Everybody loves a timeless classic: a black dress with pearls, the movie Citizen Kane, a ’65 Mustang and, of course, a grilled hamburger with fries and a shake.
Perhaps it is our turbulent times that lead us to the inevitable longing for the seemingly carefree, youthful summer days of jumping rope, running through a sprinkler and smelling the charcoal grill heating up.
Whatever the reason, something has spurred the propagation of old-fashioned burger and shake restaurants that are opening up all over West Hartford. The town’s newest one – BGR: The Burger Joint, located at 983 Farmington Avenue – opened last week and it is drawing raves from those who know a good patty when they taste one.
The Virginia-based chain opened its first “joint” in 2008 in Bethesda, Maryland. Since then, 13 have opened, most of them south of the Mason-Dixon line. The West Hartford location is the first in New England.
Owner Jim Grieder is a newcomer to the restaurant business. Having previously owned three health clubs at the Connecticut shore, he decided last September to sell them and change career paths to become a franchisee with The Burger Joint.
He states that, despite the proliferation of burger restaurants, The Burger Joint stands out for several reasons. “We only use prime dry-aged beef; never frozen, everything is flown in fresh daily. Our buns are made fresh daily, the ingredients are produced fresh daily, and we cook to temperature. Everything is cooked to order.”
The unassuming exterior of the restaurant with its simple black and white awning gives way to a small but colorful interior with seating for 42 customers. Purple walls are lined with album covers from classic bands like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Bruce Springsteen, The Police, Blondie and Stevie Wonder. Overhead lights hang like bunches of the old fashioned large-bulbed Christmas lights and brightly colored mosaic topped tabletops pay homage to nostalgic foods like Nestle’s Quik, Pop Rocks and Bazooka Bubble Gum.
Customers line up to the side to order from a big menu posted on the wall. An old-fashioned grill and fry sinks are visible behind the counter.
This is basically a self-service restaurant. Once the order is filled, customers take their tray and find an open table. A wide selection of condiments is available on the tables, including malt vinegar for the continental French Fry sophisticate. The Burger Joint’s special “mojo sauce” is a mayo-based topping that adds a touch of spice and kick right off the grill. Customers wanting a cheeseburger will need to choose from several varieties.
One might think that the name says it all, but don’t be fooled into thinking that the menu consists of only run-of-the-mill burgers. These are made of hormone-free prime meat. Single burgers are 6 ounces, 50 percent larger than a quarter pounder, cooked on a grill rather than a greasy griddle, with the result a juicy, tender burger.
There are single and double beef patties, cheeseburgers, sliders, and the gargantuan “9 Pounder” that is recommended to feed 10-15 but is free to any individual who can actually consume the entire thing.
In addition, there are lamb, turkey, veggie and ahi tuna burgers, as well as lobster rolls and grilled cheese sandwiches. There are specialty celebrity burgers like The Cuban, alluding to the traditional sandwich well-known to Cuban émigré communities; the burger is topped with slow-roasted pork, ham, sweet pickles, Dijon mustard and Swiss cheese.
The Greek burger, which was featured on Food Network’s “Throwdown with Bobby Flay,” consists of ground lamb seasoned with cumin, mint and garlic and topped with tzatziki sauce and feta cheese. The Southwestern kicks it up a notch with its infusion of chipotles, poblano chiles, onion, pepper jack cheese and black bean salsa. All of the burgers are served on sesame seed, brioche-style buns shipped in daily from a family bakery in Philadelphia.
Sides consist of Yukon Gold thick cut fries, thin cut Sweet Potato fries, and beer battered sweet Vidalia onion rings. A state-of-the-art, touch-driven, menu-commanded Coca Cola machine will fascinate young and old, as this one unit dispenses 150 different flavors and variants of fizzy favorites. Creamy milkshakes with a generous dollop of whipped cream, as well as beer and wine, are also available.
West Hartford mother and son Jeannine and Chris Stimson were enjoying a couple of burgers, fries and onion rings on a recent night out. Young Chris was fueling up before a Boy Scout meeting, eagerly munching on his bacon cheeseburger and sipping from a chocolate milkshake. He deemed both very good but was particularly enthused about the onion rings he was sharing with his mother, stating that, “they rocked.”
Greider chose to open his first franchise in West Hartford. Committed to opening five more stores, he is already scouting for a Glastonbury location. He was very enthusiastic about his reasons for choosing West Hartford for his first venture.
“I love it up here, I love the vibe up here. There’s a lot of foot traffic and there’s not a lot of fast casual restaurants up here. There’s a lot of full service places. We don’t have a wait staff and we’re not high tech. We’re a joint.”