Though he says there are more than a million possible combinations of burgers, toppings, sauces, greens and buns on his build-your-own-burger menu, Phil de Gruy, owner of Phil's Grill (1640 Hickory Ave., Harahan, 504-305-1705; 3020 Severn Ave., Metairie, 504-324-9080; www.phils-grill.com), hasn't let that stanch his creative juices. He's creating burgers to represent the hometowns of teams playing the New Orleans Saints. Last year, when the Saints played the Detroit Lions, de Gruy made a burger inspired by roadkill.
"There is no cuisine of Detroit, and in researching, we found they eat a lot of roadkill," de Gruy says. "So we did a deer burger."
De Gruy admits it wasn't easy, but he and chef Justin Jones, a graduate of Delgado Community College's culinary program, were up for the challenge. "We had to study the opposing cities really hard to find ingredients and food trends," de Gruy says. "Who knew the state sandwich in Indianapolis was the Wiener schnitzel?"
This year, de Gruy has opened up the contest to customers, who can enter suggestions on the restaurant's website and Facebook pages and vote for favorites, such as the Washington Redskins' "Little Big Meat," a bison burger topped with house-cured bacon and smoked Gouda, served on an onion bun. All the burgers and the majority of the sauces and side items, which include sweet potato fries, grilled vegetables and vinegar-based cole slaw, are made in house.
"We have a 100 percent ground Angus burger, a hot sausage blend with just a little bit of heat to it, an alligator burger, a turkey burger of 100 percent white meat, and we do grilled chicken battered in Zapp's potato chips. The regular Zapp's," de Gruy says. "Flavors get lost in 35 pounds of grease."
The menu's prominent placement of Zapp's and other beloved local brands (Crystal hot sauce, Abita beer, New Orleans Ice Cream Company) reflects de Gruy's commitment to his hometown. After 20 years in the service industry and many cross-country moves as part of management for national restaurant chains, de Gruy's wife Christina insisted they settle down. "She's from here, and she said, 'I'm not moving any more,'" de Gruy says. "She said I should open my own restaurant and be part of the rebuilding. And we have really jumped right into helping out local charities."
The restaurant opened in 2007 and has a full bar. This year it raised $20,000 for The Miracle League, a baseball league for children with disabilities. That reflects the company's core values and customer base, many of whom are children. Kids eat free on Tuesday nights.
"This is really a family restaurant," says de Gruy, whose three sons often help out in the kitchen or serve customers. "I've been known to hold a baby while Mom eats because Dad won't put his burger down. It's a family restaurant, but it's a big-ass barroom burger."