Austin Kirkland has big plans for a tiny space. He's taking over the former Alluette's Jazz Café on Calhoun Street and turning it into the Big Gun Burger Shop & Bar where the focus will be on artisan burgers crafted by his chef Jeffrey Stoneberger. These guys are no joke. Kirkland, a Johnson & Wales graduate, has been running his own catering operation, Gourmet Bay, for seven years. "It was really rough and scary at the start," he admits, but he kept with it, and the company is doing well enough on its own that he can dedicate some time to this new venture.
Stoneberger, after leaving a well-paying job as a mortgage broker back in 2006 to pursue his passion for food, has worked in high profile kitchens around the world, from the Fat Duck in England to the French Laundry in California, learning as much as he can along the way (and generally working for free or for peanuts). Most recently, he worked in the kitchen at McCrady's under Chef Sean Brock.
Stoneberger recently signed on to work on Kirkland's concept, which has been a couple years in the making. "I"ve been looking for a spot for two years," says Kirkland. "This just happened. It just fell into my lap."
The location has always been more of a bar than a restaurant (before Alluette's it was Lite Affair), mainly due to its size limitations. The kitchen is a mere 15 feet by 8 feet.
"It's a space challenge," says Stoneberger, "but it's the space challenge that created great restaurants like Momofuku."
In that little kitchen, they plan to grind out some artisan burgers.
"We are still finalizing the menu, but you can guarantee a Korean barbecue burger with kimchi will be featured," says Stoneberger. "We will feature a fresh cheese dish with seasonal veg ranging from caramelized figs to Heirloom tomatoes."
The meat will be ground in-house so they can control the quality and the fat content. Kirkland says he is in the process of sourcing meat from local suppliers, but he knows for sure that they'll use Jason Houser's Meathouse bacon. Buns will be freshly baked. Fries will be made from scratch in house. Prices will range from $8 to $14, and the vibe will be "rocker with a metal feel."
"It's going to be really casual," says Kirkland. "The main focus is the burgers."
They expect to be open sometime in May.