I love being the first person in a restaurant when it opens in the morning. It’s especially satisfying to be the first to walk into a diner-style spot that’s got an open kitchen.
A few reasons why: The music’s a little louder than it will be. Every seat’s open, your beer arrives faster than thought and your order flies into the kitchen. For a moment, it’s your restaurant. You feel like Anthony Bourdain without the cameras and contract negotiations. Then, there’s the absolute best moment: You can hear as your burger hits the smoking-hot flat top. It’s a telltale hiss and crackle.
I’m at Kessler Park Eating House, Christine and Jonathon Erdeljac’s diner-makeover spot, and I’m about to regret that it’s my first time in the joint. I order the burger, a remix of Lorde’s “Royals” keeping me company. The burger is freshly ground brisket, cheddar, tomatoes, shredded lettuce and onion on a house-made bun. A few minutes later, I hear it hit the griddle.
Can we talk about the heavy, crusty sear on this brisket patty? It’s sensational. Hiding under a Rembrandt-ready melted cheddar is a 9-ounce brisket patty with a griddle-seared crust that will cause out-of-body visions. I think I saw a grainy, 8mm dream of the first time I’d ever eaten a burger.
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Salt, pepper and a touch of Worcestershire adorn the crust, chef Erdeljac tells me. The tomatoes are heirlooms, thick-cut to gather all of those meat drippings. Shredded lettuce is an extra layer of bedding beneath. You may or may not love the bun, which was softer than a store-squishy bun, but no less sturdy. No condiments are need: The bun gathered all those burger juices with a breeze.
The only downside to being the only one in the spot: I sincerely wanted to turn to someone in my chair and blurt out how much I’m enjoying the burger. I love the salty crust and the soft bun. I love that there are no condiments. Who even needs you anymore, mayo? The seasoned fries are in a big enough pile that I swear they’re regenerating.
I left Kessler Park before anyone else had come in. You should stop in, but I’m still happy that for a few moments that morning, I had a great burger all to myself.
Kessler Park Eating House, 1619 N. Beckley Ave.