I had it all planned out yesterday. Wait until the kids come home from school and then walk the few blocks to the Downlow Chicken Shack’s burger pop-up on Commercial Drive. It was their first Monday of the Monday-only pop-up; surely the line-up would have calmed down by then. It’s how I regularly score their Nashville Hot chicken sandwiches. Same place. Same deal. Right?
I turned the corner up The Drive from Venables and saw that there was no line-up at all. I had timed it perfectly. Walking through the threshold and smelling the griddled meat, I grinned the grin of the victorious.
“Sorry, but we just sold our last burger.” said a voice. I didn’t want to hear it…couldn’t look at the person who’d said those terrible words.
“What?” I finally blinked at the speaker, a young woman who – and I could tell by her smile – was unaware of my plan.
“Yeah, they’re all gone.” she reiterated, smiling a little broader. Yup, obviously unaware of my plan.
Crestfallen, I mumbled something – hopefully it was polite – and started to leave when a second voice called out from the open kitchen.
“It’s OK. We can do one more.”
My elation was appropriate. In the few short months of its existence, the Downlow Chicken Shack has done a masterful job of whipping the dining public into a frenzy over its product. Of course it helps that it tastes great, but c’mon…it’s just fried chicken. And yet it’s not, because nothing else in Vancouver tastes quite like it. Which begs the question: Would the burgers be similarly distinct and striking?
The answer is yes, and for a couple of reasons. To begin with, these are hefty burgers — 7 oz patties. That’s off-trend, which has hovered for years now in the smaller, diner-style, 4 oz “smashburger” zone (see Dirty Burger, Golden Era, etc.). Secondly, the meat is of high quality; prime cut trim and dry-aged chuck sourced from the meat gods at Two Rivers.
That dry-aging gives the disc a little funk that sets it apart. While not as much an “acquired taste” as the aged experiments I’ve endured at, say Crowbar (where I once soldiered through a 90 day dry-aged burger), but it’s got a slightly nutty and nuanced edge to it. The grind includes some added fat to balance the “dry” mouthfeel, so the first few bites see some unexpected but pleasantly discombobulating juiciness.
Mine was the “Not In Kansas” version, which comes piled with slaw and smeared with Wild Turkey bourbon-spiked BBQ sauce (pictured at top). It was uncommonly good. The flavour of the meat sang loud and clear above every other ingredient, making me wonder if they’d put any BBQ sauce on it at all. Of course they had, and mayo too. No disrespect to the bun (made by Livia Sweets and toasted in beef fat), this thing was all about the meat. I ate the whole thing faster than I should have, the taste sticking with me for the whole walk home; the memory of it sharpening as soon as I got hungry again.
Assume the Downlow Burger Shack pop-up will one day graduate to become a brick and mortar restaurant. Right now the once-a-week thing will generate the hype it is worthy of and help them hone their timing to the same machine-like efficiency of their fried chicken operation. They made 150 burgers yesterday (151 if you include mine), maxing out their flat top at six burgers concurrently at six or seven minutes apiece with just one flip. They’re aiming to do 200 the next time, which will be October 15th (two Mondays from now as they’re closed for Thanksgiving).
Aim to be there, and for goodness’ sake get your timing right.