There are people who have fun in the kitchen. Then there are people who have fun in Brian Pekarcik’s kitchen. Having a good time in that kitchen might mean adding a new dish to one of Pekarcik’s highly inventive burger menus.
“A lot of burgers we currently have on the menu are burgers the cooks in the kitchen just kind of had fun messing around with and putting together,” Pekarcik said.
Look for a few of those whimsical burger concepts -- including The Button Buster, a patty topped with braised short ribs, onion rings, white cheddar and béarnaise aioli -- among the mouthwatering, scale-tipping, don’t-wear-your-skinny-jeans items on the menu when BRGR opens in this month in Cranberry. The gourmet burger joint's tentatively is set to open July 25.
“The whole concept is really kind of fun and lighthearted,” Pekarcik said.
This is the second gourmet BRGR joint for head chef Pekarcik and his business partner Richard Stern, who also is part owner of Willow in Ohio Township. A year ago, the men opened their first restaurant together, the trendy and successful Spoon in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh. A neighboring space also was available, and the partners opened their first BRGR there a few months later in October.
“When we opened Spoon almost a year ago exactly, the adjoining space to it had a fairly significant bar/lounge,” Pekarcik recalled. “We just thought it was too great of a space to kind of occupy in the same manner. We wanted it to have its own identity, so we fooled around with a concept.”
Their brainstorming session led them to a gourmet burger bar. Pekarcik said that wasn’t anything new, at least at the national level, but the original BRGR was among the first of its kind in Pittsburgh.
“There was no true burger restaurant per say, so we thought we’d like to do one and we had great success with it,” Pekarcik said. “So then we decided to expand the concept up to Cranberry.”
For their second BRGR, Pekarcik said he and Stern chose the former Bar Louie, which also briefly saw life as Social House, in the Cranberry Mall. Pekarcik said to expect no major structural changes to the space.
Instead, the interior will feature lively colors and patterns that evoke a sense of American rock and roll. Music on the handpicked playlist will be mostly classic rock, Pekarcik said.
“The burger is kind of like this great American type of thing, so we really just wanted a fun American type of rock atmosphere,” he said.
Another highlight at BRGR is its series of spiked milkshakes. The adults-only beverages consist of homemade ice cream from Dave and Andy’s ice cream shop in Oakland and a variety of liquors. Pekarcik said the most popular shake on the menu probably is the Salty Caramel, a concoction of vanilla bean ice cream, caramel sauce, sea salt and Maker’s Mark bourbon.
A Murrysville native and married father of two who now calls Monroeville home, Pekarcik spent a decade moving up in kitchens across the West Coast. He learned about the importance of quality and fresh ingredients while working under such award-winning chefs as Martin Woesle and Gary Danko.
Wanting to be closer to loved ones, Pekarcik said he and his wife decided to move back East after the birth of their second child.
“I think, after 10 years, I had my fun in the sun,” he said. “All my family and friends were still back in Pittsburgh.”
In 2008, Pekarcik became executive chef of the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center. He met commercial real estate developer Stern, and a partnership was born.
“He was a fan of my cooking, and we decided to open Spoon,” Pekarcik said.
The chef said he’s looking forward to bringing the BRGR concept to Cranberry, where there aren’t many restaurants of the non-chain variety, he noted. Front-of-the-house manager Jesse Herrle said BRGR also will feature a variety of craft and local beers, including choices from the Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville.
“I think we’re going to be embraced,” Pekarcik said.