In 2010, Urban Stack Burger Lounge inhabited Chattanooga’s old Southern Railway Baggage Building down on the Southside, with owners Mike and Taylor Monen looking to remodel this building with LEED-certified criteria. I inhabited Urban Stack for lunch last Saturday.
12 W. 13th St.
Chattanooga, TN 37402
11 a.m.-10 p.m.
11 a.m.-11 p.m.
An epic dining experience: world-class service, décor and menu options.
A superior dining experience: high-quality attributes you’ll want to come back for again and again.
A solid dining experience: great characteristics but also some minor issues.
A mediocre dining experience: may have a few good highlights but major flaws.
A terrible dining experience: stay far away unless it’s the only place left to eat to avoid starvation, and even then, question if it’s worth it.
Atmosphere and service
The place was lively and boisterous this afternoon, with most of the tables full both inside the restaurant and in the outdoor patio area. I didn’t have to wait, however, being seated immediately at one of the few tables available.
My server was attentive, taking care of us throughout the afternoon with a friendly demeanor. He informed us that the restaurant had been even more slammed before we arrived and still seemed understandably frazzled from the rush. My food arrived promptly after ordering, and he checked on us often.
Local craftsmen contributed to most of the interior, using many materials dating back to the 19th century. This was a rustic interior done in a contemporary style, while also dialing down its energy usage with simple measures. A particular highlight for me were the lighting fixtures made from wooden ladders and metal frames recycled from old factories, both with exposed low-lit bulbs casting a soft glow on the brick walls, concrete floors and crafted wooden furniture.
The menu mostly consists of burgers and a few other sandwiches, although there are some vegetarian burgers and a chicken breast substitution offer on the burger selections. As a burger and bourbon haunt, their whiskey selection is phenomenal, ranging from Irish and Scotch whiskies to our proud Southern bourbons.
For the appetizer, I sampled the fried bologna sliders ($7.99), which had Sequatchie Cove peppercorn beef bologna, American cheese, “fire & ice” pickles and Dijonnaise. The fried bologna-also known ’round these parts as “Alabama steak”-wasn’t your typical bologna with a first name. This was a housemade bologna and-as bologna goes-wasn’t too greasy. The peppercorns provided a nice seasoning to this high-quality cured beef sausage.
The sliders were served on toasted Niedlov’s Breadworks buns-an artisanal bakery I’ve previously reviewed-as are all of Urban Stack’s sandwiches and burgers. The housemade pickles had a nice mix of sweet and savory fermented flavors. The Dijonnaise was a mix of Dijon mustard and mayonnaise-duh-and was a great complement to the bologna-eliciting an even greater compliment to the dish from me. Very well done.
The first burger I sampled was the “Asian Q” ($10.99), which had “wasabi savoy slaw,” Asian ginger barbecue sauce, homemade cucumber kimchee and a five-pepper dry rub on a plump American Kobe-style beef patty. With this burger, I wanted to go with Asian flavors to complement the Japanese background of this beef. Unless you’ve been to Japan, you’ve probably never had real Kobe beef (although many in America have a beef with Kobe Bryant).
Real Kobe beef is one of the most prized meats in the world because of its superior marbling characteristics. It must be a specific breed of Wagyu cattle from the Kobe region, raised under strict guidelines to gain the “Kobe beef” classification. However, much like how most of our bubbly wines we call “champagne” are not from the Champagne region of France-which has similar guidelines-U.S. regulations are relaxed on these naming conventions.
Urban Stack specifically uses Mishima Ranch American-style Kobe beef from a domestic crossbreed of Japanese Wagyu with Scottish Angus cattle (another breed known for excellent marbling). However, this beef is 50-90 percent Wagyu, raised under specific quality guidelines, giving it its “American-style Kobe” classification.
Back to the burger itself, Urban Stack has two temperature classifications for its burgers: “pink” and “not pink.” Easy enough. I went for the pink temperature-less cooking maintains more juiciness. And, oh boy, was this an extremely tender burger bursting with juices, pushing the Niedlov’s bun housing to its limits. The Asian Q is served spicy or mild, and I went with the spicy version, which had a little heat but was heavily quelled by the other ingredients.
The kimchee and wasabi slaw provided a tangy bite to the sweet barbecue sauce and savory spice-rubbed burger in a barrage of powerful, windmill-kick flavor rotations to my taste buds. As a fan of Asian barbecue flavors, this was an excellent fusion of Asian influence on an American staple-and sort of a metaphor of the Americanized Kobe beef burger itself (a quality variation from its high-quality Asian roots).
With the next burger, I went with their straight certified Angus beef on the $8.50 “good day, sunshine.” Although there was a noticeable difference from the Wagyu burger, the Angus patty was no pushover and highly tender and juicy itself. As this was my first meal of the day at around lunchtime, the good day, sunshine was a nice brunch-style burger with a fried egg, bacon and cheese.
The fried egg was perfectly cooked, with the yolk still slightly liquefied but not too runny-with an egg on a burger, you don’t want the yolk leaping into your lap after biting into its domain. The bacon was nicely cooked to a slight crispiness and complemented the egg, as bacon always does. I also substituted the Niedlov’s wheat bun on this burger, which gave it a nice egg-and-wheat-toast breakfast, comfort food composition. The white cheddar and white vinegar mayo added some creaminess, with the lettuce and tomato adding fresh flavors to the party of the garden variety.
The two sides I sampled-which are not included with the entrées-were the sweet potato fries ($2.50) and potato salad ($3). The sweet potato fries were very good and had a strong presence of cinnamon in their cotton-soft interior, with a firm, crispy exterior. The potato salad was OK. It was extremely heavy on the mayo-although many like it like that. The potatoes were cooked to a soft firmness, and the salad was good overall, but nothing really stood out about it-other than being served in a canning jar, which gave it some visual charm.
To cap things off, I sampled the $4 s’mores milkshake. This was a frozen, silky take on this traditional campfire flavor combo. The chocolate, marshmallow cream and finely ground graham cracker crumbles were blended perfectly in Clumpies ice cream to just the right thickness-not too runny nor so thick you’d burst an eye vessel struggling to suck it through a straw.
I am giving Urban Stack 3 stars. Not only does the restaurant provide some twists on the boring burger we’ve become accustomed to, it is also a good model for sustainability, using simple, green initiatives to limit its energy usage. The recycled, rustic décor is charming, and the service is good. I’ve been several times and have never had a bad experience. If I were a gambling man, I’d stack my chips on Urban Stack being around for a good, long while.
Roman Flis is a wandering writer, focusing on Chattanooga’s food scene. You can find him at romanflis.com or on Facebook and Twitter, or you can contact him at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.