Grind Burger Kitchen, not cheap, but worth it

We all love hamburgers, don’t we? During a thoroughly-satisfying lunch at Grind Burger Kitchen the other day, I found myself thinking existentially about the burger. What exactly is a hamburger, anyway? The Oxford American Dictionary gives us the basics: “A round patty of ground beef, fried or grilled and typically served on a bun or roll and garnished with various condiments.”

OK, fine, that’s a start, but let’s pick at it a little: White Castle’s beloved little burgers are square, not round. Does this disqualify them? I think not. Indeed, some of the best, artisanal diner burgers, hand-formed in rough patties, are far from sufficiently round to satisfy a geometry teacher. Yet burgers don’t get any better than this. Do burgers even need to be beef? Does a bison burger count? A tuna burger? Or even a veggie burger? Clearly, the definition of “hamburger” needs some work.

But enjoying a good hamburger requires no effort whatsoever, and happily for all burger lovers — which, as I said, includes just about everybody — Louisville is rich in excellent purveyors. On the basis of quality, I’m partial to Grind Burger Kitchen, which delivers on quality with fresh burgers, hand-ground daily from regionally produced, hormone- and antibiotic-free, grass-fed beef.

Grind celebrates its fifth anniversary this month, and during that time owners Liz and Jesse Huot have built it from a food truck to spartan quarters in an out-of-the-way strip on Preston Street to its current digs in trendy NuLu, where it has become so popular that we had a hard time scoring a table at midday on a Tuesday.

Burgers range in price from $13 (for a burger with standard lettuce-and-tomato dressing and cheese, although you can ramp up the toll with a panoply of fancy fixins) to $15 (for the Old Fashioned burger with Capriole goat cheese, bacon and bourbon-scented, Old Fashioned onions).

Tempting burger alternatives include a chopped chicken sandwich ($13), “adult grilled cheese” ($11), with Brie, Gruyère and caramelized onions on sourdough, or a Cuban Sandwich ($15) made with Kentucky ham, pork belly and Swiss. The full bar offers interesting wines, beers and cocktails, plus a choice of 50 bourbons that ought to qualify it for the Urban Bourbon Trail.

Now, let’s address one contentious issue right here: Some people diss Grind for daring to break the $10 barrier, whining that the mid-teens is pretty spendy for, well, a hamburger in a town where most local, sit-down burger joints price their wares safely in single digits.

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Bear in mind, though, that Grind’s burgers come with your choice of generously-portioned sides that will set you back $4 each a la carte. Also, high-quality grass-fed beef isn’t cheap in today’s market. You get what you pay for, and at the end of the meal, Grind’s pricing makes sense to me.

Located in the back of the small complex that had once housed the fondly-remembered Melillo’s, Grind’s quarters are functional in an industrial style, dimly lighted and about as spartan as the previous location, with bare walls, plain concrete floors, simple undraped wooden tables and wooden chairs. Walk up to the counter for service, vend your own non-alcoholic drinks and take a number to your table while you wait for your meal.

The Southern burger ($14) was shaped by hand, flat and not particularly round, a rough and rather thin slab of beef, seared dark brown on the outside but still hot pink in the center, just as ordered. The meat within was tender, while the toothsome browned exterior held it all together. The Southern burger bears a schmear of smooth pimento cheese and two strips of thick-cut bacon that tasted great, but, thanks to its chewy and thick texture, was a little hard to bite through. A trio of thick “spicy pickle chips” were good, if more sweet than spicy.

A side of “What the Kale” salad was good, although I’d have preferred chopped kale to whole leaves with the tough stems, and would caution more care in picking over leafy greens to discard older and brown bits. A creamy, piquant dressing went well with the greens, as did a topping of finely shredded cheese and thin-sliced radishes and rings of white onion.

There are two approaches to veggie burgers: Make it as much like meat as possible; or build a healthy burger of legumes and plant-based goodies that doesn’t even try to mimic meat. Grind’s house-made veggie burger ($13) falls into the latter category with its hearty blend of chickpeas, lentils, quinoa and seasonal vegetables. Served on a fine white bun with traditional burger dressing, it’s not a hamburger, but it’s a fine veggie burger, and $1 extra for a generous ration of pimento cheese was money well-spent. House-cut fries weren’t crackling crisp, but excellent flavor more than made up for that.

For dessert, Grind turns to its neighbor, Please and Thank You, for its famous chocolate-chip cookies ($2).

A delicious lunch, with the cookie and iced water to drink, came to $31.80 plus a $6 tip. No, it’s not cheap, but it was worth it.

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