As a menu's prices climb, customer expectations do too. Chef Aaron Burgau knew that when he opened Patois, where entrees like ham-crusted scallops garner prices higher than $30.
But serving a $4.50 hamburger in a different setting does nothing to temper expectations. To the contrary, the burger in particular has the power to stoke expectations, and every diner brings standards and ideals — principles even — that run high and get personal.
This was an early lesson at Tru Burger, which Burgau opened last spring with the brothers Leon and Pierre Touzet, his partners at Patois. The volume, passion and meticulous intricacy of customer feedback at Tru Burger outstrips anything they've encountered from the $100-dinner crowd at Patois.
Tru Burger is a counter-service diner built around a slim, modest burger, one that's designed to be griddled quickly to order. If you come expecting some great, crusty mass of meat a la Port of Call or your foodie neighbor's backyard grill, you're bound to be disappointed. But if you want to see what a neighborhood burger joint can be when directed by a serious contemporary chef, this place has your number.
Tru Burger has just enough style to feel hip and a basic menu that could have been written 50 years ago, at least at first glance. It offers burgers, hot dogs, fries, chili, shakes and a few other tricks thrown in (the jalapeno poppers are as good as cheese-stuffed fried peppers have any right to be). This is fast food, slowed down a notch to replace corporate mechanization and standardization with today's old-is-new aesthetic for good, simple, quality food.
The beef comes from Creekstone Farms of Kansas, which pledges naturally raised (though not grass-fed) animals. Tru Burger grinds the beef for patties in-house blending brisket and chuck, which results in a high degree of lusciousness for their slim profile. The twice-cooked fries are matchstick thin, trading more on crunch than potato fluffiness, and spicy Sriracha mayonnaise is their best foil. Themed specials like the Uptown burger — with fancy toppings of goat cheese, arugula and roasted tomatoes — add variety, but I haven't tried any that proved more satisfying than the straight-up burger.
While the burgers are skinny, the veggie burger is fat. Made from shredded beets and fried to a crusty edge, it's a frontrunner for the best veggie burger in town — provided, of course, that you like beets.
Fine-dining chefs doing burgers is a national trend, and Burgau is forthright in acknowledging Shake Shack, the burger chain from acclaimed New York restaurateur Danny Meyer, as Tru Burger's inspiration. On paper, Tru Burger looks like it could be franchised anywhere. For instance, local draft beers are about the only things at Tru Burger that scream New Orleans.
But then there are the patrons. They pour in at the lunch rush, ordering in a din of New Orleans accents that leaves no question where you are. This crowd skews young, but burger stands always have had youth appeal. If that's how some of those ingrained burger expectations start sinking in, this generation is lucky to have a place like Tru Burger to set its standards.