Always on the lookout for new places to eat while I'm on the road, while in Fort Wayne recently I found an article in Fort Wayne Monthly magazine regarding a new place called Bravas Burgers that grew from a hot dog street cart to a food truck to a brick-and-mortar gourmet burger restaurant south of the city's downtown area. I decided to go find the place for lunch while I was there.
19-year-old Bo Gonzalez was a recent drop out of music school sitting around with some friends one night trying to figure out what to do with their lives. While they were making homemade tacos Gonzalez came up with an idea of doing a street cart selling tacos outside bars at night. But he found out that it was not practical to have a taco cart due to the proper storage of different types of meat and toppings.
Still obsessed with the idea of having a street cart food business, Gonzalez then switched directions and decided to do hot dogs. While living in Chicago before moving back to Fort Wayne he was inspired by Doug Sohn, the owner of the now-closed Hot Doug's gourmet hot dog joint in Chicago. In Gonzalez view, Hot Doug's did only one thing and they did it right. After moving back to Fort Wayne he truly missed the concept of doing only one thing and doing it well. He was confident that he had a winning idea and he opened his hot dog food cart in the summer of 2011.
It was an unprofitable summer for Gonzalez - he considered selling six hot dogs a "good day" - but he did garner a bit of a following for his hot dogs topped with eclectic items. One of the toppings was a home-recipe "Bravas" sauce that he got from his Spanish-native father which was a bold (the English word for Brava) spicy tomato-based condiment that was used as an every day topping in Spain. He ended up naming his little business Bravas and after the first season he decided to run it like a real business.
Pictured right - Bo Gonzales. (Photo courtesy WBOI.org)
Gonzalez had gotten some help from his parents to start his business, but then went to a bank to get a line of credit to help cushion any monetary needs for his second season. The second summer went so well that - with the help of his sister Becky and some of his friends - Gonzalez started to make money in his little venture. It was then that he decided to buy a food truck and up the food ante a bit by selling Spanish-inspired tapas dishes.
Gonzalez and his friends took a road trip to West Virginia to pick up a used food truck they found for sale on the Internet. Once it was back in Fort Wayne they fixed it up to their specifications, placed nice signage on the sides and went out to the streets of Fort Wayne to feed the masses.
But people in Fort Wayne didn't seem to care for his tapas offerings as they continued to order the gourmet hot dogs from the food truck. Gonzalez tried a new concept, having "burger nights" when the food truck would be parked outside a local music club serving burgers along with the hot dogs. The burgers that Gonzalez and his crew made became just as popular, if not more popular than the hot dogs, frequently selling out on any given evening. It turns out that cold Indiana winters made his food truck a seasonal business, Gonzalez decided that he wanted to open a restaurant that focused on burgers and would provide income year round.
In the fall of 2014, Gonzalez found a building on Fort Wayne's south side that used to house a pizza joint. The building - over 80 years old - wasn't very big and had all the elements in place for a restaurant. Bravas Burgers opened in early December of 2014. In addition to running his new restaurant, Gonzalez plans on having the food truck show up outside popular bars and at area events in the summertime.
Gonzales has surrounded himself with friends who have some culinary skills, as well. His head chef is Fort Wayne native Zach Croy who got his culinary degree at the prestigious New England Culinary Institute and who previously worked at the outstanding Joseph Decuis in nearby Roanoke, IN. (Click here to see my entry on Joseph Decuis.) And the friend who was with Gonzalez the night he came up with the original idea for doing a street food cart, Ted Doal, is a line cook and sort of a "jack-of-all-trades" for the burger joint.
I pulled up in front of Bravas Burgers on Fairfield Ave around 12:45 p.m. (see map) There was limited parking on the street, but I found a larger parking lot behind the building next to Bravas. There's a narrow walkway on the north side of Bravas building that led to the front of the business.
The little place was packed with people when I first went in. The seating options were a dozen wooden picnic tables - that's it. Artwork with burger themes and a number of framed articles on Bravas were on the light blue painted walls. I also got a minor kick out the BurgerTime video game that stood along the north wall of the place. The little spot had a laid-back and very casual vibe - a vibe that I thoroughly enjoyed.
The menu was on the wall next to the counter where you order your food. In addition to their main burgers - The Classic with lettuce, tomato, fried onions and a jalapeño remoulade; the Bravas Burger topped with chili, fries, provolone cheese and Bravas sauce; and the PB burger topped with housemade peanut butter, white cheddar cheese, bacon, pickled sweet peppers and mayo.
Bravas also offers a number of specialty burgers that change on a monthly basis or upon the availability of locally-sourced ingredients. Some of the specialty burgers that day included a gruyere cheese burger; a burger topped with molé sauce; a burger topped with Fontana cheese and a tomato jam; and a burger called "The Slow Jam" that had a caramelized onion jam, maple dijon mustard, and brie cheese along with pickled apple slices on top.
I was sort of surprised after the fact that they didn't have any of their gourmet hot dogs on the menu, but they did have one of their more popular tapas dishes - patatas - on the menu. Patatas are white potatoes cut into small wedges, deep fried in oil, then topped with the spicy Bravas sauce. You could get them plain, with the Bravas sauce, or "poutine"-style topped with gravy and Wisconsin cheddar cheese curds.
But I was there to try the burger and I ordered up the Classic burger. The young lady behind the counter asked me if I wanted cheese and bacon on the burger. Well, absolutely! For now, Bravas Burgers only offers soft drinks - including Mexican soda pop - for drinks, but Gonzalez is hoping to get a liquor license to serve craft brews made in some of the local breweries around Fort Wayne. I just had a glass of water that I poured from an urn along the wall to go along with the burger.
By the time my burger was ready, a picnic table came open. While not the most comfortable form of dining, the picnic tables were sort of a unique touch. It turns out that the picnic tables were locally made by a 17-year-old carpenter who worked on his project for Bravas after school and on the weekends. He did a good job, I'll have to say.
The burger was served on a small metal tray on wax paper. A side of very fresh, crisp and very good potato chips came with the burger. To keep the bun on the top, a small plastic sword held it in place.
The bun - which is locally baked for Bravas Burgers by Zinnia's Bakehouse - was slightly grilled and was light, puffy and airy. Cheese was oozing off the burger and chopped lettuce was falling out before I could even have my first bite.
As I took my first bite and savored the flavor of the burger, I instinctively went, "Mmmmm..." Bravas uses three different types of beef for their burgers. They trim the beef in house, cut them into cubes and salt cures the beef for a couple days. They then grind the beef themselves so it's fresh everyday. The burger had a bold flavor, was very juicy and extremely flavorful. The bacon Bravas uses on their burgers comes from Ossian, a specialty meat packer in Fort Wayne. A hint of a spicy taste from the jalapeño remoulade came through, but it wasn't overpowering. Even though it was a five napkin burger from the juicy nature of the burger and all the great toppings, the bun stayed together very nicely, as well. This was simply a great burger.
I can't say enough about the burger I had at Bravas Burger. The back story alone of the entrepreneurial spirit Bo Gonzalez and his friends has shown in going from a budding idea, to running a street cart, to getting a food truck and then getting a brick-and-mortar location in four years is inspiring in many ways. Having a great burger is just the icing on the cake on what will undoubtedly be a great future for Bravas Burgers.