DLUX, an upscale burger place on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard off the Capitol Square, joined the Madison-based Food Fight Restaurant Group six years ago with the concept of hearty sandwiches, fancy cocktails and house-made shakes and sodas in one sleek setting.
Since then, DLUX has established itself one of the city’s favorite burger restaurants. The kitchen has distinguished itself in an area crowded with restaurants by serving its beef grilled medium- to medium-well and flattened for maximum browning, in contrast to burgers served medium-rare.
This so-called “smashed” burger style is popular in the South, and burgers that are cooked to one temperature only have an element of simplicity that seems to work. Other ingredients add flavors to DLUX’s burgers that set them apart, while the patties are crispy on the outside but juicy and meaty in the center.
The kitchen also offers a range of “sorta burgers,” including a couple of chicken patties, a salmon burger, a “vegan impossible burger,” a white-bean patty served Southwestern style, and a portobello caprese sandwich that doesn’t even pretend to be a burger. Rounding out the menu is a trio of appetizers, a few salads and soups, a handful of sides and a healthy list of house-made sodas and milkshakes.
DLUX’s dining room feels casual and urbane with large windows offering a view of the downtown and, from certain vantages, the state Capitol. The decor is modern and bold with big red panels of light and a bar that glows from below, along with vibrant paintings and handsome booths around the edge of the room.
In warm weather, diners can sit at an outdoor patio and watch while group after group of wedding parties take photos in front of the Capitol building.
Service at DLUX is efficient and professional, but the real draw is its food and cocktails. Out front is the restaurant’s signature DLUX burger ($9), which is topped with caramelized onions in port wine, a lively blue-cheese spread and fresh arugula, and then served on a fluffy-yet-substantial bun. It easily competes with the best burgers in the city.
We were equally impressed with the kitchen’s farmhouse burger ($9), which combines bacon, Monterey Jack cheese, a thick slab of fried green tomato and baby greens for a satisfying meal.
The menu offers a burger of the month, which in September was the elote burger ($9): a chicken patty with Mexican street corn, roasted poblanos, guajillo chili aioli and cotija cheese. It’s unlike any burger I’ve had and one that I would gladly return to for its rich mix of flavors.
I’m not usually fond of bean-burger patties, but this kitchen’s Southwestern white bean burger ($8) with roasted poblanos, crispy bits of corn tortilla and three cheese queso gave me a new appreciation for what can happen to a bean patty in the hands of a skilled burger chef.
There are a couple of vegetarian options, and while a portobello caprese may sound overplayed, DLUX’s version is surprisingly gratifying. It features a hearty portobello cap with a thick round of mozzarella plus greens, balsamic reduction and basil mayo.
We also liked the aptly named green goddess salad ($8.25), which combines green onions and green apple with mixed greens, avocado, walnuts, goat cheese and honey-cilantro dressing.
We were less impressed with some of the sides, including an order of sweet potato fries with sriracha mayo ($6.50) because the fries were limp. And a plate of deep-fried pickles ($6), served with house-made ranch dressing, had a flavor combo that didn’t seem quite right.
I’d skip those in the future, but I definitely wouldn’t pass up the shakes for dessert. Prepared by the servers and the bartenders with Sassy Cow ice cream, there are seven options from which to choose.
With quality food at truly reasonable prices, particularly for a downtown Madison location, DLUX is on our list of best bets for a quick and satisfying meal. It’s about the best take on fast food imaginable.
Bill Livick is a freelance writer who writes entertainment stories and Madison-area restaurant reviews for The Gazette.