I asked the bartender on duty at Sidebar at Whiskey Row to tell me honestly what he thought about the burgers.
“They don’t pay me to say this,” he said, “but I think they are the best in the city.”
OK, then. I’d been hearing for months that I needed a Sidebar burger, and I simply hadn’t gotten there yet. But I don’t take my burgers lightly, so I finally decided to find out for myself.
I met my friend Brandy for dinner and drinks — she was the first person to make the Sidebar suggestion to me, so inviting her seemed like the thing to do — and pondered the menu. Which law-themed burger would it be? The Court Reporter, topped with avocado, honey-chipotle aioli and roasted pepper relish? The Ambulance Chaser, topped with smoky barbecue sauce, cheddar cheese, smoked bacon, tomato jam and tobacco onions? Or maybe the Hung Jury, featuring bourbon mushrooms and onions, and topped with beer cheese? Or how about the Philadelphia Attorney, piled with braised short rib, bourbon mushrooms and onions, blue cheese and lettuce?
To make matters even more tempting and confusing, there were two special burgers available that night — one with pepper cheese and poblano peppers, as well as a Rueben burger. (Note: Always ask about the specials at Sidebar.)
Well, I decided on the Bailiff, which features bacon and pimento cheese, along with lettuce. Brandy, who worked there for a time and had tried pretty much everything on the menu, went with the standard Sidebar Burger, which is your basic dressed cheeseburger with no frills. Her take? The burger at Sidebar doesn’t need any help to make it delicious.
Of course, Sidebar also has a pretty impressive bourbon selection, and sports a pretty interesting list of barrel-aged cocktails to boot. I stuck with craft beer, but the spirits were nevertheless tempting.
Anyway, our burgers arrived, and I was immediately hooked at the sight of the inch-thick, juicy-looking burger, with thick bacon protruding and a mound of orange pimento cheese peeking out. Mmm.
You know what, though? I almost hate to admit it, but I was taken aback that there was not a pickle spear on the side. No, instead there was a whole dill pickle. Proving it doesn’t take much to make me happy, I marveled at the thing. I don’t know if pickle marveling has ever happened before in a restaurant, but I immediately thought of my dad, who would eat whole dill pickles with his breakfast when I was a kid.
The lightly seasoned fries were solid, but not my favorites in town (I’m thinking Big Four Burgers in Jeffersonville is ahead in that race since Bank Street Brewhouse stopped serving food). The burger, however, is sort of special. I was at once impressed and sad I had waited so long to try one.
Since these burgers at Sidebar aren’t simply ground beef or ground chuck, you sort of have to try one to understand how tender and, well, different they are from most burgers. The meat is a blend of chuck, brisket and short rib, and each of the three seems to add elements that make the meat unusually rich. It is served right about medium, with a touch of pink in the center, and the stuff is so tender that chewing is basically optional — for the meat, at least.
Meanwhile, the sharpness of the pimento and smoky, salty qualities of the bacon added nice complements. But Brandy was determined to make me try hers, so she cut it in half and forced it on me. And she was right: The regular old Sidebar Burger holds up beautifully on its own.
“I normally put ketchup and mustard on my burgers,” she said, “but this doesn’t need it.”
And for the record, the pickle was absolutely delicious — garlicky and crisp. Mmm again.
To our amusement (bemusement?), a young lady sitting at the bar near us, who Brandy overheard was visiting Louisville for a meeting, ordered a mozzarella salad. She didn’t know what she was missing, Brandy and I agreed. But wait, that was only an appetizer. Her main course came out 10 minutes later, and she chose … a kale salad.
Maybe next time I’ll get a Sidebar Burger as an appetizer and another one as my main course.