So we’re walking down Baxter just north of Highland Avenue, well into the city’s club zone, and suddenly a new hanging sign catches my eye.
“BUNZ,” it reads, like a hip-hop interpretation of a bread store specializing in … naw, can’t be. We swerved into the tiny quarters that had previously housed Omar’s Gyros and found a spiffy new shop specializing in hamburgers — fat, dense and beefy burgers, mounted, of course, on exceptional buns. Er, bunz.
Located just across the street from Derby City Dogs and a block or so north from the new Highlands branch of Lonnie’s Taste of Chicago, another hot-dog store, this recent arrival would seem to mark a new high-water mark for restaurant specialization in the neighborhood.
Bunz is no mere greasy spoon. It represents a collaboration between two well-regarded restaurateurs in Louisville’s Iranian-American community: Celebrity chef Anoosh Shariat, who also recently re-opened Browning’s in Slugger Field (LEO Weekly, May 20), and Aziz Ghazipour, co-owner of Café Glacé on Frankfort Avenue.
Bunz is about “fresh burgers and fries” made from quality ingredients, said Ghazipour, who presided over the front of the tiny house when we dropped in for lunch. The eponymous buns, he said, are made by Breadworks, and ground beef is provided by A. Thomas Foodservice, descendants of a longtime butcher shop in the city’s old Haymarket district.
The small space has been substantially renovated since Omar’s departure. Four tall, round-top tables and a short black tile bar across the front windows might accommodate 15 diners at a crowded capacity. Tall chrome chairs are padded in red or black.
As befits a hamburger stand, the walls are painted in bright colors of mustard and ketchup, with black trim. The thorough rehab provided a stylishly casual feel, right down to the well-scrubbed white tile floor. A few more patio tables and aluminum chairs are available out front for sidewalk dining and those who can’t wait for their next smoke.
Step in, order from the service counter at the back, then take a table and wait while your meal is prepared to order. A large menu hangs over the counter, fast-food style. It’s simple and direct, just as Ghazipour said: burgers, toppings and fries, with soda or water to drink.
Nothing on the menu tops $6. A regular hamburger is $5.50; make it a cheeseburger with cheddar or swiss for $5.75, or a bacon cheeseburger for $6. A veggie burger is available for $5.50: This is the Highlands, after all, a vegetarian-rich environment.
Want to, eh, beef up your burger? Add blue cheese for $1, pimento cheese for $1.25. Trowel on a layer of grilled mushrooms for 80 cents or add a portobello mushroom for a buck.
Fries? Don’t mind if we do. Bunz’s crispy, spicy version is $1.50 for a substantial regular order, $2.50 for a meal-size large platter.
Soda from the cooler is $2, bottled water is $1.50. (For the thrifty: Pour your own water from a pitcher on the condiments table, and it’s free.)
Want more freebies? Dose your burger — or your fries — with your choice of ketchup, mustard, mayo, pickle relish, sliced onions, lettuce, tomato, grilled onions, jalapeño peppers and barbecue, A-1 or hot sauces.
Be prepared to wait a few minutes for your burger. This is quick food, but it’s not fast food, and your burger will be prepared from a raw meat patty to your order.
Make that two patties, actually: These burgers stand tall on their buns, stacked with a pair of sizzling rounds that appear to total a half-pound of meat or more. Mine, topped with pimento cheese and grilled onions, were beefy and flavorful, although doneness was not discussed, and they came out well-done. I would have preferred the tender juicy flavor of a medium-rare burger, but that option was not offered and, silly me, I didn’t think to ask.
Still, there’s a lot to like: A pair of hefty patties stacked high on a round-top, golden bun dotted with sesame seeds, buns grilled lightly to stand up to the sandwich.
The pimento burger with onions was a great flavor mix, although a bit of a mess to eat, a tasty mix of melted cheese, burger fat, slippery onions and bun crumbs migrating down my arms. (The unisex restroom is to the rear at the right.)
A hearty lunch for two — two burgers and one shared order of salty, crisp and gently seasoned fries, came to a very reasonable $15, plus $3 for the tip jar.
969 1/2 Baxter Ave.
Robin Garr’s rating: 83 points