In the name of research, I broke a monthlong meat fast to experience the wonders of one of Pittsburgh’s most rapidly expanding and most talked about burger joints, Burgatory. I visited its flagship location in the Waterworks Plaza. As I strained to see the menu in its dimly lit atmosphere, my eyes passed over the veggie burger option—which is often short listed on best veggie burger lists—and I built a burger made with hormone-free beef, jalapeños, onion straws, garlic mayo and sprinkled with angel dust. Yes, this was a burger worthy of breaking a fast.
As Pittsburghers’ appetite for gourmet burgers keeps growing, Burgatory—and other fan-and-critic favorite BRGR—are both seeing big expansion these days. Burgatory added a new location on the North Shore and BRGR is doubling its East Liberty square footage with new frontage on Penn Avenue, set to open in the spring of 2016.
Since its opening in 2011, seven Burgatorys have come onto the Pittsburgh landscape, many dotting the suburbs. The newest location is on the North Shore, which is “booming with hotels, residential and parking,” says co-owner Herky Pollock. The new space seats 150 inside with outdoor space for 32-40.
“The opening was beyond our wildest expectations. The combination of a home Steeler game and Mac Miller exposed us to the virtues of the crowds on the North Shore,” says Pollock. It was the single best day in Burgatory history. And with more than 200 events annually, the North Shore is likely to keep drawing in those burger lovers.
Burgatory is home to custom-creation burgers that start with hormone- free beef, chicken, bison, wild crab, elk, beef and bacon, dry-aged wagyu—or veggie. Diners pick their bun and their choice of rubs. Sauce choices include truffle shallot aioli or habanero honey. There are traditional toppings, many cheeses—including four cheddar varieties—and unexpected choices like bacon jam and roasted tomatoes.
In 2011, BRGR opened its doors next to sister restaurant Spoon in East Liberty. And although the restaurants have two separate cooking lines, they share the kitchen. “We just didn’t have enough fire power or storage space,” says Rick Stern, co-owner of S+P Restaurant Group.
BRGR expanded to Cranberry and the Galleria in Mt. Lebanon, “and we saw the potential of larger stores,” says Stern. At the larger locations, BRGR offers an expanded menu with more appetizers and burger options.
“We’ve been looking for a larger space in the East End for awhile,” he says. Their new site sits on the corner of Penn and Highland, next to the Kelly Strayhorn Theater and across from the new Walnut Highland building. It measure 5,600 square feet and with outdoor seating, will serve 180 diners when it opens next spring.
Stern and Brian Pekarcik, chef and co-owner S+P, have plans for their existing BRGR location: “It’s something currently not offered in the East End—but the details are still being fine-tuned.”
S+P also owns Grit & Grace, Willow and a BRGR location at PNC Park. Plus, BRGR also added a food truck to the mix, which parks outside the City County building every Thursday. Check their website for the food truck’s schedule.
BRGR offerings include a salmon burger with tomato relish and applewood smoked bacon, a mahi-mahi shrimp patty with mango, a veggie offering of black bean and corn falafel, and a bison burger with BBQ-chipolte aioli. Also on the menu is a nod to Myron Cope—the Double Yoi, a beef patty topped with pastrami, Swiss cheese, a fried egg, cole slaw and thousand island dressing.
When chef Justin Severino—owner of Cure, winner of Food & Wine’s People’s Best New Chef, Mid-Atlantic, and semi-finalist for the 2014 James Beard Award—named his favorite burgers in Pittsburgh on the website seriouseats.com, on his list was Burgatory and BRGR.