The importance of clear restaurant branding was taught to me at the CIA (the Culinary Institute of America, not the Central Intelligence Agency). The same point is often brought home in the monthly publication of the NRA (the National Restaurant Association, not the National Rifle Association). Yet for some time, I've mistakenly thought that DGB, or Damn Good Burger, was a newer downtown branch of the hamburger joint of the same name in Coral Gables. Of course, the Gables venue I thought was DGB is actually BGR the Burger Joint.
I also foolishly assumed CG Burgers was located in Coral Gables, but the only current Miami spot, which debuted this past May, is at the Palms at Town & Country in Kendall. (CG Burgers will be in CG soon enough — at the Village of Merrick Park come late January or early February).
This onslaught of acronyms is enough to make me want to just go eat at Five Guys Burgers (or do I mean Five Napkin Burger?).
CG Burgers and Damn Good Burger
Daily 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Pub burger $5.95
Kobe burger $9.95
French fries $2.75
Chocolate shake $4.50
DGB: Damn Good Burger 305-718-6565; dgbmiami.com
Daily 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Damn Good Burger $5.99
Bnh m burger $7.99
French fries $2.50
Chocolate shake $4.25
In the public interest, let me at least draw clean distinctions between two of the acronymed burger joints: DGB (Damn Good Burger) and CG Burgers (CG doesn't stand for char-grilled, but for owner Carmine Giardini of Carmine's Coal Fired Pizza fame).
Both are impressive-looking for burger joints — actually, they're not joints at all, but lofty emporiums. CG's floor-to-ceiling windows (and outdoor seats) look out on a pleasant mall lake fronted by palm trees. Natural sunlight beams throughout the room, which features an ordering counter, banquette seating, and a fast-casual ambiance. Draft beer and wine are served.
DGB is operated by the same ownership as Mia at Biscayne. It occupies part of that erstwhile club's two-level space, redone with a pop-poster-plastered interior. Outdoors is a sprawling patio/lounge with a full bar and banquette seats under partial roofing. And while you might not want to linger at a McDonald's terrace for long no matter how nicely designed, there are strong incentives for doing so here, with 20 top craft brews ($5.15), domestic and imported beers ($3.50 to $5.50), Scotch on the rocks ($7), mojitos ($6), and rum and Cokes ($5).
Signature burger. At DGB, the signature Damn Good Burger is not damn good. It's a single, somewhat thin eight-ounce patty (hard to believe this is a half-pounder) on a soft potato bun burnished with the namesake acronym (I don't know about anyone else, but I really don't need to have my hamburger roll branded.
The beef was buttressed by lettuce, overly large chunks of red onion, a tomato slice the color of cantaloupe, little potato sticks, and a slightly spicy ketchup/mayonnaise-based sauce. The beef is an admirable mix of Black Angus chuck, short rib, and brisket that is "humanely raised, hormone free, antibiotic free" and, in burger form, $5.99. At the counter, an employee asked how we'd like our burgers cooked; we said medium-rare. The Damn Good Burger came very well done, fatless, and extremely dry; those potato sticks didn't help moisten it either. (The menu, incidentally, states all burgers are cooked medium unless otherwise requested.)
There's also the option to BYOB (build your own burger) by taking a single or double stack ($4.99 or $6.99) and adding any of six cheeses for 75 cents and choice of bacon, avocado, chili, coleslaw, or mushrooms for a buck apiece.
CG's "classic" hamburger comes on a choice of sesame seed or whole-wheat bun. Both are fresh and soft. You can get a single burger for just $3.95, a double for $5.99, a six-ounce single patty for $5.95 (the "pub burger"), and a nine-ouncer for $7.95. The beef — all-natural, antibiotic free, certified Angus — exuded a full, beefy flavor. I chose lettuce, tomato, and pickle slices for garnish; jalapeños, horseradish chipotle sauce, grilled onions, mushrooms, and peppers are other complimentary topping options. Any of seven cheeses, bacon, or avocado are 60 cents each.
Edge: CG, where the burger had more flavor and juice. DGB's frita-like inclusion of chips inside the bun doesn't do much for me, even when the burger isn't overcooked. Plus CG's burger comes with many more free accessories to heap upon it.
Specialty burger. The flavor of DGB's beef seemed better in the slightly less well-done bánh mì burger, which has the same patty but with a bacon-thin cap of pork belly, pickled carrot shreds, cilantro leaves, and mild jalapeño rings. With all of those distractions, it is indeed a tasty burger ($7.99). The other signature is a "black and blue," with black-peppered bacon and blue cheese ($6.70).
A Cuban burger at CG comes appealingly adorned with smoked ham, Swiss cheese, pickle slices, and mustard ($5.95). Other specials are the Napa Valley burger (goat cheese, arugula, and balsamic honey mustard), Philly cheeseburger, and South Beach burger (topless, the patty wrapped in lettuce instead).
Edge: DGB. The bánh mì is more distinct than any of CG's offerings and has that great fat/vinegar lift that makes the Vietnamese sandwich so tasty. On the other hand, the Cuban burger is two bucks cheaper.
Variety of beef. DGB's burgers are composed of the same meats. CG proffers a six-ounce USDA Prime burger ($7.95) that didn't taste noticeably better than the less expensive classic. It also puts forth a six-ounce Kobe burger ($9.95). A hamburger is one of the worst ways to sample this delicate beef, especially when one usually must pay $20 or more to do so. There is nothing especially Kobe-like about the burger (which comes well done unless otherwise specified, which is likewise a lousy way to get the Kobe attributes), but it is delicious and moister than the others. That said, most folks won't deem it worth $4 more than the $5.95 pub burger. Patties culled from bison and turkey are also up for grabs at CG, as is a solid Praeger vegetable burger. DGB puts out a good vegetarian version as well.
French fries/onion rings. "We don't sell fast food, we sell damn good food as fast as possible" is one of DGB's mottoes. The curly fries ($2.50), however, are pure fast food — frozen, preseasoned, and lacking any potato flavor. On the plus side, the fries are crisp and don't taste bad. Onion rings ($2.99) are a bit greasy but otherwise OK.
Bags of fresh Two Good Potatoes line one of the walls at CG, and they are turned into some of the best fries in the city ($2.75). Onion rings are similar to DGB's ($3.75; a larger portion than at DGB).
Edge: CG. Big advantage for the fries; onion rings are a draw.
Shakes. The chocolate shakes at both spots are thick and enjoyable. DGB's is $4.25; CG's is $4.50 (with an option of a malted shake for 50 cents more).
Edge: It's a draw. And BTW, neither shake compares to Shake Shack's.
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Conclusion: I like both restaurants. DGB's burger is tasty, and the place is A-OK for hanging out and having a fun, affordable lunch — or spending happy hour after work. The bar scene is what distinguishes this DGB from many other burger places in town. CG will probably prove more appealing to burger purists, partly because there are many more choices and options of high-grade beef, and also because having great fries is incumbent to achieving an ideal burger combo.
P.S.: I have formed a group called Folks Against Acronyms (FAA), but my mailbox keeps getting littered with letters intended for the Federal Aviation Administration.