932 Freeport Road, Aspinwall (Waterworks Mall)
412-781-1456 or www.burgatorybar.com
"Burgatory": It sounds like where hamburgers are sent if they haven't been good enough for burger heaven ... or bad enough for burger hell.
But the amusing name might be the only thing ambiguous about this new hit local restaurant, tucked rather modestly into a corner of the Waterworks Mall. In fact, it's hard to imagine any burger fan walking away less than satisfied.
Co-owners Mike Hanley and Jerry DiLembo already had extensive restaurant experience, having launched Oakland standbys like Fuel & Fuddle and Joe Mama's. And once they and their partners launched Burgatory in January, the new venture grew popular quickly: My party of two showed up at 6:30 p.m. on a recent Saturday and faced a two-hour wait. But the capacious, craft-beer-friendly bar is full-service, and space there opened up quickly.
Not that waiting was too terrible a prospect: The waitstaff were friendly and the award-winning interior design, by architect Jen Bee, is sleek but welcoming (incorporating materials like reclaimed wood from old barns). Meanwhile, the 3,600-square-foot joint, though continually packed, never got too loud for conversation.
The winning ambience suggests why Burgatory has already branched out: It's got a stripped-down burgers-'n'-shakes stand in Consol Energy Center, with a third "super-secret" location slated to open next spring.
But you came for the food ... and so did burger aficionados Hanley and DiLembo.
Their homage includes a proprietary, locally butchered blend of fresh-ground sirloin, chuck, brisket and short rib -- all free of antibiotics and hormones. The all-natural route isn't just a matter of conscience, says Hanley: "It really changes the flavor."
Sample the patties in a custom concoction -- with any combo of bun and toppings imaginable -- or in menu offerings like those we tried: the Standard Deluxe (iceberg lettuce, tomato, onion and tangy house sauce) and the gourmet Meat Your Maker, with its dry-aged Wagyu beef, aged gruyere, roasted tomatoes and truffled shallot aioli. Other options include a crab-meat burger, a bison burger and Phat Patti's Veggie, made from mushrooms, lentils, cashews and cracked wheat.
Burgatory also offers fresh-cut fries, and sides from gourmet sliders to fried Portobello. But the restaurant's other signature is its milkshakes -- especially the "hard" ones, with ingredients like Old Grand-Dad bourbon and peppermint schnapps. We opted for the nonalcoholic Campfire S'Mores, which deliciously suggested drinking a quart of chocolate-and-marshmallow ice cream (topped by a single, huge marshmallow). As carefully sourced as its beef, Burgatory's shakes are made from ice cream hand-turned daily from Titusville Dairy cream.
Combined with the burgers, this was big food, almost too much to finish. But we didn't leave until it was all gone. And we're pretty sure the burgers belonged in burger heaven.