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Shawn Monday make magic on the Flip Side grill

It used to be that celebrity chefs endeavored to distance themselves from plebeian grub like hamburgers. After all, where's the challenge in frying up a ball of ground beef? As any food watcher will tell you, those days are long gone.

Nowadays, you can't seem to find a high-powered chef or restaurateur who hasn't hopped aboard the patty wagon. Danny Meyer kick-started the trend in 2004 with Shake Shack. Soon, Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, and Laurent Tourondel joined the burger bash, each eager to reap the rewards of an audience fixated on fame, fat, and flavor. Later, our own Michael Symon invested in the bull market, launching his rightfully admired B Spot brand.

Of course, there are a few inescapable similarities between Symon's B Spot and Flip Side, Shawn Monday's new gourmet burger bar in Hudson. Both chefs have embraced the notion that everything can be improved upon — even something as commonplace as the hamburger. Kicked up anew with quality ingredients and thoughtful technique, today's gourmet burgers truly are better than ever.

Flip Side is located next door to One Red Door, the bistro Monday operates with his wife and partner Tiffany. Both restaurants were carved out of the former Vue space, and the layout all but guaranteed a slider-sized burger bar. Seating just three dozen at tables and another dozen at the bar, Flip Side fills up fast and stays that way on most nights. Waiting diners are resigned to crowd the front vestibule or stand outside.

The good news is that things move fast, and we were enjoying cold beers and hot appetizers within moments of taking our seat on a recent visit. Crunchy fried things like tempura-jacketed shiitake mushroom caps and asparagus spears, chili-dusted onion rings, and housemade potato chips are appropriate meal starters. Clearly not fried to order, the potato chips are cool to the touch and would have benefited from a more generous drizzle of blue cheese dressing, but they are indisputably fun to eat nonetheless.

Anything French-fry-related pretty much rocks. Monday babies his spuds to the point of potato perfection. His multi-stage process involves salt-water blanching, air drying, and double frying in lard. We gilded the proverbial lily by going with the decadent gravy fries. Even the sweet potato fries — normally a poor excuse for a crispy snack — exit Monday's kitchen cracker-crisp.

Flip Side's burgers weigh in at a healthy seven ounces, a hair shy of a half-pound. But it's not the poundage that gives these burgers a boost. It's the pedigree: Made with all-natural, grass-fed Ohio beef, the burgers not only taste amazing; they boast health, environmental, and buy-local benefits — a claim that cannot be made by good old ground chuck.

Patties are seared on a flattop, giving them a great crust, before being tucked into a toasted, sesame-seeded brioche bun. They are prepared to a barely pink medium-well unless requested otherwise. Models range from the minimally embellished Simplicity (with just lettuce, tomato, and onion) to the prime-rib-topped Philly. The Black & Blue sports crumbled blue cheese, port-braised onions, and a black pepper kick. Capped with bacon, cheese, and a runny fried egg, the Shawn Burger is an appropriately messy mouthful.

One of the tastiest burgers available is made not with beef, but curry-scented Jamison lamb. It is topped with cool and refreshing cucumber slaw and yogurt sauce. There are also tuna, chicken, turkey, and veggie sandwiches for those who pass on red meat.

To say that Flip Side is kid-friendly is an understatement. One early evening, a full third of the bar was filled with scampering crumb snatchers, likely drawn to the chalkboard bartop. Meat on a stick, in this case juicy Kobe corn dogs, is tailor made for hungry tots. And creamy milkshakes and root beer floats are on hand for kid-style happy hour.

Us, we stuck to the great selection of craft brews on tap. After all, the only thing better than a great burger is a great burger paired with a great beer.

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More by Douglas Trattner

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