One has to wonder how many napkins Sloppy Cow goes through on any given night. Is the number more or less than the amount of to-go boxes that go out the door? What's the ratio of food-to-mouth to food-to-table?
One thing's for sure: the name is fitting. They are big and they are messy. And all of the Certified Angus beef burgers are stuffed with a variety of imaginative ingredients, served on either grilled Texas toast or a toasted bun, and accompanied by a pickle spear and a side ($10).
At first glance, Smoking Cow looks like a traditional burger, topped with a boldly smoky tomato relish and rich caramelized onions. Appearances are deceiving, and the first bite liberates melted gouda and pieces of bacon that ooze like the yolk of a soft poached egg. What makes it into your mouth is quite tasty, but you'll make a mess on the way. Luckily the bun is dense enough to hold it all together.
The Texas Toast holds its own too; at least it does with the Spicy Cow. Stuffed with roasted jalapeño relish, jack cheese, chipotle onions, and bacon and topped with spicy mayo, it packs a little heat, but not nearly as much as you'd think from the description.
Each burger comes with a side: pasta salad, coleslaw, red potato salad, tomato and cucumber salad, or fries. They're all fine, but the fries, thick cut and crispy golden brown, are the best option.
These burgers are good, but I'm still not sold on the stuffed burger. Although the fillings add a lot of flavor, the fact remains that the beef will never be cooked below medium, and even that is a shaky target to hit. I'd rather have the perfect balance of fatty and lean beef cooked to 130°, 135°, with the cheese and other accoutrements on top.
However, at Sloppy Cow the burgers aren't the best thing on the menu. In fact, it's not even cow that's in the spotlight — chicken steals the show. Chicken as in the smoked chicken nachos, which rank up there with the best nachos in town. Piping hot, crispy fried corn tortilla chips buried in pieces of pulled smoked chicken, warm garlic, bacon, and smoked gouda cheese sauce, crumbled queso fresca, fresh salsa, roasted jalapeño relish, and just the right amount of cilantro lime cream sauce define good eats. The tender house-smoked chicken's smoky flavor marries with the roasted jalapeño relish to release a touch of heat cooled by cilantro lime sauce.
Also from the starters list, fried grit cakes appear as triangles painted with vibrant orange tomato cream topped with plenty of sautéed shrimp and andouille sausage. The grit cakes are a bit dry, but all together, it's a solid and appealing dish. Marinated tomato bruschetta with creamy housemade boursin cheese is another good option.
A few alternatives to a beefy sandwich are available too. The same smoked chicken that appears in the nachos can be ordered on a bun with mushrooms, onions, mozzarella, and basil parmesan sauce. The name "Cow Patty" is a little off-putting and the presentation isn't very appealing, but the housemade black bean patty stuffed with garlic, jack cheese and jalapeño, and topped with corn relish and cilantro lime sauce is very good ($9). This is where I think stuffing the patty is a good idea — each component fully cooked with a surprise inside.
The hip setting with lime green walls, riveted metal, concrete floors, exposed air ducts, and a lot of open space is perfect for this burger joint. The bar is stocked with a handful of wines, a bunch of bottled macro brews, and a few of the craft variety — no liquor here. Six brew taps change frequently, but there's usually at least one local, like Palmetto Pale Ale, and one unexpected option, most recently Sapporo. I can't say I've ever seen the Japanese rice lager on tap outside of an Asian-cuisine focused establishment.
This type of place down on the lonely stretch of Harbor View is just what this area needs. If you are a fan of stuffed burgers, Sloppy Cow executes. Me, I'll be back for those impressive nachos. In this venue, the chicken beats the cow every time. And that begs the question: How fitting is the name Sloppy Cow when the chicken is just as sloppy and so damn good? Just something else to ponder while you're wondering about those napkin numbers.