UPDATED 9:30 p.m. The name of the Sidebar at Whiskey Row was reported incorrectly.

Save for apple pie, there’s hardly a more iconic statement of culinary Americana than the hamburger.

The Breakfast Burger at Mussel & Burger bar in Jeffersontown.

In the last century, home grillers made it good while McDonald’s made it generic and ubiquitous.

Now seemingly every place from high-end restaurants to food trucks are making it bigger, better, fancier and pricier.

Corbett’s all-beef version sells for $15, which is the same nickel you’ll pay for St. Charles Exchange’s lamb burger. A few dollars less will let you eat a wide range of burgers at Mussel & Burger Bar, which opened in early February.

Want all grass-fed versions? Get ‘em for about $10 when The Grind Gourmet Burger Food Truck is rolling or spend around $7 at Bluegrass Burgers.

If that sounds like a lot of options, know that two more “gourmet burger” places are opening soon. On Feb. 12, the chef-owners of Hammerheads will open Game, a high-end hamburger joint at 2295 Lexington Road. (Despite having no menu on its Facebook page, Game already has 697 Likes, which says a lot about how much people love Hammerheads.)

And in Sidebar at Whiskey Row will open on Second Street above the Troll Pub and about 100 yards from the KFC Yum! Center.

Operating partner Rich Ruth said high-end hamburger lovers are well fed everywhere in Louisville except downtown. The Philadelphia native, who came here by way of the St. Charles Exchange, where he worked until November, said the national better burger trend is showing no signs of waning.

“I think there’s still a lot of room to grow, especially if the location is right,” said Ruth, who has about a half-dozen business partners who are funding the business. “Burgers, milkshakes and bourbon appeal to a broad audience, and given our location next to the Yum! Center, they’ll see us before they come in and on the way out.”

When opened, Sidebar will fill 1,600 square feet, seat 100 guests, serve 50-plus bourbons, 25 beers and a few barrel aged cocktails.

A strange combo for a burger joint? Ruth doesn’t think so.

“Event crowds run the gamut of all demographics,” said Ruth, who is currently interviewing chefs for the operation. “We wanted to offer an option unlike any other around here.”

With these new openings, Jesse Huot, who owns The Grind Gourmet Burger Food Truck with wife, Liz, believes Louisvillians now have plenty of burger options, yet he still thinks demand will remain strong for at least the near term.

Rich Ruth and Jason Brauner are two of several partners behind the April 2 opening of Sidebar at Whiskey Row on 2nd Street, less than 100 yards from the KFC Yum! Center and one story up from the Troll Pub.

“There were burger places before and there will always be some, but maybe not gourmet,” said Huot. Huot thought wintertime would allow them to park their truck for a period, but he said bringing it to beer-centered functions at the BBC Taproom and Apocalypse Brew Works has made for solid business. “We really didn’t expect to be this busy, but that’s a good thing. That’s proof people like it.”

Fernando Martinez, chef and partner at Mussel & Burger Bar, said his menu’s dozen or so burgers are meant to be a menu category rather than a whole concept.

“We saw some unique ways we could do burgers, and they’re still very popular in the U.S.,” said Martinez, who, like Huot serves a foie gras-topped burger. He’s also the chef and co-owner of Guaca Mole. “People know burgers and like them, so we’re trying to give them something they recognize, but maybe haven’t tasted before. I think that’s where the trend is.”

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Steve Coomes
Steve Coomes is a restaurant veteran turned award-winning food, spirits and travel writer. In his 24-year career, he has edited and written for multiple national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. He is a feature writer for Louisville magazine, Edible Louisville & The Bluegrass and Food & Dining Magazine. The author of two books, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and the "Home Distiller's Guide to Spirits," he also serves as a ghostwriter for multiple clients.

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