Dan’s Bar and Grill head chef Danielle Durow sits down across the table from me and pulls out a pair of metal ashtray-looking things that press closed like a chew tin. It’s a burger press, fashioned for her by one the farmers here in New Trier. Danielle brushes the insides with her hand and says parchment paper goes in there first, then slaps the insides to represent the setting of beef. She presses them together, pinches imaginary edges together around, and Voila!
Using these presses, the kitchen at Dan’s Bar and Grill cranks out 2,500 stuffed burgers per month. That’s almost 100 per day. As of the 2010 census, New Trier’s population is 112.
This is the fourth installment of a series highlighting food, drinks, and people of the Northfield area. Be sure to check out posts about Northfield’s history and Hogan Bros. sandwiches; Northfield’s Imminent Brewing; and Dundas’ Keepsake Cidery.
Danielle is the latest “Dan” to write a chapter of Dan’s Bar and Grill. Her mother, Danette Welch, is a current owner; her grandfather, Dan Hartung, first opened Dan’s Bar and Grill back in 1960. According to the Dan’s website (colorful, interesting, and fun site, by the way), the bar caught on quickly with locals and traveling town ball players even before food was first served. The “and Grill” was added in 1975. Danette became owner in 2002.
Danielle earned her first paychecks at Dan’s when she was 13 years old. She was washing dishes then, and eventually put in work waiting tables and bussing, but she had no inclination to cook at first. That changed after she went off to Boston College to play hockey (she lettered all four years for the Eagles) and pursue a marketing and management degree.
“I was scared of the pressure, and thought ‘I’ll just cook for myself,’” she says, “but I decided to try it, and loved it.” She wound up turning her back to the desk job hustle altogether, and instead applied to the Kendall Culinary School in Chicago.
And you should have heard her mom’s reaction to that.
“’Don’t do it!’” Danielle recalls Danette saying. “She knows how much work it is. You’re married to the work. You work when everyone else plays.”
Danielle went for it anyway. She scored an internship with restaurateur Paul Kahn at Black Bird, tweezing food into place and setting seven-course prix fixe meals. It was a one-of-a-kind experience, she says, but she saw what Mom was talking about.
“I would get there at 7 in the morning, cook the lunch, prep dinner, [and] I would be there at 7 until 2 the next morning,” she says. “It was very male-dominated, and nobody had families. I knew that wasn’t where I wanted to be.”
A stint at Chris Pandel’s Bristol gave her a more optimistic glimpse; work-life balance was much more level among that staff, but Danielle also noticed the presence of farmers bringing produce and meat directly to the restaurant. It was the kind of environment Danielle wanted – and she knew right where to get that.
There’s a buildup to New Trier if you know what you’re coming for. Will you get to see the beautiful church you see when you Google “New Trier, MN”? Will you cruise down Main Street blasting Lana Del Rey? Will you luck into a meat raffle or cutesy street festival? If you took Highway 52 south and turned east onto Highway 50, New Trier’s cards are still very much covered. You see the population sign finally, and the possibilities are limitl-
WAIT, THERE’S THE CHURCH! WAIT, THERE’S DAN’S!
Dan’s website welcomes you to New Trier with open type, says you’re not a stranger but a friend the town just hasn’t met yet. Far as I can tell, it’s true. From my patio table, I’ve laughed with bandana-wearing bikers, walker-pushing old ladies, and two different Guys At The End Of The Bar.
It’s that natural magnetism that also drew Mirranda here.
Mirranda is the server who told me about how the back of Dan’s was originally a living space for the owners; she calls Danielle “the blood and the brains” of the restaurant; she knows when the patio was erected; and she told me the story of Garth, the namesake of Dan’s patio.
Mirranda is originally from Farmington, but moved to nearby Hampton a couple of years back. She had worked for 12 years at a tanning salon, before a chance drop-in to Dan’s during a trip to Red Wing brought on a scenery change.
“I literally popped in here, and was like ‘Yeah, can I get a job?’” she recalls. “It didn’t take long. I was jivin’, I was feelin’ it.”
She’s only been working at Dan’s since November, but she already seems to know all of the stories. She’ll probably learn some of yours, too.
Neon signs and the sun do a lot of the work lighting the dining room up. You’ll see a huge photograph covering the back wall of the staff, and a big written welcome to Dan’s. You’ll see baseball jerseys you might not recognize. Those are local town ball teams, like the Miesville Mud Hens and Dundas Dukes.
The paradisaical patio honors Garth Truax, who passed away of a heart attack while he and Danette were in the planning stages of their wedding. Danette says 2,500 people showed up at his service; and, today, a stretch of highway that starts just outside the bar is adopted by FRIENDS OF GARTH TRUAX. The patio, says the website, was Garth’s idea.
Danette says she practically grew up in the restaurant. She was washing dishes at 14, and grew into more advanced roles until becoming part-owner in 2002. She’s not the only owner – her brother, Dave, also oversees operations – and has seen her bar become a gathering spot for the family.
“Sometimes,” she says, “between Dave and I, we’ll have nine grandchildren here.”
Danette wasn’t so quick to rush Danielle into the fray, though. She recalls telling Danielle she had to work there for a while before taking over as head chef, just to be sure, and Danielle says Mom wouldn’t let her change the menu at first.
“They gave me Thursday night for stuffed burgers, and Saturday nights for a chef’s special,” Danielle says. “They said ‘Let’s see how those go, and we’ll make changes from there.'”
They saw how those went, and then Danette shut the bar down for two months so they could expand the kitchen.
“When we opened again,” she says, “it was just craziness.”
Danielle has passed the attention to detail she picked up in Chicago onto her staff. They have to get these right, even if it means diners need to wait a little bit longer. The menu warns you of this.
“I always tell the kitchen ‘I’d rather have food take longer and have it be good, than rush it and have it be crap.’” she says. “Everyone’s in such a hurry nowadays, so I get that that’s a hard concept to grasp; [but] a lot of people are coming from a long way. I want to give them good food.”
I order a poutine burger, and she gives me good food. They don’t just say cheese curds are inside; the curds are distinctly seasoned, and the cheese is State Fair stringy. Fries are laid out evenly under the beef, and a thin glaze of cheese coats the patty like a wedding cake fondant. Even if you came knowing it would be good, you won’t be ready for this burger’s exactness.
If you’re like me, you’ll be back four days later for more. Mirranda told me I had to have a Scooter Burger, and Danette called it “a Big Mac on steroids.” I will tell you that no amount of steroids could turn a Big Mac into this. Steroids and a Limitless pill, maybe.
I brought a friend down the next night. He ate a New Trier Sizzler packed with jalapeno peppers, pepperjack cheese and Cajun spices. He spent much of the ride home in a babbling stupor about it. The only word I understood was “amazing.”
Danielle wants to make menu items everyone recognizes, but with twists. Things like Three Little Pigs: a sandwich with pork, ham, and bacon on a pretzel bun with honey ale mustard and smoked gouda cheese; a fried chicken sandwich with something called “Bang Bang Sauce”; and an 8-ounce cut of blackened salmon with avocado salsa, sweet corn, and tomatoes.
The steak sandwich is made with filet mignon, because why screw around?
The Cheese Wonton Burger was named by Jason DeRusha as one of his iconic foods in the March 2018 issue of Minnesota Monthly. Former Minnesota Twins closer Glen Perkins celebrated his retirement at Dan’s, and they made a special stuffed burger called “The Closer” for the occasion. Danette says 55 Closers were ordered that night.
If you prefer your cheese on the outside, 14 unstuffed burgers are on the menu. There’s one with peanut butter and bacon. There’s another with bourbon bacon jam, smoked cheddar, and a pile of barbecue kettle chips. The serial killer will enjoy a Summer Market Salad: roasted golden beets, strawberry, goat cheese, candied pecans, and citrus vinaigrette.
Danette says she used to know everyone who came in the door; now, she estimates it’s only about 10 percent now. Is that a bad thing? No, she says. With the addition of a backyard space this year, the crowd has more room to move and the business can keep setting their sights higher.
“People who normally just drive by stop in,” says Danette, a statement that would be literally confirmed minutes later when a couple tells Mirranda: “We drive by the place, and it’s always really busy. We were like ‘It’s got to be good.’”
More information, including daily specials and an event calendar, can be found on the website.
A few clean-up edits were made shortly after this article’s publication.