Was I at the wrong restaurant?
Surely, the oozing mound of ground meat coated in cheese and spilling onto a pile of shoestring French fries wasn’t from the kitchen of La Coop: Bistro à Vins, a French restaurant at 732 East Market Street.
But the dish was this NuLu restaurant’s Thursday night burger special, a weekly feature that has become as much of a fixture at this bistro as the ratatouille or bouillabaisse. During my visit, Chef Bobby Benjamin concocted the night’s special from a grass-fed beef patty topped with a ragù of lamb, bacon and beans and a layer of beer cheese—in other words, a high-end chili-cheese burger.
La Coop is one of a string of Louisville restaurants that have embraced the burger and its gourmet potential. Some restaurants use weekly burger specials that provide chefs with an opportunity to experiment with a classic—and customers with a lower-cost option for dining upscale. Others eateries, such as Sidebar at Whiskey Row and Mussel and Burger Bar, have focused the majority of its menu on turning this diner classic into thoughtful cuisine.
These fancy burgers don’t come cheap, exactly. Most entrées start at $10 and reach toward $20. In return, customers receive high-quality meat, local ingredients and flavor combinations inspired by international dishes.
Game: Lamb or chorizo is probably the most adventurous I’ve gotten when it comes to putting ground meat on a bun. The menu at Game, a restaurant in Irish Hill, has introduced Louisville diners to more audacious choices such as kangaroo, antelope and wild boar. Afraid to say yes to an elk burger? Game offers a meatball sampler that gives customers a chance to try the nine of the meat selections before the full commitment of ordering an entire burger. And if all else fails, Angus beef and vegetarian options are available. Game, 2295 Lexington Road, Louisville
Grind Gourmet Burger Truck: Brick-and-mortar establishments aren’t the only businesses introducing innovation to hamburgers. Liz and Jesse Huot serve a custom blend of local, grass-fed beef (and housemade veggie burgers) from the side of their food truck. One of the Grind’s most popular offerings is the B&B, a burger topped with bacon, brie and hot pepper jelly. Grind is often stationed at events in the region such as the Flea Off Market or First Friday Trolley Hop, but the best way to catch them is by following their online calendar or Twitter feed. Grind Gourmet Burger Truck, various locations
Harvest: This NuLu restaurant emphasizes the importance of regional farms with its use of local seasonal ingredients—Harvest’s goal is for 80 percent of its produce to originate from within 100 miles of Louisville, according to the restaurant’s website. That same attention to thinking locally is reflected in its Thursday night burger special, a rotating lineup that has included a pork burger with a side of fried okra and a sirloin and pancetta burger. Harvest’s Facebook page regularly posts the week’s burger special. Harvest, 624 East Market Street, Louisville
Mussel and Burger Bar: Mussel may come first in the name of this restaurant, but the burgers are the headliner at this Jeffersontown establishment. Mussel and Burger Bar boasts 12 types of burgers with names like the Argentinian, The Italian Job and La Frita Cubana to indicate the cultural inspirations behind the entrees. The flavor combinations are indulgent—the B.B.B. Bacon Breakfast Burger, for example, includes caramelized onions, aged white cheddar cheese, maple syrup aioli, pork belly and a fried egg. Mussel and Burger Bar, 9200 Taylorsville Road, Louisville
Sidebar at Whiskey Row: The menu at this newest addition to Whiskey Row is concise, but the brevity allows Sidebar to focus on what’s important—burgers, bourbon and beer. There are only six beef burger selections with court-themed names like Court Reporter (with avocado, lettuce, tomato, honey-chipotle aioli and roasted pepper relish) and Ambulance Chaser (barbecue sauce, cheddar cheese, bacon, tomato jam and tobacco onions). All burgers are made with a blend of Angus beef, chuck, brisket and short rib that justifies keeping the toppings simple. Sidebar at Whiskey Row, 129 North Second Street, Louisville