A little over 3 years ago, Zagat released their list of the top burgers in 25 cities around the United States. One place that was listed was the Burger Stand at the Casbah in Lawrence, KS, just west of Kansas City. I had the place on my list of places to try and on a recent trip between Manhattan, KS and Kansas City, I stopped in Lawrence to give the Burger Stand at the Casbah a try.
Simon Bates had the jones for the restaurant business at a very early age. He was cooking in restaurants in his teens and eventually went off to study at the Culinary Institute of America. After graduating from the CIA, Bates ended up in Chicago in 2007 working at restaurants hoping all the time - along with his wife Codi - to be able to get back to their hometown of Topeka, KS.
That chance came in late 2008 when a catering company in Topeka hired Simon Bates as their executive chef. Codi and he quit their jobs and started the process of moving back to Kansas. However, just before they left Chicago, Simon got a phone call that would forever change his life - the catering company was going out of business. Bates was stuck with no job and a moving truck coming in the morning.
Simon and Codi Bates decided that this was a sign to forge ahead and get back to Topeka and find other opportunities. Simon Bates enlisted the help of one of his mentors, restaurateur Robert Krause who along with his wife, Molly, ran a number of restaurants in the Lawrence area over the years. Krause got Bates involved with Dempsey's Pub in Lawrence by renting out the kitchen area for the first Burger Stand.
The Bates' and the Krause's eventually moved the Burger Stand to the old Casbah grocery store on Massachusetts Ave. in the heart of downtown Lawrence, next to a restaurant they all were partners in, the now-closed Esquina. With a number of gourmet burgers to choose from and over 40 beers on tap, the Burger Stand at the Casbah became a local hit.
Simon Bates eventually did make it back to nearby Topeka when the group opened a second Burger Stand in Kansas' capital city in 2011. Today, after starting out as just a two person operation with Simon and Codi Bates, the two Burger Stand locations employ around 90 people in the two locations.
I got into Lawrence around 1:30 p.m. on a sunny unseasonably warm day. I was able to find some parking just down the street from the Burger Stand at the Casbah on Massachusetts at 8th St. (see map) The long, narrow space features a bar off to the left side and some tables along the stone wall on the right. I really didn't know the drill at the Burger Stand, but you order as the front counter/bar and they call your name out to get the burgers out of the kitchen.
There is an upstairs area to the Burger Stand. It's where the restrooms were located and I had to visit there before I left the building. In the middle of the upstairs area was a nifty skylight with a couple of flat screen televisions inside the skylight.
I ended up sitting in the lower level of the place down by the kitchen. It was an even more narrow space with a few high-top tables under a low ceiling. Along the wall with the kitchen was a corrugated metal wall. When your food is ready, they call out your name to pick up at the window.
The menu at the Burger Stand in Lawrence is pretty basic. They have just five burgers on the menu including a Kobe beef burger. They also feature hot dogs - or "hawt doggz" - on the menu including a Chicago-style hot dog serving as a nod to the period of time Simon Bates spent in the Windy City. Sides included a number of eclectic fries including poutine fries, duck fat fries, bacon cheddar cheese fries, and truffle fries. They also featured beer-battered onion rings on the menu.
I got the "Smoke" burger - a blended burger patty topped with applewood-smoked bacon, gouda cheese, and a chipotle-cocoa ketchup on top. I had ordered an India Pale Ale from the Odell Brewing Company out of Fort Collins, CO. They have a condiment bar down near the kitchen window and I loaded up on some dill pickle spears to go along with my burger.
The burger, I have to say, was very good. The beef blend was juicy and tasty. The chipotle/cocoa ketchup had a bit of a smoky taste, but it wasn't overpowering to the taste of the burger patty. The thick-sliced gouda cheese on top of the burger patty was also a great compliment to the burger. And how can you go wrong with crispy bacon on top. The burger was so juicy that I had to use at least five napkins while I ate it. It was simply an excellent burger.
Not only do they have good burgers at the Burger Stand at the Casbah, they have a great selection of beers and the atmosphere is fun and funky. This was a great find in my travels. I love places like this - great burgers, great beer selection, and no presence of pretension on their part at the Burger Stand at the Casbah. This was a great burger and beer place in an equally great Midwestern college town.