The Dam Cooks Up Bar Food Fit for the Fried

Nov 28, 2013 at 4:00 am
"The Dam" sandwich consists of two patties covered with American and Swiss cheeses and "Dam sauce." See more photos: The Dam cooks up delicious bar food in south city.
"The Dam" sandwich consists of two patties covered with American and Swiss cheeses and "Dam sauce." See more photos: The Dam cooks up delicious bar food in south city. Jennifer Silverberg

Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if even 10 percent of the ideas concocted over a left-handed cigarette at two in the morning came to fruition? On these Doritos and South Park-fueled nights, would-be inventors, entrepreneurs and engineers brainstorm Nobel Prize-worthy ideas, only to have them vaporize into the ether of daytime stoner slackerdom. If only one could harness this brainpower. Perhaps Middle East peace is too much to expect, but I'm sure we would've at least figured out how to 3-D print cinnamon rolls or have drones deliver doughnuts.

I have to imagine that the Dam is the realization of cannabis-infused late-night musings — this burger joint is a version of adult Disneyland. How else can one explain a "Magic Mushroom" burger, a dipping sauce called "brown sugar love" and a playlist that includes back-to-back Santana and Notorious B.I.G.? The Tower Grove quick-service eatery seems capable of sating even the worst case of the munchies.

Actually, the Dam's raison d'etre is soaking up the booze- and adrenaline-fueled hunger that comes over ravenous soccer fans at the adjacent Amsterdam Tavern. Seeing a need for edible offerings at the Tavern, owner Michele Coen-Racanelli (formerly of the now-defunct Big V's Burger Joint in the Loop) partnered with the bar's owners to provide food service for its patrons. The result is what is best described as a burger shack — customers order at the counter, usually from Coen-Racanelli herself, and either sit at the stools lining the windows or wait next door in the bar for their order to be delivered. What distinguishes the Dam from other bar-food spots is that it lives by the motto "slow food fast," using antibiotic- and hormone-free local meats and seasonal, organic produce grown by local farmers. It's not health food by a long shot, but at least patrons can rest assured knowing that the burgers taking a year off their lives were at least sourced from sustainably raised cows.

On my visit to the Dam, I started with the vegetable tempura of the day — butternut squash. The squash was cut into thick chunks and fried to the point of being soft without breaking down completely. The tempura breading was simple, crispy but pleasantly spongy toward the middle. The accompanying "brown sugar love" sauce, a creamy concoction of brown sugar and cranberries, complemented the vegetable nicely with a slight sweetness.

See photos: The Dam cooks up delicious bar food in south city

The Dam serves five different preparations of all-beef kosher hot dogs. The eponymous "Dam Dog" is smothered in shredded cheese, cheese sauce, tomatoes, onions and relish. It's intense, as I'm sure the owners wanted its signature dog to be, but it was a little much for my preference. When I scraped back the toppings to reveal the actual hot dog, split down the middle in its stark nakedness, I saw that it had a slight char, snappy casing and robust garlic-paprika seasoning. I would have preferred to let these components take center stage, as the cheese topping made it impossible to discern whether there was an actual dog under the goo and created significant handling difficulties. It was good, in the way that deep-fried Twinkies are good — decadent for the first few bites, guilt-inducing for the next.

The fish and chips rival the offerings of even the best English pubs. The fries, cut by hand Belgian-style into chunky rectangles, were fried to a crispy golden brown and seasoned perfectly. The fish itself, a humongous portion of flaky white meat, was coated in crispy batter and served piping hot with a side of tangy garlic caper tartar sauce. Take this next door to the Tavern, pair it with a brown ale and you will be transported to Britain without getting frisked by TSA.

The Dam has four specialty french fries for those wishing to dress up their spuds. They are hand-cut and crispy, and the portion is generous enough for at least two people to share — forks are definitely required. We opted for the "Double Dutch" option, which was covered in a rich, peppery garlic mayonnaise and scallions. They were glorious, if not a little naughty.

Burgers are the Dam's calling card, and they live up to the hype. The "Dam Burger" is two beef patties sandwiched between buttery, grilled sourdough bread and topped with oozing American and Swiss cheese. What makes the burger, however, is the generous dollop of "Dam sauce," a creamy concoction strikingly similar to Thousand Island dressing. I wanted to ask for a side of this deliciousness so I could dip just about everything on the table in it. (I used restraint.)

When Big V's closed some five years ago, patrons mourned the loss of its signature burger, the "Animal," arguably one of the best burgers in the area during its time. At the Dam, this beastly phoenix rises from the ashes in all of its fiery, jalapeño glory. This burger is not for the faint of heart — it's three juicy patties topped with American cheese and grilled onions, covered in barbecue sauce and dressed with a whole, grilled jalapeño. The heat from this pepper infuses the already spicy and sweet barbecue and radiates through every bite. In a masochistic way, the searing spice is pleasant as it cuts through the amalgamation of gooey cheese and grease. The "Animal" is also topped with a gratuitous amount of thick-cut bacon, so be forewarned: Keep the burger in the wrapper to assist you when eating it. I made the novice mistake of attempting to freehand it and ended up with what looked like a crime scene on the table. This monster can barely be contained.

The Dam will leave you staggering out of its doors in a decadence-induced hallucinogenic stupor, not unlike the conditions under which its menu was possibly conceived. Thankfully, this culinary red-light district is 100 percent legal.

See photos: The Dam cooks up delicious bar food in south city