Ketchup, Uptown's New Burger Bar, Follows the Trends to Feed the Trendy
Ketchup, the neighborhood burger bar in cuisine-crowded Uptown, welcomes diners with a patio stocked with wicker chairs and tables tucked under wide umbrellas—an opening salvo that will no doubt be in high demand come fall. The inside offers a mishmash of seating, too: black-topped, metal-trimmed diner tables, classic booths with tan leather seats, high-backed banquettes with groovy '70s-patterned fabric, bar seating and what looks to be a long and tall community table.
The décor is old-school, with wainscoting on the walls and beautiful dark wood trim over the doors and windows. There are three flat-screen TVs for guests' viewing pleasure, playing sports in the evening and news during the day, competing with the likes of Yael Naim, Stevie Nicks, Regina Spektor and Hootie and the Blowfish, who crank from the speakers.
The welcoming vibe continues with the service; on each of my visits, the waitresses won me over with sweetness and attentiveness. Shannon (on my first visit) and Marissa (on my second) are the girls every mom wants to raise: pretty and polite, with beauty-queen smiles, all no ma'am and yes sir. They were there when we needed them and off and running when we didn't.
We visited during prime dinner time on a Saturday, and found an eclectic mix of customers: families, young Uptowners and old ladies in their gardening hats. The menu offers several burgers (beef, turkey and veggie) with equally eclectic toppings (arugula, jalapeño-corn salsa, tahini lemon spread and the like), as well as salads and sides. We opted for the Roadhouse and the Brie burger, as well as a simplified Ketchup burger, to see how the restaurant handled its culinary fastball.
First, though, the off-speed stuff. It's tough to go wrong with a burger—with anything, really—when it's dressed with Gruyère, cherrywood-smoked bacon, onion rings, garlic mayo and tomato. Pile all that on a freshly baked brioche roll and the sweet and salty flavors, paired with crisp and tender textures, make for a satisfying, albeit messy dish. The Brie burger was piled just as high, this time with Brie, baby spinach, tomato and house-made apple butter Dijon. Out with the brioche, in with fresh-baked challah. It worked.
We ordered the Ketchup burger with cheese and onions, to avoid unneeded flavor distractions. It was tender, juicy and well-constructed; unlike its predecessors, you could take this guy on the road with you and not wind up with a lap full of burger. You could taste the quality of the beef—no need for a swanky salad bar on top.
The turkey burger had trouble keeping up with its full-fat friends. It lacked the necessary moistness, although that's easily overcome by ordering it with white cheddar, jalapeño-corn salsa, arugula and spiced aioli.
The burgers, it should be noted, are almost too big for one person—especially when ordered with the sides. And you will be ordering sides. The selections are vast, another shot fired in the side-dish arms race playing out at America's burger joints (fried veggies at Smash Burger, tots at Maple and Motor and so on). Ketchup offers traditional "house" fries, plus a sweet-potato version, garlic chive fries, spicy Buffalo fries, zucchini fries, white truffle Parmesan fries and onion rings. You can group three in a "trio," enough for two or three people easily.
The sweet-potato fries were a solid version of what's become a side-dish standby, the American kitchen's response to the War on White Potatoes. The white truffle Parmesan fries were crisp and light, but the truffle flavor didn't pack the punch I expected (although that's admittedly a difficult line to toe). The onion rings were worth the trip themselves: Light and crispy, with an admirable onion-to-batter ratio.
The hero in this tale, however, were the zucchini fries. They were super crisp on the outside with a fresh, mellow zucchini inside. No mush. No bitterness. Just ripe, unmarred zucchini in a crunchy shell.
And then, of course, the ketchup. I always thought I didn't like ketchup. Turns out I just don't like Heinz. A spiced ketchup was flavorful and smooth. The house coupled cinnamon and nutmeg, welcome additions to the traditional ketchup flavor I expected. And the green tomato stole the saucy show, sweet and tangy and neither too thick nor too thin. The texture was more salsa than ketchup, another welcome play on burger-house tradition. A chipotle version packed a noticeable punch—too spicy for my palate, but my dining companion enjoyed it.
We also dipped into Ketchup's milkshake selection, a nice mix of traditional and creative. The vanilla bean shake was thick and rich. The chocolate mint carried a sharp mintiness without veering toward toothpasty, and was thick enough to challenge the structural integrity of even the most decent of straws. Keep a spoon handy, to gather all the dark-chocolate bits left at the bottom of the cup.
The shakes, of course, were simply beverages. For dessert we ordered the lemon ice-box pie, light and fluffy like a meringue. The Mississippi mud pie nearly overwhelmed with chocolate, as the crust and the insides were richly chocolate flavored. The warm chocolate brownie—well, that's hard to fumble as long as the brownie is moist and chocolatey (check and check) and the ice cream is full-fat (double check). Ketchup's is massive, too, with two large, triangular brownies. Although a bit more ice cream would be advisable if you like it with every bite.
When I returned at noon on a Thursday, the place had only a few tables occupied, But it filled out as I sat. Ketchup offers a strong enough burger that diners are sure to return, whether they like its namesake sauce or not.
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