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J & L Grill Company on the South Side gives extra kicks to burgers and shakes

| Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012, 10:00 p.m.
Food from J & L Grill Co. on the South Side of Pittsburgh from left, The Yinzer Burger, a cookies and creme hand spun shake, Brush Fire wings, and the Mill Hunk sandwhich Thursday, August 16, 2012. Heidi Murrin Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Burgers and shakes have fueled many successful businesses, most spectacularly Ray Kroc's McDonald's fast-food empire starting in the mid-'50s.

In recent years, smart entrepreneurs have seen the market for higher-end and grown-up combinations of burgers and shakes. The burgers are bigger and made from fresh ground beef, hand shaped, and grilled, not fried. They are cooked to order from rare to well done.

The shakes are bigger and richer, too, and feature novel combinations of flavors, including ones with an alcoholic kick. Beer, which some would say goes better with burgers than shakes, and other alcoholic beverages are served.

J & L Grill Company on the South Side, which opened in June, joins Burgatory in Fox Chapel and BRGR in Shadyside and Cranberry as the leading local examples of this trend.

Owner Jeff Yot and his partners planned J & L Grill Company for about a year before opening. He began working in restaurants when he was 16, working his way up from hand washing dishes to management. After about 15 years, he decided to finish his degree from Duquesne University, and then worked for a decade in information systems auditing for ADT and PNC Bank.

Yot, 43, is a burger enthusiast who appreciates the high-quality food he's found in his travels and at Burgatory.

The J & L Grill Company menu includes soups and appetizers, more than a dozen varieties of burgers, 15 kinds of wings, sandwiches, salads, non-alcoholic and spiked shakes, and other beverages.

The basic burger ($8) is a 10-ounce patty served on a Mancini's bun. You can build your own burger by choosing from a dozen kinds of cheese and 14 other toppings (ranging from portobella mushroom and guacamole to corned beef and bacon) at 50 cents to $1.25 per topping.

The Yinzer Burger ($11) is the most popular, Yot says. This burger is topped with cheddar cheese, grilled Black Forest ham, fried egg, applewood-smoked bacon, grilled onions and barbecue sauce.

The Eliza Furnace Burger ($10) is one of many menu items that refer to the old J&L Steel Co. tradition. It's topped with chipotle-barbecue sauce, fried onions and Pepper Jack cheese.

Turkey, veggie and salmon burgers also are served, as well as sliders.

Wings are a big seller, Yot says, and available in 15 varieties, $6 for a single serving, up to $23 for a Slag Pot of wings.

“All our recipes are made from scratch,” Yot says. The hottest wings, called Molten Steel and Blast Furnace, use ghost chili and Trinidad scorpion peppers. “We add other extracts and seasonings for a real nice, almost sweet flavor, not at all metallic. It goes in easy and then, almost as a secondary reaction after a second, it feels like somebody lit a fire at the back of your throat.”

The non-alcoholic shakes ($5) include the classics, orange-dreamsicle, caramel-chocolate espresso malt and cookies and cream.

Among spiked shakes ($9), The King Lives, taking inspiration from Elvis' love of fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, includes fresh banana, peanut-butter cups, vanilla vodka and banana liquor topped with whipped cream. The Cousin Vinny, inspired by one of Yot's favorite films, is a malt with coffee concentrate, chocolate shavings, Kahlua and dark rum garnished with whipped cream and espresso beans.

The fully stocked bar is particularly strong in flavored vodkas. More than 100 beers are available, 30 rotating seasonally on tap; most range from $4 to $6. You might want to consider a designated driver when stopping by with friends.

J & L Grill Company, 2829 E. Carson St., South Side, is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The kitchen closes at 10 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays and midnight Fridays and Saturdays. Details: 412-944-2300 or jlgrillcompany.com

Mark Kanny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7977 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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