In a place like Charleston, where shrimp and grits reign supreme, it can be kind of surprising to hear consistent talk about a hamburger. But such is the case with Chef Josh Keeler's famed burger. The former owner of Two Borough's Larder and now executive chef at 492 developed a cult following in his TBL days for his decadent burger.
"When my wife and I opened Two Borough's Larder, the only thing we really wanted to do was cook food that we were proud of," he says. "When you take pride in what you're doing and really love the hospitality industry itself it shows through in the dining experience. I think this dedicated fan base are the people that could really see how much we cared about what we were doing."
Keeler's signature burger at Two Borough's was simple — a double patty (made from high grade, local beef), freshly baked milk dough buns, a creamy mornay sauce, crispy bacon, and something pickled (from cucumbers to peppers). It was unique enough to be worthy of a James Beard-nominated chef's stamp, but still simple enough to satisfy the cravings of a regular local — like Will Chesak, who was a weekly visitor to TBL.
"Chef Keeler's use of mornay sauce instead of a the more traditional sliced or shredded cheese is pretty genius. It cascades over and onto all parts of the burger allowing the cheese to always be in every part of the bite. Bacon has certainly gotten to the point of being overused in the culinary world but in this setting it works by adding a different textural element while also imparting a smoky element to the burger," Chesak says.
This story isn't about the burger Keeler created in his former kitchen, though. It's about the one he's cooking now at the helm of 492. His burger, aptly dubbed the 492, has been causing a bit of a stir in the food community, and even has some of his most tried and true fans stopping in to see what the fuss is about. Luckily, for those groupies, this burger is really an adaptation of what he did at TBL.
"My thoughts on burgers are that they don't need gimmicks. A good burger really stands alone and doesn't need to be overthought and needs to be prepared to the same exact standards that any other more expensive plate of food is prepared to," he says. "Really, the biggest difference in our burgers versus others in town is the way we form the patties. We roll the meat into tubes after grinding and slice them into patties. By not hand shaping them, we end up with a much less dense burger that in turn cooks more evenly and doesn't sit as heavy in your stomach."
With how saddened locals were over the closure of Two Borough's Larder, it's no surprise those Wednesday night burger fans are now filling the seats of 492 during brunch.
- Jonathan Boncek
"We serve the burger during brunch only right now and, for me, it's the only burger we do and will plan on doing. I'm proud of the burger we put out and it's become a representation of me. If, as a chef, I'm not proud of it, how can I be proud of anything else we put out?" Keeler says.
As a guy who is known the city over for his burgers, it's funny to learn what Keeler's favorite hamburger is.
"I can't say it's my favorite food but when we travel to see my wife's family in California, we always have an amazing meal in San Francisco that I get to pick, but on our way home, her mother always stops and gets me In & Out for the car ride. It's delicious but also special. Her mom knows me too well and the quickest way to my heart," Keeler says.