Timothy Dean may have finally found his niche — and it's at the mall.
Last month, the chef, best known in Baltimore for his string of restaurants on Eastern Avenue (and his appearance on the seventh season of "Top Chef"), opened Timothy Dean Burger in the Boulevard at the Capital Centre. The vibe is fast food, but the food — burgers, fries and gourmet pizzas — is worthy of white tablecloths.
Over the past few years, the celebrity chef has weathered a string of well-publicized setbacks. He's seen several Baltimore restaurants, including his most recent steakhouse venture, Prime, sputter and close. He filed a lawsuit against the developers of National Harbor, where he was to open a fine dining establishment. TD Bistro Inc., his business entity, filed for bankruptcy. And to top it off, Dean's appearance on "Top Chef," shot in his hometown of Washington, fizzled out before the season even reached its halfway point.
But with the opening of Timothy Dean Burger, things are looking up for the beleaguered chef.
The Boulevard is an outdoor mall, along the lines of the Avenue at White Marsh. Timothy Dean Burger is in a prime spot directly across from the movie theaters. The decor — bright blue walls, silver chairs, generously proportioned booths — is a fresh take on the classic burger joint, and the food matches the decor. Dean serves his burgers and pizzas traditionally, as well as tricked out with modern toppings such as jalapeno aioli and jerk chicken.
Diners place and pick up orders at the counter. On a recent Sunday evening, the counter staff handled a consistent flow of customers with friendly efficiency that was a notch above standard food court practice. There was no mechanism for tipping — not even a tip jar next to the cash register — which was a shame, since the service was certainly worth a few extra bucks.
We started on a healthful note with the mesclun salad ($8). The greens were bright and snappy, topped with ripe chopped tomato and briny rounds of heart of palm. The sophisticated red wine vinaigrette, spicy and garlicky, was so good we didn't even mind that the salad was a touch overdressed.
Pizza arrived, smoking hot, with a tart tomato sauce and loads of stringy cheese ($3 per slice of cheese, $12 per 14-inch pie). The house-made crust was thick and chewy — somewhere in between New York's paper-thin style and Chicago deep dish — with a savory flavor that provided a good base for toppings and still managed to hold its own.
The pizza's good, but as its name suggests, burgers are Timothy Dean Burger's raison d'etre. We tried the TD Classic, a simple cheeseburger, and the Martin O'Malley burger, topped with coleslaw, smoked Gouda, barbecue sauce and pickles ($7.50 each).
Both burgers arrived cooked medium, as requested, on chewy buns, fresh from the grill. We enjoyed the toppings: Fresh lettuce and tomato added crunch to the Classic, and thin slices of red onion provided a hint of bite. The creamy texture of the O'Malley's coleslaw complemented the smoky cheese and tangy pickle (though the barbecue sauce got lost among the rest of the flavors).
In the three years before opening TDB, Dean says, he "tried every burger out there." The research paid off; Dean knows a thing or two about meat. On both burgers, the toppings worked, but it was the meat itself that made these burgers better than standard fast-food fare.
Each beefy bite was filled with flavor and juice that had us reaching for extra napkins (one of our few complaints: napkins are way too thin). The texture of the burger meat was soft and finely ground. Over the phone, Dean explained that juicy was his priority, so the beef blend is fattier than typical burger meat. That extra fat makes a difference — it's not exaggerating to say the burgers practically melted in our mouths.
Paired with skinny, salty fries with a tender crunch ($3), the burgers raised this all-American combo up a few notches.
On the sweet side, there were milkshakes, plus several desserts made by local baker (and longtime friend of Dean's) "Sweet Gizelle" Bryant. Her Belgian chocolate chip cookies ($6 per dozen) were chewy and just sweet enough — a great match for a creamy, mild coffee milkshake ($5) so thick we hunted down a pair of spoons.
Timothy Dean Burger isn't a place to linger; most of our fellow diners were in and out before we made it to dessert. But with thoughtful meat blends and thicker-than-molasses milkshakes, it's not traditional "fast" food, either. After so many hits and misses, Dean may have finally come upon the ideal recipe for a successful restaurant of his own: high-quality food, simple preparation and friendly service at fast food prices.
These burgers deserve more than a moment in the spotlight. Dean has plans for a second Prince George's County outpost, this one near the Camp Springs Metro station. He says he'd love to return to Baltimore one day, when the time is right. Let's hope that day comes soon — and that this time's the charm for Dean.
Tiimothy Dean Burger
Back story: Timothy Dean Burger, the latest venture from the celebrity chef known for fine-dining establishments, is a casual but quality fast-food joint with solid burgers and good pizza.
Parking: Lots surrounding the mall.
Signature dish: The Classic Burger is a juicy patty topped with lettuce, tomato and thinly sliced red onion on a toasted bun. Don't forget the napkins.
Where: In the Boulevard at the Capital Centre, 801G Shoppers Way, Largo
Contact: 301-808-2433, shopcapcentre.com
Open: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, Discover
[Key: Excellent: ****; Good: ***; Fair or Uneven:**; Poor: *]