Every chef must strive to create a burger that’s memorable enough for diners to still be obsessing about it five and a half years after it was last served in any official capacity. Such is the case with Chef Frank Ruta’s infamous Palena burger. The Cleveland Park standard-bearer closed in April 2014. Since then, the burger has haunted the tables in a few other restaurants, like The Grill Room, where Ruta cooked for a while, but that restaurant too has come and gone.
A Shaw nightclub might seem like an unlikely locale for the Palena burger to reappear, but DC9 co-owner Amber Bursik cooked under Ruta for several years, flipping Palena burgers and topping them with their signature truffle cheese and mayonnaise.
As a holiday gift to the District, and with Ruta’s blessing, DC9 will serve a close approximation of the burger throughout the month of December. Bursik says they’ll top a beef patty with the same decadent fixings and, just like at Palena, the burger will come with a side of pickled vegetables. DC9 is tacking on its garlic fries for extra indulgence.
“He said he was honored,” Bursik says of Ruta’s reaction. “He was like, ‘I’m flattered, I hope you sell tons of them!’” The longtime D.C. chef is currently gearing up to be the executive chef at Ashok Bajaj‘s next restaurant, Annabelle. It will replace Restaurant Nora at 2132 Florida Ave. NW.
When it comes to burgers, Bursik calls Ruta ahead of his time. “It was one of the original high-end burgers,” she says. The Palena team hand-ground the beef and made everything, including the buns, in house. “It was before the burger had this huge renaissance and became this gourmet thing.”
Bursik says every time a listicle about the best burgers in the city is published, the comments section is still full of people bemoaning the loss of what was once D.C.’s perfect burger. If you just moved to the city or never got around to dining at Palena, this is your chance to get close to the real thing.
The “Ruta Burger” will debut on Dec. 1 and costs $16. It’s available whenever the DC9 kitchen is open.
DC9, 1940 9th St. NW; (202) 483-5000; dc9.club