On the Hunt for a Hamburger with Garden Flair {Day 11 – the Roasted Pickled Pepper Burger at Billy’s}

Okay, so I’ll be honest:  I’m now twelve days into my 14-day Search for the Holy Grail of Hamburgers in the ‘Noke.  At this point I’ve consumed a *lot* of hamburgers, and I think I’m starting to dream about salads in my sleep.

The other day, I found myself craving a hamburger topped with fluffy ricotta whipped with lemon zest, then drizzled with a blueberry-balsamic reduction.  Today?  I can’t stop thinking about a burger paired with goat cheese, grilled peaches and basil.  I don’t know if all the sameness is causing my palate to sharpen up a bit, or if I am just trying to turn my hamburgers into salads.

I guess that’s why, when I met a new girlfriend for lunch yesterday at Billy’s downtown, I was immediately attracted to the Roasted Pickled Pepper Burger ($13), with “house-pickled seasonal peppers, lettuce, bacon and onion marmalade.”  It sounds like a hamburger went romping through the garden patch.  And oh, heavens, that was exactly what I wanted.

{Cross your fingers for me, people.  A few more burgers and you might find me eating dry lettuce out of a popcorn bowl with my hands.}

But first, we should talk about Billy’s — a Market Street restaurant that really does hit the mark when it comes to mass appeal.

I remember visiting the place when it first opened in its current era.  I immediately liked the big plate-glass windows at the corner of Market and Salem — perfect for people-watching — the gleaming wood-paneled walls, and especially the starry courtyard, where you could find a spot on the outdoor sectional sofas, tuck up next to the fire on a cool fall night, and enjoy an Irish Coffee as a nightcap.  

Of course, the shrimp-n-grits were pretty likeable, too, and years later I still can’t seem to stop ordering them.

Billy’s isn’t known for its burgers, but it *is* known for its steak — there are several nice cuts on the menu, along with a good selection of seafood, which makes this a great place to take a client for a business lunch or your dad for a birthday dinner.  I figured if the steak was good, the burger would be, too.  And at lunch, there are several to choose from, whether you’re in the mood for a smokehouse-style iteration (bacon, cheddar, onion curls and BBQ – all for $13), a veggie-burger topped with avocado ($10), or an Ultimate ($13), which throws a fried egg into the mix.

When my sandwich arrived, of course, the very first thing I noticed was the giant pile of rainbow veggies on the side.  It was everything I could do not to leave my burger cooling forlornly while I tore into all that crunchy zucchini and summer squash.

But I didn’t.  Instead, I approached my sandwich — a smaller burger, appropriately sized for lunch — with the gusto that any hamburger properly deserves:

  
A single bite revealed something I didn’t expect:  these pickled peppers were … sweet.  Really sweet.  Rather than the sharp tang of pickling spice, I tasted a more syrupy flavor reminiscent of the bread-and-butter pickles I begged for as a kid.  Paired with the equally sweet bacon-and-onion marmalade, it made for a surprising flavor profile for a burger.  And while that flavor profile isn’t something I’d typically go for, my starved palate appreciated the chance to try something new.

  
In terms of crunchy garden goodness, there was less on this burger than I hoped for — a layer of veggies just a single-pepper deep, with a small amount of iceberg lettuce to round things out.  Still, the peppers were sweet enough that I’m not sure I’d have wanted more.  And it may be that I’m simply craving fiber more than your average human. 😉

Would I order this one again?  That’s a tough call.  Billy’s has some truly fantastic items on their lunch menu — the fried-oyster salad is a personal favorite of mine, and it’s hard to ignore that crab-cake sandwich.  All that to say:  this is a unique spin on a hamburger, but it may not be where Billy’s shines best.

Which is okay by me.  Bring me a plate of those saucy, country-ham-salty shrimp-n-grits *any* day, and I’ll be a very happy girl.

In the meantime … the search for the Holy Grail of Hamburgers continues.

  

Until tomorrow, hungry Roanokers … You can bet I’ll fall asleep tonight with visions of zucchini dancing in my head. 😉

–Ashley