New Orleans’ burger boom
A cheeseburger at Cowbell. (Tina Peng)
Think of New Orleans cuisine, and you think of gumbo, jambalaya and mountains of crayfish. A burger stuffed with foie gras and served with truffled fries? Not so much. But with two recently opened gourmet burger joints — complete with secretly-sourced buns and homemade ketchup — and two more on the way, New Orleans is on the edge of a hamburger revolution.
"I think it's going to be great," said Adam Biderman, owner of the Company Burger, which should open its doors by April. "I think the more selection for the city, the better. We've got hundreds of po'boy shops. Why can't we have burger shops vying for the same amount of attention?"
When the Magazine Street diner Slim Goodies shuts down on Sunday nights, MVB takes over its space to dish out a rotating list of milkshakes and burgers, including the Burger Benedict (with crispy pancetta, fried egg and hollandaise sauce), the Keep Austin Weird (with green chile puree and melted Mexican cheese) and the Knuckle Sandwich (with lobster meat, beurre fondue and remoulade sauce). "Each week, somebody had a meal, or somebody ate this, and we tried to see how we could turn it into a burger," said partner Rene Louapre. In addition to adding creative toppings, the chefs grind and hand-form their own patties, cut their own fries and make their own ketchup.
MVB is currently a once-a-week pop-up, but it serves about 200 diners a night (5 pm to whenever they run out of burgers) and regularly sells out of burgers. There are plans to open a full restaurant "within the next couple of months", Louapre said.
Owner Brack May's original vision for this restaurant was a menu composed entirely of hamburgers named after Frank Zappa songs, at the kind of casual, family-friendly burger joint he used to love in his hometown of Menlo Park, California. He decided to diversify after learning that another burger restaurant would be opening up the street, but Cowbell's burger, an Angus blend served on buns from a top-secret distributor, is still its main event. It is served with a side of fries and aioli mayonnaise, and can be topped with a zinfandel, bacon and onion compote, or with smoked bacon and an egg.
The restaurant opened in mid-December and also offers shrimp quesadillas, macaroni and cheese and a barbecued ribeye.
The Company Burger
Although owner Adam Biderman has mainly worked as a chef in upscale restaurants, he never envisioned white tablecloths and four-fork place settings for himself. And when he started brainstorming restaurant ideas, he realized that everywhere he has worked, "all we talked about was where the best burger was", Biderman said. "That's all we wanted to do after we got out of work - eat a hamburger."
When the restaurant opens this spring, Biderman's burgers will feature all-natural beef served with homemade ketchup and pickles on specialty buns. He is even experimenting with homemade waffle fries. "You try to make everything other than the American cheese and the red onions."
His goal is to have the Company Burger open before New Orleans' annual Jazz & Heritage Festival (29 April to 8 May). "Why not throw my hat into the mix?" he asked. "You don't have to be the first [to the trend], but it's good to be the best."
After realizing the popularity of the hamburger on the lunch menu at New Orleans' Patois, Leon Touzet and his business partners there decided to open a freestanding burger joint, with a plan to start serving in early March. Touzet, like Biderman, is aware he will not be a patty pioneer, but said he and his partners will grind their own meat and find "the perfect bun".
They spent months agonizing over a name for their spin-off eatery, handing out cards to Patois diners, with the promise of a $100 tab for whoever came up with the best suggestion. For a while, Touzet said, the bad ideas far outnumbered the good ones; in the end, his brother (and partner) came up with Tru Burger (8150 Oak Street).