Photographs by Justin Fox Burks
N ational food trends may arrive a little late to the Bluff City, but tardiness doesn’t stop a warm embrace. (Think food trucks, local breweries, and hand-tossed pizzas.) With the $10 gourmet burger, Memphis jumps in strong, adding three new burger restaurants in the past two months. Excited about the reinvention of meat on a bun, food writer Hannah Bailey and I went to work, discovering bold toppings, fancy cocktails, and craft beers on tap. And three exceptional new eateries!
Oshi Burger Bar
A modern spin on American shake shops.
For Downtown Dining Week in November, Oshi Burger Bar stacked a 7-ounce patty made with Wagyu American Kobe beef, truffle cheese, cognac truffle aioli, arugula, and shaved fresh truffles inside a sea-salt brioche bun, upping the ante for Memphis burgers both in glamour and price.
“How crazy is that to import Italian truffles for a burger?” asks owner Jeff Johnson, laughing. “We know a truffle burger is high-end to make, but we wanted something special.”
Inventive ingredients also give modern play to Oshi’s more standard menu of burgers, hot dogs, malts, and shakes. To start, burgers and hot dogs use natural hormone-free beef and brioche buns made locally by Bluff City Bakery. From there, flavor combinations veer in many diverse ways. Consider the Thai Kwon DOH, for example, which packs pickled veggies, chili aioli, cilantro, and a sunny side egg on a locally made chicken sausage, or the Oshi burger made with Kobe beef, soy glaze, shiitake tapenade, Swiss cheese, and umami mayo. (Contenders for what’s next: Burgers made with kangaroo or bison or maybe a lobster dog.)
For drinks, craft and import beer abounds at Oshi, as do lovely cocktails built around sake. But this is a burger joint, albeit a fancy one, so don’t skip the shakes, especially an alcohol-infused Tune in Tokyo made with coffee vanilla ice cream and chocolate pop rocks.
Located on downtown’s South Main Street across the mall from Local, which is also owned by Johnson, Oshi’s design, plating, and accoutrements reflect a hip Asian vibe and an appealing eye for small details. Cute red food picks secure sculpted burger towers, small butcher blocks serve as plates, and oversized paper lanterns swing from the outside awning.
94 S. Main St. (901-341-2091) Dishes to try: “Kale Caesar” salad, Tora Toro Ahi tuna burger, and Seoul Patrol hot dog with Korean BBQ and kimchi slaw. Prices: Reinventions of American classics, including snacks ($6 to $12); burgers ($8.50 to $12); and hot dogs ($9 to $11). Drinks: Sake-based cocktails, unique imports (Hitachino on draft!), and shakes spiked with spirits. Extras: Gluten-free buns by request, $10 daily chef’s special with fries, and covered patio seating. Atmosphere: Asian-industrial chic, flat-screen TVs, and window booths upholstered to look like Holstein cattle. Open: Sunday through Thursday (11 a.m. to midnight); Friday and Saturday (11 a.m. to 2 a.m.)
The farm-to-table experience comes to Overton Square.
Belly Acres, set to open in early December, may become the new go-to fast-casual restaurant parents want. Its motto is “citified farm fresh,” and its kid-friendly decor brings a fun farm environment to the table.
Most notable, an authentic bright-yellow one-seater airplane appears to fly right through the restaurant’s facade. Inside, painted murals and a giant LED backlit screen depict fields and sky, canvas clouds hang from the ceiling, and planted in the dining room is a tree. Plaques about sustainable agriculture and farming inform the space, and a vintage tractor youngsters can play on sits near the entrance. When the weather’s nice, a large garage door will open up to a patio overlooking the Overton Square courtyard.
In the kitchen, Belly Acre’s focus is the burger. There are 12 signature burgers on the menu, each made of 100 percent grass-fed beef. The Early Riser is topped with sharp white cheddar, black pepper aioli, brown sugar bacon, and a farm fresh egg all between a sweet waffle bun.
Executive chef Rob Ray, previously at McEwen’s restaurant in Oxford, says the food will be 100 percent sourced from farms with sustainable growing methods. By spring, he hopes to source 75 to 80 percent of the restaurant’s ingredients locally.
If a signature burger doesn’t suit your fancy, the menu also offers a “build your own” option. Customers can choose from 11 different buns, 14 different patties, and more than 60 toppings. Also available are sandwiches (including several vegetarian options), salads, and a kid’s meal served on a take-home Frisbee.
Drinks include milkshakes, Coke floats, and fresh smoothies. The bar, made of tree trunks from Woodland Trees, will serve only beer and wine, alcohol-wise.
2102 Trimble Place (901-529-7017) Dishes to try: Southern Gentleman signature burger, Black Eye Pea burger, and hand-cut, 24-hour-soaked, doubled-fried French fries. Prices: Healthy food from sustainable vendors, including burgers, sandwiches, and salads ($10 to $15); sides ($2 to $3); and kid’s 1/2 Acre meals ($5.50). Drinks: Milkshakes, Coke floats, wine, and a mix of local and domestic beer. Extras: Buffalo burgers, jumbo lump crab cakes, and veggie of the day from a local farmer’s surplus crop. Atmosphere: Farm-meets-city decor with tractor seat barstools, whiskey barrel dome lights, and indoor and patio seating. Open: Sunday through Thursday (10 a.m. to 10 p.m.); Friday and Saturday (10 a.m. to 11 p.m.).
Mix-and-match burgers at a friendly neighborhood bar.
Two paintings by local artist Ernie Patton take center stage at LBOE, both in spirit and space. In the larger painting spanning almost an entire wall, revelers gather in an upbeat neighborhood bar. Nearby, a smaller painting is more streamlined. A pair of hands grips a loaded burger ready to eat, a happy omen for LBOE, located on Madison Avenue at the edge of Overton Square.
Named as an acronym for Last Burger On Earth, LBOE offers a mix-and-match menu of three 8-ounce burgers hand-shaped, grilled, and prepared in 10 different ways. Here’s how the menu works: Select a turkey burger, a spicy black bean burger, or an all-beef patty freshly ground at Charlie’s Meat Market. Next, pick a fun combination with a playful name, such as Love Stinks, a garlic-centric marvel with garlic aioli, caramelized onions, and a generous schmear of roasted garlic cream cheese invented for LBOE’s participation in this year’s Best Memphis Burger Fest.
“We like playing around with new ideas,” explains Tyler Adams, part of the restaurant’s ownership group that also operates TJ Mulligan’s and Dan McGuinness. “We will be rotating different burgers in and out to keep the menu interesting.”
Burger purists may want to side with LBOE’s Bacon Cheese, where the only add-ons are tomato, dill pickles, and shredded lettuce, but don’t look for a simple sesame seed roll. Like all the bar’s burgers, the cheeseburger is served on a lightly grilled ciabatta bun alongside a bag of gourmet chips.
For salty, skinny skin-on fries, get ready to share the generous order. Better yet, settle into LBOE’s spacious built-in patio, part of the restaurant’s $300,000 renovation that includes a comfortable bar for affordable wine by the glass, local draft beers, and specialty cocktails like the Midtown Mule, a mix of Tito’s vodka, Barritts ginger beer, and a squeeze of fresh lime.
2021 Madison Ave. (901-725-0770) Dishes to try: Lava Me or Lava Me Not beef burger, Mushroom Melt turkey burger, and Veggie burger with roasted red pepper hummus. Prices: Streamlined menu offers burgers ($8 to $11); cheese dip ($7); and fries with Tzatziki and house-made fry dip ($5). Drinks: Nine tap beers; 10 wines by the glass; and cocktails like Tennessee Tickle, a mix of George Dickel whiskey and Sprite. Extras: Acoustic music on Wednesdays, built-in patio warm enough for winter. Atmosphere: Friendly neighborhood bar where everyone knows your name. Open: Sunday through Wednesday (11 a.m. to 11 p.m.); Thursday through Saturday (11 a.m. to 1 a.m.)