., to 11pm; Sat., 10am-11pm. Entrée prices: $7.50-$10.50; burgers, $12.50-$16.50. Major credit cards accepted.

Copyright (c) 2005 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Alexandra Greeley. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.

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