There are pretty much two kinds of hamburgers in the ‘Noke: the normal kind, with LTM and perhaps a pickle, and the crazy hallucinogenic-tasting hamburgers they grill up at Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint. There, you can top your patty with peanut butter, mayo and bacon, griddled hot dogs … even swap out the bun for two glazed donuts.
“It’s like someone was stoned when they wrote the menu,” the server said with a laugh when I visited on Sunday. “And who knows? Maybe they were.”
It’s true: Jack Brown’s is exactly the kind of burger joint you can imagine someone wandering into with a serious case of the munchies. First, there’s the vibe: it’s a narrow, pleasantly dark hole-in-the-wall right in the middle of downtown Roanoke, and a guys’-night headquarters for sure. There’s a sparkly disco ball draped with neon bras of all makes and sizes, a banana-yellow bicycle hanging above the bar, and a massive selection of bottled beer displayed in the refrigerators. Hang out here, and this small-chain restaurant doesn’t feel like a chain at all… It just feels like a crazy night is in the making:
But then there’s the menu, where things get even crazier. Every day of the week, a special novelty burger makes an appearance. On Wednesdays, for instance, you can order the Popeye — a burger topped with homemade spinach-artichoke dip, pepperjack cheese, and — yes — fried onions. On Thursdays, there’s the Nacho Libre: a burger with dried black olives and jalapeños, green onions, sour cream, refried beans and — wait for it — house-made tortilla chips. If you’re in the mood for something (seriously) different, this is your hangout:
As for me and my gang, we’d arrived straight from church in anticipation of the Sunday special: the Big Lick Burger, with bacon, egg and cheese sandwiched between two donuts. All seven of us crowded around the corner of the bar, looking incongruently squeaky-clean and cherubic in our frocks and heels. And then we proceeded to order some of the strangest burgers made in Roanoke.
Me? I ordered the Greg Brady — a burger topped with mac-and-cheese and barbecue potato chips. My super-friendly server offered to up the ante and turn it into a Smylie — a “secret menu” item with bacon and barbecue sauce added to the usual — and I agreed.
I’m glad I did. The sandwich arrived piping hot — so hot it hurt to hold it — and bizarrely satisfying. The potato chips might seem like a mere novelty item, but I’ll tell you: if you’re going to dress a burger with macaroni, you want some crunch to balance out the soft-and-slick pasta, and the chips add the right element of textural counterweight. The bacon gave me a second layer of crispiness, which was exactly what I was looking for.
While JB’s website markets their patties as 100% Wagyu beef — fairly top-shelf here in the States — these are smaller sandwiches with a lot going on, so that goodness may get lost in the shuffle. Still: these burgers are crazy-fun to order as a group — and small enough to order in multiples — so the seven of us sliced our burgers in half and traded back and forth, experimenting and sharing.
It was a beautiful thing.
And I know what you’re wondering: did I try that crazy donut burger? Yes, as a matter of fact. And while I was *exceptionally* skeptical about this one going in, the flavors do actually come together in a way I didn’t expect, and if you’re a donut person (I’m not), I can see the appeal. As my guy T pointed out, this burger gives the term “breakfast sandwich” a whole new meaning.
Stop in and try for yourself … Whether you’re wearing cowboy boots, leather motorcycle pants, or a pinstripe blazer and stilettos like me, I have a feeling you’ll fit in here … even in your church clothes. And you’ll eat a pretty fun burger to boot.
Until tomorrow, slickers.