To appreciate the new Dooley's, you almost have to erase your memories of the old Dooley's.
Dooley's Ltd. stood at 308 North Eighth Street for almost 40 years, one of the quintessential quirky hangouts that provide downtowns with their distinct personalities. Owner Alex Dooley could always be counted on to point out the folly of pie-in-the-sky development schemes, especially when the little guy (like him) was being overlooked, so it was twisted irony that he got unceremoniously tossed in 2008 for a whiz-bang condo conversion that never got off the ground.
In the old place, you ordered in a cafeteria line, watching your "world-famous Dooleyburger" as it progressed from six ounces of raw ground beef to a full-meal sandwich with toppings of your choice. There were many, but the definitive Dooley's topping was a small scoop of Port wine cheese spread, a cheeseburger with a '70s cocktail-party swing.
The new place is at North Grand and Washington boulevards, a space that held Duke's for about 15 years and Gary's for a good run thereafter. Most recently it was William Shakespeare's, a gastropub that was announced just about the same time Dooley's Ltd. closed for good.
The new Dooley's, subtitled Beef N Brewhouse, has the old Dooley's crest in its entrance, but the feel is entirely different. It's a sit-down-and-be-served place run by Alex's son Sean, a veteran of the original, and although the world-famous Dooleyburger and 10 potential toppings are still front and center on the menu, they're followed by five set-ingredient burgers, a bison burger and a page of sandwiches ranging from corned beef to ahi tuna. The brewhouse part of the name results in everything from local microbrews to Irish standards on tap and a moderately long list of bottles.
The Dooleyburger ($6.50 plus 50 cents per topping) is as good as ever, its freshly ground status accommodating doneness starting at rare. (Or, as our server told us when we asked how rare we could go: "Well, we could always just take it out of the refrigerator and slap it on a bun.") We settled for medium-rare and were rewarded with a juicy burger marked with grill lines and topped with just the right amount of Port wine cheese and a nest of sautéed onions wedged between the burger and a sesame-topped bun.
The avocado and sprouts topping the Louie burger ($7.50) seemed a bit frou-frou in contrast to the old Dooley's, but a rasher of bacon between the veggies and patty gave it a stouter composition.
Ranging away from burgers, the ahi tuna sandwich ($8.50) was somewhere between medium-rare and medium with a moist texture and a hint of Japanese fire from a wasabi aioli. The beer frank ($6.50) was a quarter-pound hot dog split lengthwise before grilling, its rich and not overly salty flavor well-matched with a pretzel bun.
The Fishy Chippy ($7), however — two rectangles of fried fish wedged between slaw and tomato on a potato-bread bun — was visibly greasy, as if it hadn't been drained after coming out of the hot oil, and the oiliness resulted in a bit of an off taste in the breading.
Burgers and sandwiches are served à la carte, but that wasn't completely obvious in the way orders were taken. On both of our visits, our server asked whether we'd like fries, onion rings or a combination with our sandwiches, rather than asking if we'd like sides, which would have made the upcharge (quite reasonable at $1.25 for fries and $2.50 for rings) more apparent.
A short list of appetizers and salads is also available, and the Irish fries ($5.50) immediately joined my list of guilty pleasures. A paper-lined basket of crisp, thin French fries was inundated by a mixture of diced corned beef, melted provel and Cheddar cheeses and sprinkled with the greens of green onions, a near-perfect accompaniment to a pint of ale.
Cobb salad ($6) also incorporated the salty-tangy taste of ropes of provel, but pieces of plastic wrap at the bottom of the bowl were disconcerting.
For those concerned about parking in Grand Center, Dooley's has its own free, private lot immediately behind the building, save for those times when there's something at the Fox.
It may be odd to get nostalgic about standing in line and smart-aleck comments from the staff, but that's what's going to happen if you start thinking about the old Dooley's. Even in the comparably staid atmosphere of the new Dooley's, however, the world-famous Dooleyburger is still a darn fine hamburger.
Dooley's Beef N Brewhouse
One star (out of four) • Where 601 North Grand Boulevard, midtown • More info 314-531-7600, dooleysbeefnbrewhouse.com • Menu The "world-famous Dooleyburger" with a choice of add-on toppings, plus several other hamburgers and sandwiches and a few salads • Hours Lunch daily, dinner Tuesday-Sunday