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Brgr for those with a beef against low-end fast food burgers

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Thursday, Nov. 25, 2010

Not long ago, the idea of paying $10 or more for a burger seemed like an amazing extravagance.

Now, it doesn't seem like such a big deal, does it• We're more likely to view an excessively cheap fast-food burger with suspicion -- what's in that, exactly?

Though there are plenty of excellent high-end burgers in town already, Pittsburgh's first "burger bar," Brgr in East Liberty makes the high-end, high-quality burger its focus.

"It is unusual to Pittsburgh, but it's really a hot concept elsewhere," explains chef/co-owner Brian Pekarcik, 35, of Murrysville. "There's several in New York -- most have been celebrity chef ventures. I'm the furthest thing from any kind of celebrity, obviously."

Well, that remains to be seen. Brgr is adjacent to Spoon, one of the city's hottest new restaurants, with which it shares a chef, kitchen and ownership.

"My business partner, Rick Stern, and I had a couple different business concepts while chewing over what would work in that space," Pekarcik says. "We didn't want it to be just your run-of-the-mill bar/lounge. It's too big, and there's too many great features to the space.

"Obviously, Pittsburgh being such a meat-and-potatoes type of town, we knew this concept would be embraced well."

It is a striking space -- sleek, modern and urbane, yet with a pronounced "beef" theme, reflected by the brown leather couches, artwork and an abstract iron sculpture of a steer by Red Star Ironworks of Millvale.

Options range from the Kobe Beef Burger ($13), with pickled onions, arugula, blue cheese, oven-roasted tomatoes and foie gras, to the Gobble Gobble ($7), a Thanksgiving-themed turkey burger with pickled green beans, crispy stuffing and cranberry aioli.

Finding local sources for as many ingredients as possible was a priority, Pekarcik says.

"First was sourcing a great ground meat," he says. "We don't have the (grinding) capacity in-house -- I wish we did. We're working with Curtze meats in Erie to do a special blend for us of chuck, ribeye and New York strip. Then it was sourcing a great local bun. We're using Mediterra's challah bun.

"We do have a burger called the Locavore ($11), with Jamison Farms ground lamb (of Latrobe), that has a curry aioli and a local feta cheese from Hidden Hills, that we source out of Penn's Corner (Farm Alliance). So, everything on that burger has been sourced locally."

The other specialty at Brgr is "spiked shakes" -- milkshakes with alcohol. The Dude Abides ($8) combines kahlua with vanilla vodka and vanilla beans -- a take on the "The Big Lebowski" hero's beloved White Russians.

There also are spiked floats, like the Bourbon Cherry ($8), which features Maker's Mark, cherry soda and dark chocolate.

Business has been good, especially on weekends. But a few of Brgr's rules -- no reservations, first-come, first-served, no seating until your entire party has arrived -- have taken some getting used to.

"It is a burger bar restaurant, and doesn't play by the rules of traditional dining," explains Pekarcik. "It's all done with the customers in mind."

"We only have 65 seats in the restaurant. It's not fair for us to sit two at a table of six, and wait for the rest of their group to arrive, when people are waiting an hour for food."

Additional Information:


Location: 5997 Penn Circle South, East Liberty

Hours: Noon to midnight Mondays to Thursdays; noon to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays; noon to 9 p.m. Sundays

Details: 412-362-2333 or

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