In 2007, chef Ian Russo created the Dirty Drunken Ribeye steak at his Manhattan restaurant, IAN. It ended up winning New York Magazine’s “Best Steak in the City” award, and from that point on, Russo became known as the Dirty Chef. Why “dirty?”
“I got the steak really charred on the grill, and black and caramelized,” says Russo. “I just thought of the word — dirty — and it stuck. People would start coming into my restaurant and say, ‘Oh, you’re the Dirty Chef.’ It wasn’t even a steakhouse.”
Today, Russo has 16 trademarks on his “dirty” products including dirty burger, dirty spice, dirty honey, dirty chef and even dirty chocolate. He has mastered an innovative style of cooking that combines a blend of 10 spices that he calls “Dirty Dust” and was inspired by the chef’s world travels.
“I knew that whatever I wanted to do with my life, I wanted to be the best that I could be,” he says. “So when I decided to be a chef, I said to myself, if I want to be the best in the world, I need to go to whoever was the best at the time and see what that is.”
So he enrolled and graduated from New York Technical College’s School of Hotel and Restaurant Management, and then for the next eight years, he set out to cook around the world. Russo has worked in Hawaii, Paris, Beijing and Belgium. Before opening his eponymous restaurant IAN’s, he worked as a sous chef at La Reserve in New York City, Le Chantilly and the St. Regis Hotel where he helped open Lespinasse, an Asian-inspired French restaurant.
In fall 2013, Russo came to Plainview and opened DirtyBurger, where he has further developed his “dirty” technique.
“There is a lot of cayenne pepper in the rub. I cover the protein in it, and at the end I add honey,” he says. “When honey gets warm it runs like water. It loosens up and just wraps itself around the rub, and whatever way the honey works with the spice rub, it cancels out the heat, and the heat cancels out the sweet, and that’s when you get this intense flavor: dirty.”
I had the opportunity to watch the chef’s process, and he generously gave me several dirty spice packets to try at home. To create one of his most popular dishes, the Dirty Burger, Russo first seasons the patty with salt. He then coats it on both sides with his blend. He adds a small bit of oil to his grill, and then he cooks the patty until it’s a rich, orange-gold. About 40 seconds before the burger’s done, he drizzles a drop of honey the size of a quarter on both sides to finish. The finished burger goes on a plain white bun with mesclun greens and dirty burger garlic aioli. Burgers are accompanied by hand-cut, dirty sweet potato fries and three dipping sauces: homemade dirty ketchup, dirty white truffle mayonnaise and dirty maple syrup.
Another popular item is the Dirty Veggie Burger, made of barley, mushrooms, carrots and a little cheddar cheese. Like the traditional Dirty Burger, it is salted, covered in dirty spice and cooked with honey. It is served on a toasted brioche with avocado spread, thin sliced cucumbers and mesclun greens in a lemon vinaigrette. It is topped with a curry mayonnaise.
I was treated to the most delicious lamb burger, also “dirtified” with dirty dust and honey, and topped with an arugula-cucumber mix and the restaurant’s own “Dirtziki” sauce, Russo’s dirty version of tzatziki. The sweet potato fries were fabulous, and my favorite dipping sauce by far was the white truffle mayo. A delicious ice cream sampler by Max and Mina’s in Flushing, made exclusively for DirtyBurger, followed. My favorite flavors were the caramel dolce banana and the salted caramel made with just a trace of dirty spice.
DirtyBurger offers an array of appetizers, salads, dirty bison burgers, dirty turkey burgers, ribs, steak, ahi tuna and salmon. Wine, beer and dirty cocktails, including three types of mojitos, can be enjoyed in the restaurant’s modern, whimsical atmosphere.
“I’m pretty intense; I’m very serious, and my training is pretty formal. I have a lot passion when it comes to food,” says Russo. “I try to run a tight ship while delivering great, flavorful food.”
DirtyBurger is open seven days a week. The Dirty Dust Spice Blend can be bought in the restaurant or online at www.dirtyburger.com.