BRGR Offers Burgers and Shakes to Stop and Savor

BRGR in East Liberty is the original location, and opened more than four years ago.

BRGR in East Liberty is the original location, and opened more than four years ago.

I had always assumed that BRGR, the burger restaurant with four Pittsburgh locations and a food truck, was pronounced as though the missing vowels were still audible.

I’d been talking about “getting a burger at Burger” for at least a week before I realized other people were spelling out the letters – as in “Having lunch at B-R-G-R”.

There’s clearly enough confusion that the helpful people at BRGR have added a note to the menu explaining that “Yes, it’s BEE-ARR-GEE-ARR.”

That seems like much more of a mouthful, but maybe that’s appropriate for the chain’s specialty gourmet burgers, which come stacked higher than any normal person’s jaw can accommodate.

BRGR offers its menu of gourmet burgers and handcrafted shakes at four fixed locations—East Liberty, Cranberry, PNC Park, and Mt Lebanon — and a food truck.

The Button Buster, featuring braised beef short ribs and crispy onion rings.

The Button Buster, featuring braised beef short ribs and crispy onion rings.

I stepped into the original BRGR restaurant in East Liberty with some Entertainment Central teammates for a midweek lunch.

Only about half a dozen tables were occupied, but the split-level dining room didn’t feel empty. The restaurant has a warm, opulent vibe, with hardwood floors, brushed metal and copper detailing, and a mix of high and low tables, many with banquette seating.

In the lower-level dining area, where glass garage-style doors open onto Center Ave, diners can perch at high tables and watch the comings and goings outside, or relax in comfy armchairs. A large bar at the rear of the dining room and a covered rooftop add to the seating options.

The bar area at the rear of the ground floor dining room offers an inviting spot to enjoy a spiked shake.

The bar area at the rear of the ground floor dining room offers an inviting spot to enjoy a spiked shake.

The food options are simple: Burgers any way you like, a range of sides and salads, and spiked shakes.

The burger menu features eight beef burger options, plus bison, turkey, black bean and roasted corn falafel, salmon, and mahi-mahi. All can be served in a wheat bun or lettuce wrap if requested.

BRGR’s beef patties are a specialty blend of Angus, chuck, sirloin, New York strip, and ribeye. Burgers are rubbed with a house spice blend, including garlic and onion.

A kids’ menu has three options: burger, grilled cheese, and hot dog, all served with fries. BRGR’s dogs are from noted Erie meat company Smith’s Provision.

We selected the Average Joe – a classic beef burger with lettuce, tomato, onion, and optional cheese, for $8.50. It was pronounced a “fine, good old fashioned ‘merican burger”, although in viewing the other selections, there was some regret at not choosing something more adventurous.

The Average Joe burger from BRGR is a classic menu item.

The Average Joe burger from BRGR is a classic menu item.

The Button Buster – braised beef short ribs, white cheddar, béarnaise aioli, and onion rings, for $11 – was ordered medium, but the beef was served a little too pink. It was returned to the kitchen without question and a new burger made promptly.

Served in a precariously tall stack of ground beef, boneless short ribs, and crispy onion rings, it required some dis-assembly to eat, but was worth the effort.

The $10 King Salmon burger features a 6oz patty of wild king salmon, cucumber and tomato relish, applewood smoked bacon, arugula, and caper aioli.

The salmon patty lacked a little seasoning, but the addition of crispy bacon helped bring a salty crunch to the burger.

BRGR's King Salmon burger, featuring applewood smoked bacon.

BRGR’s King Salmon burger, featuring applewood smoked bacon.

Though there wasn’t any need for extras, and they all went unfinished, we added BRGR fries ($4.50), which came tossed with Parmesan and herbs, and housemade fried onion rings ($5.50) with truffle cheese whiz ($1.50).

All of the salads can be served half-size as an appetizer, which is a great menu feature for those who like adding extra greenery to their meal.

The half Caesar salad was too heavy on the Parmesan to be considered a healthy addition to the table, but it was tasty and provided a welcome fresh crunch.

Top of my list to try next time is the Bahn Mi Dog, featuring cucumber slaw, chipotle aioli, mint and cilantro, and the Cajun tater tots with housemade ranch dressing.

We also didn’t push the boundaries of our weekday lunch with the handmade spiked shakes, although the Salty Caramel, with bourbon, caramel sauce, sea salt, and vanilla bean, was tempting. The adult shakes range from $8.50 to $10.50, and regular shakes (without liquor) are available too.

The midweek lunch crowd may have been quite sedate, but director of operations John Wabeck says the restaurant’s atmosphere is generally loud and lively.

“It’s loud and boisterous, we want people to have fun. Everyone’s welcome, and it’s not meant to be quiet, fine dining, it’s loud and fun.”

When asked for a favorite menu item, Wabeck points to Cease And Desist, a beef burger featuring American cheese, caramelized onions and Thousand Island dressing.

The burger had originally been given the same name as a burger from a major West Coast chain. “They sent us a cease-and-desist letter, telling us to switch the name, so we did. We just called it Cease And Desist.”

Each BRGR location has a slightly tweaked menu. Cocktails, a craft-your-own-burger section, a trio of sliders, and mac and cheese are offered at Cranberry and Mt Lebanon, where the kids menu is expanded as well.

Window seats at BRGR look out onto Center Ave.

Window seats at BRGR look out onto Center Ave.

BRGR is up against some tough competition, both in the gourmet burger market and in its East Liberty location.

The East Side is no slouch when it comes to dining options these days – even the team behind BRGR, proprietor Rick Stern and chef/proprietor Brian Pekarcik, have another restaurant, Spoon, just nearby on South Highland Ave.

BRGR stands out with original burgers made with quality ingredients, good service, and a warm atmosphere.

The restaurant’s website promises “there’s nothing fast about a great burger,” and this is the perfect place to relax, pull up a comfy chair and savor your meal.

BRGR
5997 Centre Ave.
East Liberty
Monday-Thursday, 11:30 – 12 a.m.
Friday-Saturday, 11:30 – 1 a.m.
Sunday, 11:30 a.m – 9 p.m.

Happy Hour: Monday – Friday, 5 – 7 p.m., 10 p.m. – 12 p.m.
Valet parking available after 5 p.m.

 

Photographs: Heather McCracken

Heather McCracken is a Pittsburgh-based freelance journalist who aims to eat her way around all the restaurants in East Liberty.