Tom Ray started out working for Food Fight Restaurant Group as a bartender at Fresco. Today, he is the general manager and one of the proprietors at DLux. His managing partner, Caitlin Suemnicht also worked at Food Fight before becoming an owner when she was a server at Johnny Delmonico’s.
DLux opened just a few weeks ago in the place that used to house Ocean Grill on Capitol Square. Ocean Grill was also a Food Fight restaurant, but while the predecessor specialized in upscale seafood, DLux does burgers. I had the opportunity to sit down with Tom and ask him some questions. Here is what he had to stay about the restaurant, its food and the location’s new look and feel:
Badger Herald: When did the idea for DLux first develop?
Tom Ray: Probably about a year and a half ago. We started playing around with the idea of doing a more modern, posh burger restaurant on the square. We had originally looked at a different site on the square, but because of some logistical issues it fell through.
BH: What site was that?
TR: Over on 33 East Main over by the Walgreens building. At the time, though, Ocean Grill’s lease was up. We thought the space was in need of a face lift and our concept was just a natural fit for it. So we changed locations and focused on this space and actually renovating it instead of building a completely new space.
BH: What kind of aesthetic were you going for?
TR: Retro, but modern. If you notice there are definitely some retro aspects about it. The art is definitely retro. It’s kind of that ’50s comic book-style art. We also wanted it to be playful. It feels like a space that you wouldn’t order an $8 burger in.
BH: Ok, that’s a good segue to the food. What can you tell me about the food here?
TR: It’s all burgers. All of our entrees are burgers. We do have salads and our appetizers are an assortment of dips as well as garnished fries. But it’s all burgers and it’s always been burgers from the beginning. Everything is pattied here. And everything is actually a burger. Like our chicken burger isn’t a chicken breast that we throw on a bun and our salmon burger isn’t a salmon filet that we throw on a bun. We chop everything up and patty it ourselves.
BH: What’s the standard size of your patties?
TR: It’s a one-third pound patty. All our burgers are pressed. We cook them on a 450 degree flattop and they cook in about three and a half minutes.
BH: So you press them to get a crispier edge on the outside?
TR: Yes, and that was something that we looked at. There are so many places to get a burger on the square that do that style of burger well: that big juicy, half-pound, medium rare deliciousness. And we didn’t even want to try that. They all do it well already. So when we started thinking about what we were going to do, we wanted something that was different, and no one does this style of burger on the square.
BH: Ok, moving on, what can you tell me about the bun you use?
TR: It’s a potato roll and we source it out of a bakery in Chicago.
BH: So it’s got that dust that gets on your fingers a little bit?
TR: Yes, it’s dusted lightly with flour on top. We use the same bun for all of our burgers. And that was something that took a long time to settle on. I mean, we tried over 100 buns…
BH: How about the condiments that go on the burgers? Do you guys have any homemade things, little flairs that you particularly like about a certain burger?
TR: They all have their own little flair. We wanted the flavors to be playful and unique. I mean, don’t get me wrong, you can absolutely get a standard burger here. But we also wanted an assortment of flavors and flavor profiles that you don’t normally see on burgers around here. Like the DLux burger, [which] has port wine onion marmalade, creamy blue cheese spread and fresh arugula.
We named this one the DLux, because we thought that all those flavors were… I don’t know if you want to call them romantic flavors, but we thought they fit the space.
BH: You guys do a pretty cool cocktail program, can you tell me a little bit about the drinks?
TR: So looking around, the craft cocktail scene is obviously huge right now. And we knew we wanted that fusion between the kitchen and the bar well thought out. Really good ingredients, that kind of thing. But there were stuff about the craft cocktail scene that turned us off as well. We don’t like the amount of time it was taking to get a drink at some of these places…
We also wanted our craft cocktail program to be more approachable, so when an average person took a look at the menu and our drinks they know what’s in them. And then we looked at some trends in some major markets. That’s where we came up with the idea of kegging some of our cocktails. So we cook everything from scratch and barrel them ourselves. And then they’re stored in our keg cooler. Our four center taps are all cocktails.
BH: I don’t think I’ve ever seen that. Is that a new trend? Where did you first see it?
TR: We saw it popping up in Chicago. It is pretty new, though. You can’t go online and find recipes for kegged cocktails like you can for normal drinks.
BH: How different is the process of making kegged drinks? Is there a taste that’s imparted from the kegging process?
TR: It’s kind of crazy, so take the double punch for instance. The ginger ale we make is not carbonated, because the carbonation comes from when we actually keg it and put CO2 into the barrel. So basically, I’m making more of a ginger ale concentrate that’s somewhere between a ginger water and a ginger syrup. And then depending on how much pounds per square inch I impart on it, the amount of carbonation changes. At 16 psi, you carbonate water. So we played around with how much carbonation to put in these.
BH: What about your drinks that aren’t kegged?
TR: We have three main categories of cocktails: the kegged ones, shaken and stirred and then we did a third kind with our house sodas. We were originally just going do an entire line of all-natural house sodas. But they turned out so well that we incorporated those into our drink menu.
Want to know more about the food and drinks at DLux? Stop in the next time you’re by the square and try a kegged cocktail, a burger or both.