SOUTHEASTERN NC — Chef Bud Taylor often thinks back to his childhood when burgers were the most simple, deliciously appealing meal: two 4-ounce patties, grilled with crispy edges, and topped however the local gas station or bowling alley served them best.
“Every little mom-and-pop grocery store or general store and gas station had a grill, and each one of them had their own interpretation of that burger,” Taylor said.
That’s what his latest food truck, CBT Burger, is focused on: creating the perfect American handheld but with a modern, gourmet twist.
A badge of honor set him on this path in 2017, when Taylor won the James Beard Foundation’s Blended Burger Project. The foundation challenged chefs nationwide to blend grass-fed beef with mushrooms to create a healthier burger for customers and the planet.
At that time, Taylor had been operating The Bistro at Topsail for more than a decade. He created “The Goomba” — named after the mushroom from the famed Mario Brothers video game — from 75% Mills Family Farm grass-fed beef, with 25% confit oyster and portobello mushrooms. The burger came topped with Havarti cheese, shitake “bacon,” lemongrass aioli, baby arugula, and heirloom tomatoes, on a homemade bun.
“We had to confit six pounds of mushrooms daily just to get a quart,” Taylor explained. “The cheese came from Virginia, the shitake ‘bacon’ had to be cooked down a particular way, and we used another mushroom that we dried and turned into a powder to make a spice blend we put on the burger. Everything was sourced to the infinite degree and made from scratch.”
In the end, Taylor said he didn’t really make money off the item, which was priced at $22. However, his James Beard accolade heightened the burger’s popularity — so much so Taylor had a waiting list for it nightly at his restaurant. Taylor had to put one dedicated employee on prepping The Goomba daily because it was so labor-intensive and time-consuming.
“It was insane,” he said. “We could only make so many a day — but people loved that burger.”
In 2018, Hurricane Florence did extensive damage to The Bistro, and simultaneously, Taylor was facing health issues. He said he had to slow things down in order to recover from surgery. So he decided to step away from the restaurant industry and embark on another dream company, Bud Taylor Home Design.
RELATED: The Bistro at Topsail to close permanently due to chef’s health concerns, Florence damages
“I actually went to college for design,” Taylor said, “and I come from a family of builders.”
His new business was gaining traction when the pandemic hit in 2020. Taylor said, once again, he started looking at the food industry to help supplement income he was losing. However, taking on the full-time stress and long hours of a brick-and-mortar no longer appealed to him — especially in the middle of a shutdown when indoor dining couldn’t even operate in full force.
“I had been thinking about doing a burger truck already,” Taylor said, “and people seemed very comfortable ordering on the phone, coming up and getting things in a window during the pandemic. It’s kind of changed how people are dining out.”
Taylor began to ask friends and old customers if they would support a burger food truck. After overwhelming response, he custom-ordered a 16-foot trailer out of Texas and put together the entire CBT Burger concept in 90 days.
Taylor, his wife, Molly — also a trained chef — and his sister, Jules, launched CBT Burger last month. Right now, the operation runs part-time on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and sometimes on Sunday. It’s overseen by the three partners, all of whom have full-time jobs. Taylor said they hope within a few months to add employees.
“We’re big on systems and being able to repeat things easily to ably train people and have it dialed in,” Taylor said. “It’s much easier for us to do it first versus trying to train people while we’re still learning.”
To keep it simple, the truck has a small menu, which Taylor said he envisions to include around six items at a time. Right now, CBT offers three burgers, a quarter-pound hot dog, a greens and grain bowl, and chips.
“All of the burgers are doubles,” Taylor said, like the stacked 4-ounce patties he used to get at gas stations in his youth.
Naturally, he does a knock-off of his award-winning Goomba. It’s priced more reasonably at $14, since ingredients changed a bit from its days at The Bistro.
“But it still has the same flavor profile,” Taylor assured.
The namesake CBT burger is served with melted onions, two slices of American cheese, dill pickle slices and a special sauce — “which is nothing like Thousand Island,” Taylor said emphatically. “Every single person asks.”
He remains mum on the ingredients in the condiment but makes it clear it’s specifically designed to be eaten on the CBT — not by itself, not on the homemade chips he fries up with every order (they come with lemon aioli).
“The CBT sauce cuts through the fat and balances it,” Taylor said. “We don’t really like to do substitutions on our specialty burgers.”
Vegans aren’t left out of the mix either. The Farm is served with a Beyond Burger and topped with Swiss, lettuce, tomato, onion, avocado, and green sauce (made of herbs and sans mayo). Folks can sub out a double beef patty for no charge or Ahi tuna for an additional $4.
The Chevy Dawg — named after Taylor and his wife’s boxer that passed away a few years ago — is a quarter-pound Angus beef dog, served on a hoagie roll with homemade slaw, house dill-pickle relish, mustard, ketchup, and fried onions.
“We give $1 of every one we sell to a local animal rescue,” Taylor said.
They also yell “Chevy Dog!” every time a customer orders it. “Everybody seems to like that,” he said.
Occasionally, Taylor said a special burger may be added to the lineup. He also is considering the addition of a grown-up grilled cheese or other sandwiches as CBT gains more miles and customer feedback.
“We are just trying to get going and keep things simple for now,” Taylor said.
CBT Burger will roll into Snead’s Ferry at The Crooked Lotus on Feb. 19 at 6 p.m.; Salty Turtle Beer Company on Feb. 20 at 6 p.m.; Flytrap Brewing on Feb. 25 at 5 p.m.; and Mad Mole Brewing on Feb. 26 at 5 p.m.
Weekly stops are listed on CBT Burger’s website, as well as on Port City Daily’s Food Truck Tracker, published every Monday morning.
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