CHEF TALKS: An interview with Burger Kitchen Street Gourmet
Silverspoon 2017 winner: Best Street Food
The bus A1 from Viru to Viimsi arrives on time at the stop. It is my first visit to Viimsi. Wikipedia tells me that at the start of 2014 Viimsi inhabited nineteen thousand people; today much more. It is a growth center. The ride takes about twenty minutes and after the last traffic circle the bus tilts to its final approach to the Viimsi Center. It’s ten o’clock in the morning, so the shopping center is still quiet. The restaurant Burger Kitchen is located inside the mall, and behind an escalator you see the cave opening leading into the joint. The security grating is still closed, although you see a small opening, which indicates someone is already here.
Shortly a young lady appears from a side corridor’s changing room. It is a fascinating bonding, which happens when an Estonian and a Finn meet: a shy “hello” is uttered from a safe distance. A carefully expressed smile is exchanged in order to notify the other that we both come in peace. I assume she assumes correctly why I’m here and I think she assumes I know what I’m here for. Therefore, the words can be spared for later use. She simply opens the grating and we both walk in.
Passion for burgers
If you don’t like burgers then Burger Kitchen is not your place. Although the restaurant has brought salads and a soup-of-the-day into its menu, the burgers rule. And it’s not just the menu. The walls are covered with burger-related drawings. An old Marvel comic-book reader, and a fan of Captain America, is delighted to finally resolve the source of Superman’s might: burgers – as it seems.
Dan and Oliver, the co-owners, appear on the doorstep. This time a more continental European greeting is exchanged, although we leave the cheek-kisses aside. We sit around a table. Coffee, the elixir of life, is being administered.
I start by inquiring how’s the business. Dan tells me it is very good. A lot of tourists since Easter. Both Russians and Finnish. The restaurant opens at noon and stays that way until nine in the evening. Seven days a week.
Around fifty kilos of beef is made into burger patties every other day. The meat comes from Kõldu. Dan, with a background in wine imports, has filled the fridge with organic juices from Russia and imported beer from US. And yes, you can also get wine from BK to flush your burgerillo down. A sophisticated choice for anyone enjoying lunch along a shopping spree and having second thoughts whether to invest on a new pair of shoes.
The key is keeping it simple & fresh
Burger Kitchen advertises itself as a “street gourmet” place. Emphasizes should be put on the word “street”. I like the fact that the burgers are served in a wrapping and from a small bucket.
Often the problem is how to dig into a burger meal served on a plate. Should I use hands or silverware? In my opinion the burger should be of a bite-size devoured by hands. And this is what Burger Kitchen delivers. A (nearly) bite-size burger and garments.
I like the fact that the fries are not brought at the table in a front loader of a Bobcat; instead hand made fries are reasonably distributed. Considering that the fries are hand made it means that’s a full-day job for somebody.
Dan and Oliver have their philosophy in keeping it simple. Everyone can prepare a burger and that is perhaps why it is so tempting option to have in a restaurant. Just to see if they make it better here than in the last place, or at home. The trick is, though, you need to have good ingredients. Somebody once said: “crap is not worth serving, ’cause there’s no demand”. The buns coming from Mia pagari are not the fluffy air-filled buns you get in most places, which are sure to make you feel stuffed afterwards. I’m not a big fan of wheat starch, but I have nothing against a nice brioche bun toasted in butter and wrapped around a fatty patty along with some pickles.
This is what is should be like and that’s what BK is about. Making things nice doesn’t mean you have to start slicing duck liver into your burger. Instead, serving a perfectly well-made burger leaves the customer relieved of his primary needs, and possibly of that extra one euro, but gives him the satisfaction of making a good ‘investment’. It’s still “street” gourmet and this is what makes a ‘forthright’ restaurant you want to come back again.
New trends are making way
After receiving the Silverspoon award Dan and Oliver have been busy. And the summer season has not even started!
Tourists, both Russian and Finnish, have started to find their way out of Old Town and into the shopping centers around Tallinn. The young adults living the “dink” life (dual income, no kids) are willing to spend one or two euros more on a lunch, which better satisfies their quality requirements.
A recent study showed also a growth of sell in non-alcoholic beers. This phenomenon has caused some of the breweries to remake the alcohol-free brands. Burger Kitchen has followed suit and brought organic juices available in their coolers.
The Burger Kitchen is answering the demand by opening another street gourmet in Ülemiste City. We drive with Dan to take a look at the joint. The space is still on bare concrete but Dan motions how the stoves are going to be located. Dry store in the corner, that many seats and tables… Oh, the excitement!
The plan is to have the doors open along the coming June. This is good because Ülemiste City houses some ten thousand people along the weekdays and people use apps like Wolt to order lunch. A burger is probably one of those dishes that you can actually hope to receive in a somewhat decent condition on your doorstep, despite the perils of delivery. It doesn’t hurt to have that kitchen just a few streets away when you send your order in.
It’s always a hustle opening a new joint. It remains to be seen where the boys find the time to pat the burger patties in Viimsi, open a new place in Ülemiste and probably sleep every now and then. Nevertheless, it’s going to demand a lot of coffee, sweat and sleepless nights to play in the big boys league when it comes to burgers. Besides, after such a long winter the summer is sure to be nice and people are sure to be stepping outside in search of a burger and a cold one.
Chef Talks is a new Silverspoon Awards story series dedicated to introducing the hearts of every restaurants kitchen, the Chef’s and giving the readers a chance to learn more about the Top Chefs in Estonia. Chef Talks series cover restaurants from Silverspoon winners and nominees.
The author, Juho Kääriäinen: a yesterday’s chef and a today’s hedonist, who consumes gastronomy in all it’s forms. He likes his steak “as kitchen sees fit”, and prefers Global-knives instead of MACs.”