Richmond is a burger-loving town. And while the hamburger obsession may be rooted in diner menus, it was probably our evolution as a fast-food nation that sealed the ground beef classic as central to the notion of American cuisine.
Somewhere along the way, fine-dining restaurants not only appropriated the burger, but also drove innovation with signature versions of what was originally just a cheap and filling sandwich. Even the Roosevelt’s James Beard Award semifinalist chef Lee Gregory does a decadent double cheeseburger.
But purists will insist that nothing beats a burger cooked on the grill. And now even that niche is being addressed by the cheekily named Backyard Grill, which, as you might suspect, isn’t in anybody’s backyard. It also offers other foods that Joe Average may grill outdoors, assuming Joe gets his meat from the Shenandoah Valley.
Even more hyper-local are black-and-white photographs decorating the walls, showing not the usual Richmond suspects, but Henrico County buildings such as the nearby Tuckahoe Elementary School and the nearest fire station. A picnic vibe — minus the ants — results from drinks served in hard plastic Solo cups, American flags on every table and a simple menu with something for every appetite. Music was noticeably absent on our visit — our server explained that nobody knew how to work the sound system — but then, not everyone wants a boom box at their picnic.
Mountains of fries are standard issue on practically every plate, including the classic yard burger ($11 with cheese) made mouthwateringly moist — even when cooked well-done — with three kinds of Angus beef. Plus, it’s customizable with such wide-ranging add-ons as Duke’s mayonnaise, goat cheese and grilled pineapple. Consider the smoked tomato jam for a complex pop of flavor.
When it comes to backyard cooking, not everyone’s willing to devote the hours required for brisket, so the restaurant has you covered with brisket in or on nachos, chili, salads, sandwiches and, yes, even on a burger.
Hello, gorgeously smoky yard brisket sandwich ($12) with house barbecue sauce and apple slaw on the side, although this brisket eater prefers her slaw inside the flavorful house-baked onion roll. Just as solid is the kitchen’s spin on a brisket Reuben ($10) on marble rye, also scoring points for not being nearly as Neanderthal-sized as some versions of the standard.
Speaking of obscenely sized portions, the Backyard Grill offers the Gigantor ($26), a towering beast of two burgers, cheddar, brisket, pork barbecue, smoked sausage, bacon, slaw and jalapeños topped with lettuce, tomato and red onions. Finish it by yourself to earn a T-shirt and an immediately elevated cholesterol level.
Straying from meat can be tough unless you’re good with the go-to vegetarian “happy meal” of a side salad ($4) and sweet potato fries ($4) or the Booza ($10) — jokingly billed as “voted best in Richmond by someone on Facebook” — a black bean patty which gets its subtle kick from garlic aioli, avocado and pepper jack.
Sometimes simplicity rules, as with the Cates BLT ($9), oozing with the same garlic aioli and layered with enough house-smoked pig to satisfy bacon fiends, all between slices of Uptown Bakery’s hearty seeded wheat bread. It’s a classic executed superbly.
In the because-it-can category, you’ll find cakes ($10), two plump, crusted pancakes of mac ’n’ cheese, crispy on the outside and creamy inside, under a blanket of brisket, a starter that’s likely to stop your appetite cold.
A Southwest chicken sandwich ($11.50) looks the part with pepper jack, avocado and apricot sriracha, at least until biting into the overcooked chicken breast to discover how bland it is. More of the sweet sriracha helps but doesn’t save it. Too late, we realize it’s absent the promised bacon, which would add flavor but not redeem the dry meat.
With each of my visits, the menu continues to morph and by the third, I’m seeing items such as tacos, wings, and shrimp and grits — unusual candidates for the backyard grill. The lone dessert offering I had on my first visit, two grilled Krispy Kreme doughnuts, bananas and chocolate syrup ($9), seems to have disappeared, no loss given its halfhearted execution.
The competition for burger eaters in Richmond is fierce. Fortunately, if you live near Tuckahoe Elementary School or Fire Station No. Eight, Backyard Grill has you covered. S
Mondays-Thursdays 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fridays 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Saturdays 9 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sundays 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
443 N. Ridge Road