Bigger and Burger things
Chef Ben Runkle’s favorite part of his gig is taking inspiration from the many flavors and ingredients around him. And it’s worked well for him so far. For one, his focus on hyper-locally sourced meats and produce is what’s established Salt & Time, his East Austin butcher shop/grocery/elevated dine-in restaurant, as one of the city’s best eateries.
With his latest undertaking, The Butcher’s Burger, which opens Runkle takes creative leads from culinary styles as far as the Mediterranean and as nearby as South Austin taco trucks to create a new fast-casual burger delivery/takeout operation.
“A hamburger is perhaps the most American food, but what's the most American approach to cooking? It's drawing on inspirational flavors from all the different people who make up America," says Runkle.
The restaurant, inspired by Salt & Time’s bestselling menu item of the same name, officially opens for service Thursday, November 5.
Runkle originally conceived Butcher’s Burger as a brick-and-mortar operation, but was forced to retool for an industry still reeling from the pandemic. He turned to the award-winning, Southern-inspired Olamaie for inspiration. In recent months, the fine-dining restaurant pivoted to a biscuit takeaway concept dubbed Little Ola’s.
To turn Salt & Time's famous burger into a full restaurant concept, Runkle and his team tossed around several ideas, at one point considering a fast-food style "smash burger." Instead, they decided to a focus on heartier 6- to 8-ounce hand-crafted patties.
“We wanted to take our experience and expertise in making sausage and charcuterie and apply that to these burgers," says Runkle. "Our goal is to allow the meat itself in the patties to really shine.”
Menu highlights include the Breakfast For Dinner burger, which Salt & Time fans will know as the popular, brunch-only chorizo burger made from housemade, Mexican-style chorizo, and a chicken burger made from chicken and grated zucchini to keep the patty from getting “too dense.”
Another must-have is the Birria Burger, inspired by the traditional Jalisco Mexican goat stew served at Austin's famed taco truck La Tunita 512. The Birria Burger starts with a whole, Capra Foods-sourced lamb, which is braised, slow-cooked, and shredded before being ground with raw lamb into a patty, served with griddled Oaxacan cheese, and topped with a bun dunked in beef broth consomme.
“A lot about this dish is inspired by La Tunita," say Runkle. "We were literally brainstorming the menu while eating their tacos.”
But, says Runkle, the team's creativity shines brightest with the vegetarian “cheeseburger," made from halloumi cheese, a staple ingredient of Middle Eastern cooking. At Butcher's Burger, the patty is grilled until it develops a crunchy exterior and pleasantly creamy interior. “There was a period of time when the only vegetarian thing you could get if you went to a burger joint was the burger without the meat. Just [veggies and the cheese]," he says. "So we played with that concept."
Making the most of their newly acquired mixed-beverage TABC license, Butcher’s Burger’s craft cocktail menu includes straightforward Moscow Mules and Palomas alongside such inventive offerings as a mezcal Negroni, a Manhattan-esque cocktail with raspberry syrup, and even a butternut squash margarita with gourd puree Runkle says gives the drink “just enough warm spice to be ‘fall’ without losing that refreshing, margarita aspect.”
Though a brick-and-mortar is their ultimate goal with Butcher’s Burger, Runkle says his team right now is focused on running the takeout and delivery concept, and that any update on the dine-in location will likely come in the second quarter of 2021.
As far as future menu changes, Runkle says the current five-burger lineup — served alongside a limited side-menu including beef fat fries, Butcher’s salad, and jicama slaw — will remain unchanged until Thanksgiving. After that, customers can expect to see new food and drink items added and switched out sporadically. (Though, Runkle says customers can definitely count on a Reuben-style burger using a ground beef and housemade pastrami patty.) Aside from that, the next big addition to Butcher’s Burger’s menu is really a matter of what catches Runkle’s eye next.
“Who knows, it might be a burger inspired by Thai flavors or Indian," says Runkle. "It really depends on what inspirations might strike me or my one of my very talented [team members]."
The Butcher’s Burger currently operates out of Salt & Time’s kitchen and is open daily from 5-10 pm. Orders can be placed online at . For updates on the food and drink menu, interested parties can follow the Butcher’s Burger on Instagram @TheButchersBurgerTX.