In August 2013 I stumbled upon a tiny pop-up burger joint on an unlikely street corner in downtown Johannesburg. The burger joint, BGR, was selling tasty burgers for the unlikely price of R10 (less than $1) or R27 for a burger/fries/drink combo. I wrote a blog post about it (read that post here).
I never made it back to the BGR downtown pop-up; I’m not even sure how long it stayed there. But BGR came up in conversation every now and again after that. I learned at some point that BGR is owned by a couple of American guys named Josh and Jed, and that Josh and Jed had a plan to expand their concept for tasty, well-made, slightly-classier-than-fast-food-style hamburgers in Joburg. I think I have some friends in common with Josh and Jed but somehow we’ve never met.
In January 2015 I heard that BGR had opened a new establishment — still temporary but slightly more permanent than a pop-up — at the Caltex petrol station on 172 Jan Smuts Avenue in Rosebank. I intended to go check it out immediately, but in the end it took me ten months. I finally tested out BGR’s “beta” restaurant today.
There are two main changes to BGR since the last time I ate there two years ago.
1) The new restaurant is much larger than the old pop-up — nothing fancy but perfectly comfortable for either eating in or taking out. BGR is calling the current restaurant a “beta”, meaning that the food and dining experience have not been perfected yet.
2) BGR’s prices have risen significantly since that R10-burger that I ate in 2013 (certainly no surprise). BGR now charges R54 for a hamburger and R57 for a cheeseburger. You can add unlimited toppings at no extra charge, which I think is great. I love the create-your-own-burger concept.
BGR’s burgers aren’t cheap, especially when you add fries (one size only) for R19. In comparison: Rocomamas, my other new favorite burger place, charges between R37 and R62 for a burger depending on the toppings, R12 for a “small” order of fries (which is actually huge), and also offers a more polished atmosphere than BGR.
BGR’s burgers are delicious with juicy, perfectly cooked meat, which I believe comes from a local butchery. BGR’s toppings are plentiful and fresh — it’s clear that the owners put a lot of effort into sourcing quality ingredients. BGR’s fries are salty and crispy and mouth-watering. BGR’s service is exemplary (at least it was today), with efficient and friendly staff. BGR offers fountain soft-drinks with free refills, one of the things I miss most about American restaurants.
BGR burgers aren’t drowned in sauce. This is my biggest pet peeve about South African burgers: They often arrive with a ton of sauce that I’m not expecting. Sometimes the sauce is barbecue-like, sometimes it’s mayonnaise-like. Regardless, there is almost always way too much of it, and I personally prefer my burgers sauceless. (I’ll just apply my own ketchup, thank you very much.) So I ordered my BGR burger sauceless and that’s exactly how it came. Ray ordered his burger with the special BGR sauce, and I’m pleased to report that the sauce was applied sparingly and didn’t smother the meat.
Best of all, BGR is a small, innovative business. You get what you pay for, and I’m willing to pay a bit more to support a business like that.
The next time you find yourself in traffic on Jan Smuts, look for the Caltex and stop into BGR. Cough up the R60 and order a cheeseburger with unlimited veggie toppings. You won’t be disappointed. Also, follow BGR on Facebook and Twitter for news of any impending changes/moves. It seems that Josh and Jed like to keep the Jozi burger world on its toes and you never know what they’ll be up to next.
p style=”text-align: left;”>BGR
172 Jan Smuts Ave., Rosebank
010 593 4545
Open every day, 11:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.