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Benjamin's Burger Bar wants the first bite to hook you

| Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 9:48 a.m.
Lunchtime customers at Benjamin's Western Avenue Burger Bar on the Northside on Friday January 18, 2013. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Wine braised onions and truffle mustard burger at Benjamin's Western Avenue Burger Bar on the Northside on Friday January 18, 2013. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
The green chilies and Salsa with Chipolte sour cream burger at Benjamin's Western Avenue Burger Bar on the Northside on Friday January 18, 2013. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review

A patty of meat. A bun. Some fresh garnishing. Maybe a blanket of shredded cheese.

At most places, that's a hamburger.

At Benjamin's Western Avenue Burger Bar, that's just a start. Sure, there's no getting around the basics. But after that, says Paul Tebbets, who owns the tony eatery, atmosphere also plays a role.

“You have to be interesting,” Tebbets says. “People want something that's going to make them remember the place where they had that first bite.”

Benjamin's, named for Tebbets' 4-year-old son, opened in November on the North Shore just blocks from Rivers Casino and Heinz Field. And nowhere else have the words “burger” and “bar” found a more-comfortable living arrangement.

From the glass wine cellar to the earth-toned decor to the elevated billiards room, the aura of Benjamin's exudes warmth and welcoming.

Here, burgers come in three designer varieties — the “regular guy,” the “big guy” and the “veggie guy,” which is made from chickpeas, sweet potatoes and fresh herbs.

Condiments? Think way beyond mustard and ketchup.

Specialties include its top-selling burger with rosemary, balsamic goat cheese and green apple and another stacker made with fried egg, bacon, potatoes and hot sauce mayo ($9.05-$14).

And then there's the rib-sticker crammed with bleu cheese and buffalo sauce.

That one was requested by customers.

“Some of what we do ... comes from experimentation. We were willing to try something new,” Tebbets says. “There's a number of burger places that do a exceptional job with the basics. But this (business) is an opportunity to do something fun and interesting.”

Earning a living one burger at a time seemed unlikely for Tebbets, who grew up in Greensburg and studied political science and philosophy. He actually had plans to go to law school, but needed a job right away. A friend got him an interview at Italian Oven, where he started out as a waiter.

It didn't take long for him to climb the ladder and learn the restaurant business.

Tebbets was a partner for a time in Red Fin Blue's restaurant in Washington's Landing, in Toast! Kitchen and Wine Bar in Shadyside with Chet Garland and in Jackson Fish Co. Market Cafe in Zelienople.

“It's fun to see people have fun with a service you provide for them,” Tebbets says. “It can be a challenge, but when you see smiles on peoples' faces, it's pretty great.”

Benjamin's Western Avenue Burger Bar is located at 900 Western Ave., North Side. Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. Details: 412-224-2163; www.benjaminspgh.com

Chris Ramirez is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at cramirez@tribweb.com or 412-380-5682.

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