As many of you know, Tremont Tavern is famous in Chattanooga for their burgers. A lot of people would argue they’re the best in town, I myself am a huge fan of The Gouda burger. Today I got to sit down and talk with BJ Hightower who currently resides at Feed Table & Tavern. We talk about Tremont Tavern in this interview and for those of you who don’t know they are a sister restaurant to Feed Table & Tavern. You can even get a Tavern burger at either location. Stop by this week for Burger week on The House!
Q. How did you get your start cooking?
BJ- I’m self taught. Just like everyone else, I started in bars, grills, & some chain places. I think it’s hard at those places to have freedom to create. Here, (at Feed) Dustin and Miguel (Owners) give me room to push the envelope. I love having the freedom to take one thing and try to make it great. That’s what we did at Tremont. We set out to make the best burger we could and it worked out really well in my opinion. We wanted to set out to be known for something, we started by picking something we did well and then thinking about how we could make it all it can be. You can’t worry about the profit on that item right off the bat. Just do it right and the money will come. I like to know how things work and blend together, almost in a scientific mindset.
Q. Is it true you created the recipe for the Tremont burger?
BJ- I can’t take all the credit. I went away for the weekend and a couple guys convinced Dustin (Tremont’s owner) to buy a meat grinder. That’s where it all started. We wanted to make a burger as course as we could with the fewest bits of inclusions (little chewy bits) as we could. We wanted something that was course and steaky and didn’t want any inclusions, just meat and fat. It was a ton of labor at first to butcher our own meat down to get that perfect mix. 26,000 lbs of burger meat a year all being cut down by one guy 4 days a week. That was his only job.
Q. What makes a great burger?
BJ- Well it’s all about the patty of course but it’s really the whole experience. I would say it’s about balance with the spices and making sure that at every step you have top quality and consistency, from evenly cut onions to quality condiments that make sense together. Then of course topping it off with the fantastic Niedlovs bun. Having that local bun is crucial.
Q.What do you think of condiments? Can you overdo a burger?
BJ- I don’t think ketchup belongs on a burger, I don’t have many followers on that thought but I think a burger can be amazing with just meat cheese and a great bun. The ingredients just have to work together and be the best they can be.
Q.When was the last time you had a fast food burger?
BJ- A couple of weeks ago, I travel with my band Strung Like a Horse and sometimes you have to eat what’s there. It was a Roy Rogers burger. That was where Charlie’s (head chef) first job actually.
Q. Favorite burger on the Tremont Tavern menu.
BJ- It’s between two, but I have to go with The Coltrane. The egg on the burger is so decadent.
Q. If you had to bring 3 foods to live on a desert island, what would they be?
BJ- 1. A wheel of extra old (72 month) aged gouda. 2. Wild Turkey Breast. Wild caught game is one of my favorite things. 3. Pistachios, I think if you gave me an infinite barrel of pistachios I would eat them until I exploded.
Q.If you had to pick another burger in town, who would it be?
BJ- Merv’s or Tubbys(which has since closed)