In the 1970s and 1980s, Reese’s Peanut Butter cups commercials consisted of a series of vignettes. Each vignette depicted the collision of two daydreamers–one eating peanut butter and the other eating chocolate. The peanut butter eater would exclaim “you got chocolate on my peanut butter.” The one eating chocolate would retort “you got peanut butter on my chocolate.” The two would then sample the mix of chocolate and peanut butter and burst out in wide-eyed surprise with “Delicious!” A godlike narrator would then proclaim “Two great tastes that taste great together.”
Reese’s has nothing on restaurant impresario Doug Weckerly, chef and proprietor of the Duke City Kitchen on Lomas just west of San Mateo. Peruse his menu and you might get the impression he’s declared “why stop at two great tastes that taste great together when seven great tastes would taste even better.” Some of the burgers are constructed of ingredient combinations so seemingly disparate, so wildly unconventional, so un-Albuquerque, it’s as if he channeled renowned tinkerer Rube Goldberg. When I asked the inventive chef how he comes up with such ingenious burgers, he told me “I guess I just march to the beat of a different drum.”
Not only does Chef Weckerly march to the beat of a different drum, he colors outside the lines, he breaks the mold and he goes against the grain. He’s shifted the paradigm for how burgers should be constructed. The results are delicious. Picture a burger constructed with strawberry jam, fresh green chile, thick-cut diced bacon, sharp Cheddar and slaw on a butter griddle bun. How about a burger fashioned with peanut butter, fresh green chile, sharp Cheddar and blackberry jam on a butter griddle bun? Not radical enough for you? Maybe you’d like your burger with sweet BBQ sauce, thick-cut diced bacon, caramelized onions, potato chips, sharp Cheddar, lettuce, tomato and pickles on a butter griddle bun.
The “I’ll try anything once” among you are chomping at the bit to try these paragons of innovation while purists are probably declaring these burgers “heretical” or worse. Not to worry, grasshopper, Chef Weckerly has burgers for all tastes. He’s also got a breakfast menu Friends of Gil charter members John and Zee Baldwin rave about. Breakfast is served all day long, but because the Duke City Kitchen’s day ends at 2(ish)PM on weekdays and 1(ish)PM on weekends, you’d better get there early. Appending the closing time with “ish” means he’s not going to rush anybody out the door or turn away someone who arrives ten minutes before closing time.
The breakfast menu features huevos, three-egg scramblers, burritos, omelets, hotcakes and probably the most diverse hash offerings in the metropolitan area. In addition to the aforementioned burger unorthodoxy (featuring eleven burgers), the lunch menu includes three sandwiches. Everything is prepared from scratch with a three term “mission statement”–fresh, simple, delicious–defining Duke City Kitchen’s culinary fare. You’ll see those three words inscribed immediately above the small window to the kitchen where Chef Weckerly creates magical meals.
By now you’ve undoubtedly figured out from his name that Chef Weckerly was the founder of the metropolitan area’s ubiquitous Weck’s dynasty which he sold to restaurateur Art Kaplan in 2004. In 30 years as a restaurateur, the peripatetic chef has opened 25 restaurants, all of which achieved great levels of success and popular acclaim. He’s blazed an impressive culinary trail through New Mexico, Washington and Colorado (Loveland, Fort Collins and Colorado Springs), returning to the Duke City in 2018. This burgerphile certainly hopes the Chef’s nomadic days are behind him.
While temptation abounds throughout the menu, I got no further than the section listing burgers before succumbing to the wiles of innovation heretofore not seen in these parts. Not only do these burgers push the envelope with a myriad of inventive toppings and sauces, they’re constructed from a nine-ounce hand-formed ground chuck beef patty (80-percent lean and 20-percent fat). Every eye in the restaurant turns toward these burgers as they’re ferried to a lucky diner. They’re skyscraper tall and picture pretty. The burgers are served with your choice of slaw or Kennebuc fries (a messy fries option is a pittance more). Make sure to ask for “Awesome Ranch” or “1,000 Island” dressings on the side. They might make you forget all about ketchup.
12 February 2019: All the burgers have single word names, an irony considering the behemoth nature of these complex creations. My inaugural toe-dipping adventure was with a burger named Lou. Belying the three-character composition of its name, the Lou is a skyscraper-tall, five ingredient (not counting beef and bun) amalgam of strawberry jam, fresh green chile, thick-cut diced bacon, sharp Cheddar and slaw on a butter griddle bun. Wow! Don’t fear the strawberry jam. It’s one of the elements that makes this the best burger to cross my lips thus far in 2019. Well, that and the way it pairs with the other ingredients. The jam comes from the Chef’s parents’ farm where hundreds of gallons of this homemade concoction as well as other seasonal fruit jams are canned. If strawberry jam and green chile sound like a proverbial odd couple, you’ll be surprised just how well they work together.
14 February 2019: In February, 2018, Food Network Canada declared peanut butter and jelly the most delicious food duo of all time (even over peanut butter and chocolate). Ranking fifth on that list were burgers and fries. So, why not pair two of the most delicious food duos of all time? That’s precisely what Chef Weckerly has done with the Betty (peanut butter, fresh green chile, sharp Cheddar and blackberry jam on a butter griddle bun). Okay, so technically, the Betty is made with jam, not jelly. That means it’s made with real fruit, not fruit juice and pectin. At any regard, this is a terrific burger (and I don’t like peanut butter except on Thai food), one which will make you ponder where such flavor combinations have been all your life. Chef Wecklerly assured me the Lou and the Betty will remain constants on the menu even if they don’t move as much as other more traditional burgers.
14 February 2019: Not surprisingly, the pairing of burgers and fries also made the most delicious duos list, ranking fifth. At the Duke City Kitchen, you can pair your burgers with either fries or coleslaw, both of which are excellent. No ordinary fries are these. They’re made from Kennebuc potatoes. As described on the Earthly Delights blog, the Kennebec potato makes classic, crispy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside, nutty-flavored fries. The slaw is somewhere between sweet and tangy with just enough creaminess.
21 February 2019: Can you recall the last time your humble blogger visited any restaurant more than twice in any one month period? It’s rare in fact for me to visit any restaurant three times a year. Call it an attention deficit disorder if you will, but no matter how much I may like (or even love) a restaurant, the next new restaurant always seems to beckon more loudly than the one I’m currently enjoying. So for me to visit any restaurant three times in nine days means that restaurant has got to be something special. Moreover, it means that restaurant has won me over with something new, different and exciting during each visit. My third visit to the Duke City Kitchen was made even more special thanks to the company of fellow burger aficionados Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos (BOTVOLR) and Thomas Molitor. Neither shied away from the unconventional, ordering the Betty and the Lou respectively (their impressions are conveyed eloquently below).
Both ordered their burgers at the gold standard of burger “doneness”–medium rare and Chef Wecklerly delivered to their exacting specifications–medium rare that really is medium rare. That’s a rarity in Albuquerque. Much more rare is a burger whose canvas isn’t a plain bun, ciabatta, pretzel roll or even lettuce. Few, if any, burgers are constructed on a biscuit. The Redneck (bacon sausage gravy and cheeses on a butter griddle biscuit) is one of those rare specimens. As described on the menu, it may sound more like a biscuit sandwich than it does a burger, but that nine-ounce ground chuck beef patty makes it very much a burger. Not since a 2014 visit to the Hominy Grill in Charleston, South Carolina has such a superb biscuit crossed my lips. It’s a beautiful behemoth, the apotheosis of biscuitry…and it makes a wonderful canvas for the beef. Flecked with pepper, the sausage gravy has a nice bite and a roux-base that thickens the gravy. This burger tastes like home!
8 March 2019: When visiting family in Texas, Ree “The Pioneer Woman” Drummond was exposed to migas for the first time. Her impression: “Migas, in a word, is heavenly. In another word, divine. In another word, dadgum delicious! I was instantly hooked, and spent the next several months perfecting my own version.” Chef Weckerly prepares his own version, too. He calls them tigas (three scrambled eggs with turkey, thick-cut diced bacon, blue corn tortilla strips, fresh green chile and cheeses). You’ll call them delicious, a superb rendition of a Southwestern favorite. There’s a lot going on in this dish, all of it good, all of it a confluence of great ingredients that really work well together. As if the tigas aren’t enough, this dish is accompanied by your choice of butter browns or pesto Parmesan tomatoes and a butter grilled biscuit or toast. Go for the biscuit with both strawberry and blackberry jam. It’ll make your day.
Aside from great food, the one constant during my four visits to the Duke City Kitchen has been fantastic service, all courtesy of Melanie. She exemplifies all the qualities of a server who becomes yet another reason to visit a restaurant you love. Melanie is a whirling dervish, taking care of a roomful of diners with polish, aplomb and geniality. She’s a personable ambassador for the restaurant and a ray of sunshine server who really knows what she’s doing.
You may think the Duke City Kitchen’s creative burgers aren’t for you, but don’t come to that conclusion until you’ve tried them. If not a burger, you’ll definitely find something to love on a refreshingly innovative menu put together by a very talented, free-thinking chef.
Duke City Kitchen
5016 Lomas Blvd., N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 8 March 2019
1st VISIT: 12 February 2019
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: The Lou, Kennebuc Fries, The Betty, Coleslaw, The Redneck, Tigas