The Pitch is a local weekly newspaper in the Kansas City area that focuses on local entertainment, restaurants and other goings-on. Whenever I'm in Kansas City, I always try to pick up a Pitch to see if there's anything that I'm missing in terms of new or interesting restaurants. A couple years ago, I had picked up a Pitch and it was the "Best of" issue that named both readers and the editorial staff's top restaurants in the greater Kansas City area. One place that caught my eye was a "modern burger joint" by the name of BRGR that was given the title of Best Burger in Kansas City in 2010. It immediately went on my "restaurants to visit" list. However, it took me a little while to finally get to BRGR. On a trip late this last year to Kansas City, I stopped at BRGR before I left town.
The group behind the concept and direction of BRGR is Bread and Butter Concepts, a restaurant holding company run by partners Alan Gaylin and Glynn Roberts along with Roberts' wife, Jean. Gaylin (pictured at right - photo courtesy Prairie Village Post) comes from a long lineage of restaurant management, formerly as the Senior Vice-President for Business Development of the group that oversaw Bennigan's and the former Steak and Ale restaurants. He then moved over to Houlihan's as the operations director before taking the same position at T.G.I. Friday's. Roberts doesn't have much of a background in the restaurant business - he is the President and co-founder of Northstar Offshore - a Houston-based oil and gas exploration company.
Gaylin and Roberts were middle school friends from Houston who decided about six years ago to partner up to develop restaurant concepts in the greater Kansas City area where Gaylin had taken up residence. It took them a little over two years from the time they started their Bread and Butter Concepts partnership to open their first restaurant - BRGR - in March of 2010. A little over a year later, they opened their second restaurant - Urban Table - that offers an eclectic mix of breakfast, lunch and dinner in a neighborhood-style corner cafe/market.
In November of 2011, Bread and Butter Concepts opened what they called Kansas City's first "gastropub" - Gram and Dun. The gastropub craze has hit most major markets combining an English-style public house with a restaurant that also focuses on food. Gram and Dun goes a step further by offering gourmet-style offerings in a fun, casual and relaxing atmosphere.
BRGR is located in the Corinth Square shopping mall on West 83rd St. at Mission Road in suburban Prairie Village, KS. (see map) (Urban Table is also located within the mall.) It was a beautiful, but crisp mid-day when I pulled into the parking lot in front of BRGR and found a parking spot right up front. BRGR has a nice little outdoor seating area complete with a fireplace with heavy duty metal and glass tables and sturdy metal chairs. Even though it was nice out, I decided to eat inside.
I was greeted by a hostess and asked if I could sit at the bar. She said that would be absolutely no problem. I walked across the big open contemporary/industrial style of dining room to the three-sided bar. I found a seat at the bar and my server/bartender came over to greet me. I asked for a menu and then asked what they had for beers. She pointed at a big board behind me and said, "That's what we have on tap and in bottles, hon."
It was a pretty extensive list with a number of Belgian-style beers, microbrews, regional beers and, of course, the big guys and the usual imports. Interestingly enough, they had beers such as Pabst Blue Ribbon, Schlitz, Old Style, and even Hamm's in cans. I tell you, I do like Old Style and try to keep some in my beer fridge at all times. But this time I decided to have a Magic Hat #9 from Vermont. It, too, came in a can.
Burgers are, of course, the main feature at BRGR. But they do have salads and a number of appetizers on the menu. They also have turkey and portabella mushroom burgers along with chicken breast sandwiches, BLT's and something called the C2 - ground chicken and ground andouille sausage with blue cheese, watercress, caramelized onions and served on a corn bun. That actually sounded rather interesting to me.
One of the things that caught my attention right off the bat wasn't on the menu, but what was on the bar. BRGR has their own bottles of mustard and ketchup that they make in-house. I thought it was a nice little touch to distance themselves from other burger places in the area.
Some of the burgers on the menu at BRGR were pretty interesting. The Sheboygan featured a mix of ground chuck and short rib blend, topped with fried cheese curds, Wisconsin cheddar mustard, and something called Jay's bacon sausage, and all on a pretzel bun. The Ring of Fire was topped with chili, pepper jack cheese, jalapenos, and an onion ring and served on a corn bun. They also had their own variation of the Twin Cities favorite, the Jucy (Juicy) Lucy. Similar to the ones you find in Minneapolis/St. Paul, BRGR's Jucy Lucy was stuffed with American cheese and topped with lettuce and mayo, and served on a kaiser bun.
BRGR had a burger called the Big Mock that was similar to a McDonald's Big Mac with two beef patties, Swiss cheese, topped with a special sauce and onions, lettuce and pickles on an egg bun. And the S&P was just a basic cheeseburger with your choice of one of four different types of cheese.
For my first visit to BRGR, I went with their signature burger, simply called the BRGR. It featured ground chuck mixed with chopped caramelized onions, then topped with American cheese, lettuce, pickles and their homemade mustard and served on an onion bun. For good measure - and a buck more - I got a fried egg on top of the burger. (For $2 more per burger, you can upgrade to ground bison.) My server asked me if I wanted any fries or onion rings to go with the burger. She said, "We have these outrageously great truffle tater tots, too." I thought about it for a second and then said that the burger would be enough for me on this visit.
The burger came out about 15 minutes after I ordered. It was a good thing I didn't get fries or tater tots or anything else with it because the burger, alone, was huge. Pickle slices and shredded lettuce were already falling off the burger before I even picked it up. I ordered my burger medium, meaning that they flip the burger twice during the cooking process. Looking at the burger patty, I thought it looked a little well done for my taste with a lot of char marks on the outside.
But the first taste told me that that it wasn't overcooked. There was still some pink in the middle, but it didn't appear to be as juicy as I like my burgers. The burger meat held together well and had a good flavor, but there seemed to be some "pizazz" missing from the overall taste. The bun was good and held together well. I liked the egg on the burger giving kind of a "steak and eggs" taste. And I did like the homemade ketchup that I added to the burger. It had sort of a zippy taste without being spicy.
Maybe I went into BRGR with expectations too high. For burgers in Kansas City, I'm spoiled by the burger at Westport Flea Market. Each burger that I have in Kansas City from here on out is going to have to be measured against the one at Westport Flea Market. That's not to say the burger at BRGR was bad - far from it. It was very good, but I guess I was just looking for something even better than what I had. I did like the atmosphere and decor in the place. My server/bartender was outstanding in taking care of me. And the burger was above average, but there was just something missing from making it a great burger. Still, I'm going back to BRGR at some point to try another burger, have some more eclectic beers, and probably try those truffle tater tots. All in all, BRGR is one of the better places to get a burger in Kansas City.