The American love affair with the burger has never been bigger, and the desire to know where that burger came from has never been stronger.
Burger Up, recently opened in 12 South, has taken these notions to heart. Firmly committed to locally grown, community-driven dining, it offers delicious versions of an American favorite.
Proprietor Miranda Whitcomb Pontes takes a holistic approach to her upscale burger eatery, where she has sought out fresh, local, sustainable products for every aspect of the business. For its mindful focus and breezy style, this modern corner restaurant and bar has been embraced en masse by the neighborhood.
The light-filled space at the corner of 12th Avenue South and Paris Avenue is simultaneously contemporary and rustic. Spare, clean lines are softened by natural materials, including beautiful, rough-cut wood saved from Pontes’ grandfather’s farm. Hand-built, community–style tables are set with cotton dishtowels for napkins and fresh flowers from neighborhood florist Bloom.
But the strongest evidence of Burger Up’s conscious consumerism is found in the food. From produce to dairy to eggs to meats, 10 Tennessee farms help provide the majority of the menu.
The grass-fed beef from Williamson County’s Triple L Ranch is the restaurant’s most prominent ingredient, and the lean, sweet meat shows up grilled in several savvy renditions. Smoky strips of Benton’s bacon, a slice of Tennessee Sweetwater white cheddar and a swipe of Jack Daniels-infused house ketchup combine to make the Woodstock an exceptional burger. A mushroom-Swiss version gets its punch from a savory glaze of barbecue balsamic sauce. And now that homegrown tomatoes are in season, the Triple L Classic, grilled and dressed with lettuce, red onion, honey dijon and a slice of Purple Cherokee, offers delectable simplicity.
Sandwiching those burgers are soft, brioche-like buns, baked in-house daily. In most cases, they stand up to the ingredients without smothering them.
The burgers are not all about the beef, though. You can order a respectable ground turkey with caramelized onion, or a portabello mushroom cap coated with blue cheese mornay. For lamb lovers, the lamb burger, grilled rare and slathered with peppermint dijon and boursin, is a revelation, with wilted arugula providing a peppery bite. Another standout is the citrus salmon burger. It’s not a fish patty, but an intact fillet of wild-caught salmon, seared to juiciness and paired with a terrific lime crème fraiche.
There is still some room for tweaking, however. The texture of the Marathon, a black bean-quinoa veggie burger, lacked enough tooth and squished out of the sides of the bun. The Po Boys were skimpy, fried oysters lost in a tangle of slaw inside ponderous bread.
House fries accompany all burgers — thick, hand-cut planks served in a silver cup. Russet brown and well seasoned with salt and pepper, they varied in crispness. On one visit they had the right balance of outer crunch and soft interior, but on two other occasions they were golden but limp. (For an upcharge of $1, you can substitute custardy sweet potato fries or a Vidalia onion ring tower.)
Not in a burger mood? There’s a selection of pleasant salads, just right for summer. Try the roasted beet, brightened with a splash of sherry vinaigrette, or the baby spinach and bacon salad with its luxurious goat cheese croquette, warm and melty on the greens.
This neighborhood place offers a full bar, too, and a lineup of noshes. Meaty organic chicken wings are grilled in a spicy habañero sauce, and lightly battered cremini mushrooms come with a buttermilk ranch-ketchup for creamy zing. While the Yazoo pale ale-poached prawns lacked the needed pop and chill, the accompanying Bloody Mary cocktail sauce had great horseradish heat.
Local touches abound for dessert. You’ll find Krispy Kremes in the donut bread pudding, Olive & Sinclair chocolate in the peanut butter brownie and Bravo Gelato in the root beer float.
Service is earnest and friendly, if slow at times. The flood of customers since Burger Up opened in May has likely exceeded expectations, putting the kitchen and staff on a learning curve.
Whitcomb Pontes is dedicated to improvement, though, responding to needs as they are presented. Recently, she had an acoustic ceiling installed. The harsh din of the community enjoying burgers is now toned to a neighborly hum.
2901 12th Ave. S., 279-3767, www.burger-up.com
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday;
11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Payment: Major credit cards accepted
Alcohol: Full bar
Food: Upscale burgers, locally sourced meats/produce
Parking: On street
Cost: Soups/salads: $5-$9. Burgers
with fries: $8-$13.
Appetizers: $5-$15. Desserts: $5.
Nancy Vienneau is a chef and retired caterer with 25 years of experience. She cooks and teaches at Second Harvest and blogs about her adventures with food at http://nancyvienneau.com. Reviews are written from anonymous visits to restaurants. Negative reviews are based on two or more visits. The Tennessean pays for all meals.