Always on the lookout for a good burger on the road, I was in Springfield, MO recently and stumbled upon a little burger joint in the what is called Springfield's downtown area. The name - Grad School - conjures up an interesting back story about how this somewhat counterculture place came to be in the heart of the Bible Belt.
Danny Schlink was on the "10-year plan" at Missouri State University working toward his degree in history. While he was going to college all those years, he was working in restaurants to make some extra money. One of the places he worked in was a small Caribbean restaurant called the Rasta Grill. When he finally graduated with his bachelor's degree in history in 2008, Schlink pretty much knew he had a diploma that wouldn't open many doors in the business world. When he quizzed others who had a degree in history what they were going to do, they nearly all replied they were going to grad school.
Since the restaurant business was in his blood, Schlink - along with friends Josh Nail and Shane Rice, who also worked with Schlink at the then closed Rasta Grill - decided to start their own place. They settled on a burger joint concept with a laid back atmosphere for the place and gave it the Grad School moniker so Schlink would always be able to say he went to "grad school" like many of his classmates. They were able to rent the same building that used to house the Rasta Grill and opened their doors in 2008.
Initially, business was very slow. It didn't help that Schlink and his minority-ownership partners eschewed any type of social media or even a web site for their small burger place. But word of mouth picked up about this little burger joint that was a hangout for misfits and urban hipsters and within 18 months Grad School was cashing in on the downtown lunch crowd business.
In 2010, Schlink opened his second endeavor - the J.O.B. Public House. Figuring that he now had "graduated" beyond the Grad School concept, it was time to get a job - hence the J.O.B. name. J.O.B. Public House initially featured a dinner menu only, but also boasted over 300 different types of whiskey to choose from. The Bourbon Review magazine called J.O.B. Public House as one of the top 50 whiskey bars in the U.S. J.O.B. now serves a lunch menu in addition to their normal dinner menu.
I got into Grad School (that's got a weird ring to that sentence) just before noon and was able to find a spot at the counter. It's a very small place featuring a small backroom for overflow dining (there's also a small patio out back that is used during the warmer months) with the grill behind the counter. The room is so tight behind the counter that the workers were constantly saying "Behind you!" to their co-workers manning the grill to let them know they were going around them.
As I sat down at the counter, I noticed the old style gas flat top grill big enough for - maybe - 16 burgers at a time. The grill had a lot of what I like to call "zest" built up on it from the thousands of burgers that has been cooked on it over the last 6 plus years. I was given a menu that was basically a tri-folded piece of paper and asked what I wanted to drink. I saw they had a beer menu, as well, and I ended up getting a bottle of the Schlafly Pale Ale. Music, in the form of the Close to the Edge album by Yes, was playing out of the small speakers on the wall above the grill and prep area. Wow! 70's progressive rock on the sound system at Grad School! I immediately liked the place.
It turns out that Grad School is more than just a burger joint. The menu (which is also colorfully written up on a chalkboard) features just two burgers - the Full Ride which consists of two flat-grilled patties topped with lettuce, bacon, tomato, caramelized onions, and soft sharp cheddar cheese; and the Codi Bra which is a housemade veggie burger. In addition to the burgers, Grad School has pasta dishes, salads and chili (I smelled the chili - the aroma was terrific!), tacos and burritos that could either be vegan or filled with steak, chicken or tilapia, and a handful of pressed panini sandwiches made with house-baked bread. It also seemed like their wings - or known as "wangs" - were a popular item during the lunch rush when I was there.
I ended up getting the Full Ride burger. It came with fries and a dill pickle spear and was served on a rectangular ceramic plate. The outside of the burger was crusty from the cook smashing it on the grill. I'm still not sold on the smashing concept of a burger on a flat grill, but the burger was still juicy and flavorful. It may have been a tad overdone for my tastes, but it was still a good burger.
The fries were the crispy skin-on variety that I like from time to time. They definitely weren't limp and had a good potato taste. This was a very good lunch.
While it may not have been the best burger I've ever had, the Full Ride at Grad School was definitely well above average. I liked the low key atmosphere at the place - the laid back attitude by the staff was also a plus, in my book. If you can get past the fact that most of the staff have big bushy beards and are wearing stocking caps inside, then you should thoroughly enjoy going to Grad School - the more fun of the grad schools I know.