An upscale burger place that has been on my radar for a couple three years has been 5 Star Burger with now three locations in the greater St. Louis area. I'd read about their eclectic burgers and their extensive craft beer selection and I always wanted to give the place a try. I was in St. Louis calling on a new account one afternoon and I decided to stop into the 5 Star Burger location in suburban Kirkwood to give it a try.
Bob Gontram was an entrepreneur in the St. Louis area in the 1980's and he opened Zipp's Drive-Thru restaurants, a burger joint that eventually grew to 45 locations in Missouri and Illinois. In 1992, Gontram sold the chain to Rally's (also known as Checkers in some parts) for a reported $15 million dollars. From there, Gontram developed the Bagel Street Cafe restaurants that had three or four locations around the greater St. Louis area.
Bob Gontram's son Steve had sort of followed his father into the restaurant business. After graduating from the California Culinary Academy, a LeCordon Bleu-affiliated school that boasted alumni such as the late Charlie Trotter and Cheryl Forberg, Steve Gontram joined a Wolfgang Puck restaurant in San Francisco - Postrio (which closed in 2009) - that featured a menu of locally sourced foods.
In 1996, the younger Gontram and a fellow chef at Postrio, Matthew Bousquet, were convinced by Gontram's father and restaurant consultants George Mahe and Charlie Downs to come to St. Louis to open a similar locally-sourced menu restaurant. In 1996 with his father and the two restaurant consultants as the money backers, Steve Gontram opened Harvest with Bousquet as a partner in the business. The restaurant was located in the Richmond Heights area of St. Louis, just north of 40 Highway on S. Big Bend Blvd.
Bousquet eventually sold his interest in the restaurant and moved back to San Francisco, Bob Gontram sold his interest to his son, and the two consultants were eventually bought out. Steve Gontram became the sole owner-chef for Harvest, which - for years - was the darling of many restaurant critics and foodies around the St. Louis area. In 2004, Steve Gontram opened the short-lived Tejas Grill and Cantina in Clayton that specialized in Tex-Mex comfort food. He closed that to focus primarily on Harvest a couple years later.
In 2010, Steve Gontram sold his interest in Harvest to his executive chef, Nick Miller. (Miller ran Harvest for three more years before closing in 2013 citing cash flow troubles and increased competition of farm-to-fork concept restaurants in the greater St. Louis area.) In the meantime, Bob Gontram had moved to Taos, New Mexico and opened a new concept gourmet burger place - 5 Star Burgers. Using top notch beef in their burgers, the 5 Star Burger concept was wildly successful since its inception in 2008.
Steve Gontram decided to bring the 5 Star Burger concept to St. Louis and in 2012 he opened his first location in Clayton. In 2013, he opened a second location in Kirkwood, and earlier this year a third 5 Star Burger location opened in Creve Coeur. In addition to the St. Louis locations run by his son, Bob Gontram runs four 5 Star Burger locations in New Mexico (Sante Fe, Albuquerque and Taos).
It was the Kirkwood location of 5 Star Burgers on Kirkwood Road (which is Lindbergh Road outside of Kirkwood) that I went to on this trip. (see map) I found a parking space behind the building and went inside. The dining room wasn't very large, but it seemed comfortable enough. A large group of ladies were there having lunch, but that was about it in terms of people in the place when I walked in around 1:30 p.m.
I sat at the bar and was greeted by the bartender/server, a young lady with bright red hair and a friendly demeanor. She got me a menu to look over and asked me what I'd like to drink. They had a number of beers on tap from local breweries such as 4 Hands, Civil Life, and Urban Chestnut. I ordered up a bottle of a Kölsch beer from another well-known St. Louis craft brewery, Schlafly.
The young lady tending bar was also a server for the large group of ladies - about 12 to 14 of them - who were having lunch. She had to come up with separate checks for the women, so it gave me a long time to take a look through the menu to see what they had to offer at 5 Star Burger. They get their Black Angus beef at 5 Star Burger from Creekstone Farms, a Kansas corporate ranch that supplies premium beef to restaurants around the U.S. Many of the items on the menu are sourced locally or within a moderate drive from St. Louis.
They feature about a half dozen burgers along with specialty non-beef burgers such as a veggie burger, a lamb burger, and a Duroc pork burger with a Vietnamese slaw and a peanut-hoisin sauce. Their regular burgers included the Blue Ribbon burger that was topped with bacon, port-braised onions and gorgonzola cheese; the Magic Mushroom burger featured sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions and Swiss cheese; and the Gateway that featured a burger topped with bacon, cheddar cheese, onion rings and a house-made barbecue sauce.
For people that don't want a burger - or any variation of a burger - 5 Star Burger has a grilled chicken sandwich, a grilled salmon sandwich, and a pale-ale battered cod sandwich. They also have a number of salads and soups on the menu, as well.
I went with Dad's Green Chile cheeseburger - a burger that was developed by Bob Gontram when he first opened 5 Star Burger in New Mexico eight years ago. The burger was topped with crisp-fried Hatch green chiles and pepper-jack cheese. A chile-mayo sauce came on the side along with garnishes such as red onion slices, dill pickles, tomato slices and lettuce. I got a side of fries to go along with the burger - I had momentarily contemplated getting the fried dill pickles served with a Greek tzatziki sauce. The fries were served in a small basket wrapped with paper.
From the first bite, I could easily tell this was an outstanding burger. It was cooked with a bit of pink in the center, but it was juicy with each bite. The fried Hatch green chiles had a bit of a spicy bite - I would have liked the burger even more had the Hatch green chiles were sauteed rather than breaded and fried. But that's a minor quibble in describing what was turning out to be an excellent burger. I added a bit of the green chile mayo to the burger, but I concentrated on dipping my fries in the sauce more than using it on my burger. I would recommend getting an extra side of the green chile mayo to go along with the very good fries at 5 Star Burger.
The lettuce and tomato garnish were surprisingly fresh, as was the red onion. I like a good red onion garnish on my burger more than just regular onions. The bun that came with the burger was fresh, airy and spongy, and it held together very well with all the juiciness of the burger. A great bun can make a great burger and this was a great bun. At left is the aftermath of my burger with all the juices on the plate. This was - easily - a five napkin burger.
I made pretty short work of the burger and was still dipping some fries into the green chile-mayo sauce when my server/bartender came over to check on me. "How was the burger," she asked. I told her that I thought it was outstanding.
And the burger was outstanding. With nearly each bite, I found myself going, "Mmmm..." as an affirmation of how good the burger tasted. With the fresh garnishes, the excellent bun that held together despite the juicy burger patty, the fried Hatch green chiles offering a bit of a spiciness to the burger, as did the pepper-jack cheese, along with the tasty green chile-mayo, this burger may be the best one I've had in all my travels to St. Louis. It's definitely in the top 3, but it would be tough to beat the taste of the burger I got that afternoon at 5 Star Burger.