Happy Holidays from BurgerBusiness.com. Here’s hoping the holidays are merry and 2012 is brighter for loyal subscribers and occasional readers alike. Our warmest thoughts go to the good folks at Red Gold, a wonderful brand that keeps this site’s lights on.
Traditionally, the year closes with a roundup of burger chains worth watching in the coming year. We’re not counting Smashburger, Elevation Burger, Epic Burger or any of the others that already have established themselves (see last year’s list). The 12 chains below are up-and-comers that shouldn’t fly under your radar. Check ’em out:
◘ Bareburger, New York City (six open). The beef’s organic and grass-fed or you can choose lamb, wild boar, elk, bison or ostrich. The Ruby burger has Havarti cheese, pastrami, blackened maple bacon, fried bread-and-butter pickles, apple-smoked onion and horseradish mayo, and it’s $11.95. I wish my neighborhood had a Bareburger.
◘ Umami Burger, Los Angeles (seven open). When even the Wall Street Journal raves about your burgers and the James Beard Foundation blog calls your Stinkburger (garlic confit, Taleggio cheese, raw onions and anchovy tempura) one of the year’s 10 best dishes, you know you’re onto something good.
◘ Burger 21, Tampa, Fla. (two open). Owned by the company that also operates casual-fondue chain The Melting Pot, Burger 21 has big plans, as executives told BurgerBusiness.com in a September interview. The Tex-Mex Haystack burger brings together lettuce, tomato, applewood-smoked bacon, smoked Cheddar, guacamole, crispy onion strings and chipotle-jalapeño sauce on a brioche bun.
◘ M Burger, Chicago (four open). M Burger is one of the less-ambitious concepts developed by Rich Melman’s Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises empire, which runs many of Chicago’s best restaurants (Everest, Shaw’s, Mon Ami Gabi, etc.). Like New York City’s Shake Shack, M Burger is simple and crowded.
◘ Bagger Dave’s Legendary Burger Tavern, Southfield, Mich. (six open). Parent Company Diversified Restaurant Holdings also develops Buffalo Wild Wings stores, but Bagger Dave’s is by far the cooler concept. The menu has beer and wine pairing suggestions for each burger. The Santa Fe Chipotle Burger? How about a pilsner or brown ale, or perhaps a Riesling or Torrontés?
◘ Tom & Eddie’s, Lombard, Ill. (four open). When we interviewed former McDonald’s Corp. execs Tom Dentice and Ed Rensi a year ago, they had just opened their first Tom & Eddie’s. Now there are four with more to come, proving they learned about expansion as well as burgers at the Arches. I’m still partial to the Bushel & A Peck burger with Granny Smith apple slices, house-made walnut butter, melted Brie cheese and caramelized onions on a roll.
◘ The Works Gourmet Burger Bistro, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (11 open). A Canadian chain? Sure, Canadian now but like Tim Hortons, The Works could one day come on over. Even if it doesn’t, it’s worth keeping an eye on if only because the menu lists 70 or so signature burgers. The $12.78 Peppercorn Broiler, for example, has a crunch black-pepper crust, Gouda cheese and bacon.
◘ Stout Burgers & Beers, Los Angeles (one open). There’s just the one Stout now—in Hollywood—but satellites in Studio City and Santa Monica, Calif., are under construction. Stout also pairs burgers and brews. Go IPA with the $10 Goombah burger (Parmesan flakes, smoked mozzarella, crispy prosciutto and lemon-basil aïoli).
◘ Meatheads Burgers & Fries, Bloomington, Ill. (six open). A straight-forward concept in the Five Guys mold. Build your own, starting with a half or third-pound Angus patty or chicken breast, or pick one of its “Chef-Inspired Burgers.” The $6 Cajun Sunrise has a fried egg, pepper-Jack cheese, bacon, blue cheese sauce, lettuce, tomato and fresh jalapeños.
◘ Kraze Burger, Seoul, Korea (one US location open). The Korean burger chain has opened in Bethesda, Md., and plans more in the Washington, D.C., area. The K. Onion Burger is topped with a deep-fried onion ring and cream-cheese sauce. Rockin’.
◘ Toro Burger Bar, El Paso, Texas (three open). Proud to be #4 on Texas Monthly’s list of the state’s best burger joints, Toro serves Angus beef (except for the Angus-chorizo-mix Border Burger) on toasted sesame brioche buns.
◘ Original BUBBA burger Grill, Jacksonville, Fla. (four open). It’s not unusual to see restaurant brands show up in grocery aisles. BUBBA is the opposite: a retail frozen-burger brand that now is opening restaurants that feature its product. A regular BUBBA (100% USDA Choice Chuck beef) is a family-friendly $4.89; specialty BUBBAs are $5.89.