While on a trip to Cape Girardeau, MO to see a dealer earlier this spring, I was looking for a quick place to get a burger and a beer after the meeting. I found someplace that looked interesting called Bagger Dave's Legendary Burger Tavern on William St. (see map). I was sort of intrigued by the name of the place, especially with the word "legendary" in it. I pulled into the Cape Girardeau Town Plaza shopping center and parked in front of Bagger Dave's.
I knew nothing - zero, zip, nada - about Bagger Dave's before I walked into the place. I was sort of hoping that it was a locally owned restaurant since I'd never seen or even heard of Bagger Dave's before. Well, I found out later on that it is part of a chain of restaurants that began in Berkley, MI in 2006, but the Cape Girardeau location was the first non-company owned franchise in the Bagger Dave's universe.
Bagger Dave's is owned and run by Diversified Restaurant Holdings, a corporation that also owns a number of Buffalo Wild Wings franchises throughout Michigan and Florida. Michael Ansley had graduated from the University of Dayton and took a job with an adhesive and sealant company in Dayton. After work, Ansley and friends from work would get together for beer and wings at a new place called BW-3 which stood for Buffalo Wild Wings and Weck. Ansley got to know the three owners and it turned out they were all about the same age as he. The three owners had gotten together to borrow money from family members to open the BW-3 franchise. Suddenly, Ansley got the bug to open his own BW-3.
Ansley pestered a college roommate to join him as a partner and procured a loan from family members to open a BW-3 franchise in Ypsilanti, MI in 1995. Three years later, Ansley was bought out by his partner and he used the money to open a Buffalo Wild Wings in Sterling, MI outside of Detroit. That was the first of many Buffalo Wild Wings that Ansley opened in Southeast Michigan. In 2002 when he convinced Buffalo Wild Wings corporate officers in Minneapolis to let him open the first full-service BW-3 complete with waitstaff and bartenders. No longer did people have to wait in long lines to order chicken wings, burgers and beer. The concept was such a hit that the first full-service Buffalo Wild Wings in Novi, MI was the top grossing BW-3 from 2003 to 2006. Today, I believe all the BW-3 locations are full service locations.
In 2006, Ansley developed the concept for Bagger Dave's Legendary Burger Tavern as an "ultra-casual" burger joint that also featured a number of micro-brewed beers from around the Midwest. The concept quickly grew with a number of locations throughout southeastern Michigan.
In 2011, Diversified Restaurants Holdings gained approval to franchise Bagger Dave's restaurants in six more states in the Midwest. Brothers-in-law Bill Zellmer and Lonnie Griggs operated six Buffalo Wild Wings franchises in southeast Missouri and southern Illinois and knew Ansley quite well. They opened the first franchise of Bagger Dave's in the summer of 2012 in Cape Girardeau.
I walked into the Bagger Dave's location in Cape Girardeau a little before 2 p.m. and the restaurant was nearly deserted after the lunch rush. I took a seat in a booth along a short wall that divided the main dining area from the bar area of the restaurant. There was an open kitchen area off to the front side of the restaurant. A number of old reprints of pictures of Cape Girardeau from back in the early 20th century were on the walls throughout the place, many showing some of the Mississippi River floods that used to inundate the town before the flood wall was built. On a shelf that ringed both the bar and dining areas was what looked to be a Lionel Standard "O" Gauge train set that ran along the wall.
A young lady by the name of Holly came over to greet me and to drop off a menu. She asked me if I wanted anything to drink and I asked what kind of beer they had. She pointed out the beer menu and I immediately found a Bell's Two Hearted pale ale. I immediately ordered that.
Bagger Dave's burgers are made from fresh and never frozen quality locally grown beef. They feature six "legendary" burgers on the menu including the Train Wreck which had two ground beef patties topped with hand-cut fries, a fried egg, sharp cheddar cheese, sauteed onions and mushrooms, lettuce, and their version of Thousand Island dressing called Railhouse Burger Sauce, then served on a toasted sesame bun. Ooo, that did sound like a train wreck.
They also had the Kickin' Cheddar Burger that was topped with sharp cheddar, a horseradish sauce and all the garden variety veggies you normally put on a burger. There was the the Blues Burger that was topped with blue cheese and Cajun spices; and something called the Ono Burger that was topped with sliced pineapple, Swiss cheese, BBQ sauce, jalapenos, applewood-smoked bacon, and sauteed onions. Uh, no. I was definitely going to pass on that one.
None of the legendary burgers sounded all that good to me. I wanted to make my own burger up, but I couldn't figure out how to do that. Suddenly in the lower right hand corner of the menu, I saw a little box that said, "Create Your Own Legend". It gave instructions - select a burger, select a bun, select cheese, etc., etc. I'm like, "OK, where in the hell are the choices for toppings, cheese and the other stuff?" Then I saw at the bottom of the box in very small font, "See that sheet on the table? Pick it up and start assembling." I looked over and found a sheet that had 30 different types of toppings including bacon, fried egg, sauces, veggies and condiments, six different types of cheese to choose from, and three different buns. I was going through the list when Holly came back with my beer and said, "Oh, good! You found the little order sheets." She gave me a few minutes while I checked off what I wanted on my burger with a small pencil they provided on the tables.
Man, all those decisions to put on a burger. They had smoked gouda on the cheese list and it was either getting that or with the pepper jack cheese. I had already figured out that I wanted the regular ketchup, yellow mustard, pickles, fresh chopped onions, sauteed mushrooms and applewood smoked bacon on the burger with a sesame seed bun, but I was torn on the cheese. When Holly came back and I told her my predicament on the cheese, she said, "Order both!" I almost did, but I opted for the smoked gouda instead. She asked me if I wanted any of Bagger Dave's fresh-cut fries with Cajun seasoning or the sweet potato chips they're supposedly famous for. Nope - just the burger was fine with me.
When the burger came out It was wrapped in wax paper with the Bagger Dave's logo all over and placed on a small round metal plate with high sides. The standard burger I ordered featured two flat grilled, smashed (still trying to get used to having burgers like that) beef patties and then topped with the cheese, mushrooms and bacon, while sitting on the ketchup, mustard, pickles and chopped onions on a lightly toasted sesame seed bun.
The taste of the burger was good - although I couldn't detect any of the smoked gouda with all the other taste sensations going on. The burgers are normally cooked medium-well at Bagger Dave's. When I saw that on the little order sheet I filled out, I had asked Holly if it was OK to get the burger cooked medium. She cheerfully replied that would be no problem. There was some juiciness to the burger and from what I could tell it wasn't overcooked. The chopped onions were fresh, pungent and flavorful, reminding me of an old time grill cooked burger that I used to get growing up in small-town Iowa. It was a good and filling burger.
I was impressed with Bagger Dave's - even after I found out it was a franchise chain restaurant. The burger tasted good, the service was good from Holly, and the restaurant had a nice ambiance to the place. I see that they've opened a couple locations in Indianapolis and that more locations are planned for Wisconsin and Illinois. There's starting to be a lot of similarly-themed burger places like Bagger Dave's. But with their concept of fresh burgers and eclectics beers, I think they'll be able to hold their own against the competition.
(Update - I happened to be in Cape Girardeau the latter part of 2014 and found that Bagger Dave's had closed. No word as to why, but some online reviews seemed to point that it had gone downhill pretty fast in terms of food quality and service.)