Neon graffiti murals & chalkboards in the bathroom lend a lively, DIY community vibe to the burger joint formerly known as Madison Street—one that’s underscored by Troy Guard’s mix-&-match menu of 6 patties & 15 topping combos, plus 17 à la carte toppings, from goldfish crackers to Cheez Whiz to what I suspect is a frico-like “parmesan chip.” (You can also opt for butter lettuce instead of a bun, or even skip the burger altogether & load a baked potato instead—now that’s using your noggin, Guard. Love me a good spud.)

So, for instance, you could order a turkey patty Ménage à Trois style, topped with Grey Poupon, Gruyère & French onion-soup style onions. Or a salmon patty à la Lady Gaga, with burrata, tomato, basil & balsamic-vinegar glaze. Or daily-ground beef done Colorado Proud—smothered in local goat cheese, wildflower honey & green chiles. Looking forward to all those—not to mention a baked potato Andrew Jackson (for a $20 premium, as the name suggests): house-cured pork belly, fried-chicken skin, fried egg, truffle aioli, bone-marrow salt & mustard-vinegar slaw. Holy moly.

After all, what pal Adrian Miller (@soulfoodscholar) & I actually ordered at the preview dinner on Monday night showed the crew is ready to bring it, starting with kimchi laced with scallions & carrots that wasn’t overpoweringly spicy but did show funky fermented depth. (That cheapo Nicaraguan lager, by the way, hit the spot with its creamy tones.)

Potato bites let us have our brunch-style fare (which TAG Burger Bar will also be serving, complete with a spin on Hawaiian staple loco moco! awesome) & eat dinner too: a mess of cubed, browned potatoes smothered in cheese, smoked bacon bits, scallions & spicy ranch. A no-brainer: junky, gooey, fun.

Truth be told, I’m not a huge burger buff, so tend to gravitate toward the sideshows more than the main event at venues like this; in fact, I was half-tempted to throw in some BBQ brisket nachos, fried pickles & an order of mac-&-cheese topped with Cheez-Its & call it a night. But I’m glad I didn’t, because the stars earned their top billing, from Bluepoint Bakery‘s sesame-seed buns—chewy & flavorful in themselves—onward.

If I do say so myself, my pick—the Godzilla burger with an edamame-based veggie patty—was an umami-rich natural, the latter’s fresh green notes brightening the smoked Japanese mayo, teriyaki sauce, meaty shiitakes & “tempura crispies” (basically fried-dough bits, so what’s not to dig?).

I also loved what I took home for the sickly Director: the Los Chingones buffalo burger packed a KO punch with griddled cotija cheese, black bean purée, Cholula aioli, Baja-style coleslaw—& the kicker of chiccharónes. Come on, you can’t fight that.

Adrian’s Dock of the Bay lamb burger with classic rémoulade looked pretty plain, so I skipped the pic, but in its relative simplicity it proved that, beneath all the bells & whistles I’m a sucker for, Guard has the fundamentals down pat: the lamb patty, tinged pink & dripping juice, was perfect, its smear of creamy caper sauce just icing on the cake.

Speaking of cake, we also split a couple of desserts: deep-fried Oreos

& the ubiquitous molten chocolate with raspberry sauce.

Both were fine; I tried the latter only to humor Adrian’s sweet tooth, having been sick unto death of the thing for years. But I get that I’m outnumbered by the world’s chocoholics; so long as it’s adequately prepared, then, a bite or 2 every now & then is okay by me. This was. The batter on the cookies was a little thick & doughy, but that’s a quibble that sounds ridiculous even to me—it’s hard to complain about such a blatantly guilty pleasure.

Besides, this is a burger bar, not a dessert bar, & I think Guard was right to transform the old neighborhood watering hole according to a more focused concept. The results are better in quality than those of HBurgerCO, the choices more delightfully elaborate than those of Park Burger or Larkburger (both of which I like, mind you). So yeah, looks like he’s done it again.

Tag Burger Bar on Urbanspoon