Thursday, October 6, 2022

Burgers in the BAD: Angus Grill flips on the open sign in Brooklyn Arts District

The Brown Sugar + Egg Burger at Angus Grill is topped with bacon, a runny egg, American cheese, a single, double or triple patty and maple mayo. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

WILMINGTON — Angus Grill softly launched on North 4th Street last Thursday, bringing an East Carolina University favorite to the Brooklyn Arts District (BAD). It’s an area seeing an influx in restaurants as of late, with the opening of Wheelhouse Pizza on the horizon this weekend, and the impending launch of a Southern seafood restaurant nearby, all of which will join establishments like Boombalatti’s, Palate, Red Eye Bakery, and Chicken in the Box.

According to restaurateur Jordan Michaels, the location appealed to the Angus Grill franchise because of its close proximity to the community college and “just with the area and how it is growing,” he said — referring to The Flats and Sawmill Point apartment complexes opening around the corner, near the riverfront on Harnett Street.

It’s already catching buzz for its robust menu, featuring 30 burgers served in single-, double- and triple-patty form (with prices ranging from $9-$16). Social media foodie pages were peppered with burger photos from the establishment over the weekend.

That’s how Doug Oesch found out about the new restaurant. Oesch was the first customer to enter Angus Grill on Monday as its doors opened at 11 a.m. He ordered the triple queso burger, topped with cheese, jalapeños, bacon, pico de gallo, lettuce and avocado.

“It was delicious,” Oesch said. “Although, I will probably just get a double next time; with three patties, I couldn’t pick it up.”

It’s a minor infraction in the burger-eating world: to have too much of a mouthful. Angus Grill delivers with items like a brisket burger — an angus patty, topped with smoked brisket, onion rings, BBQ sauce, homemade slaw and cheddar.

“The Big Wisconsin” is stacked with fried cheese curds, grilled onions, cheddar, bacon, lettuce and 1000 Island dressing.

“Our most popular is the brown-sugar-and-egg burger,” Michaels said. “Really, it’s like breakfast and lunch all at the same time — so it’s kind of like a brunch burger. We sell a lot of that one.”

The angus patty comes topped with bacon, American cheese and a runny egg, then is smeared with a maple-syrup mayonnaise.

“We also serve the maple mayo with our sweet potato fries,” Michaels said. “All of our sauces are homemade.”

Angus Grill’s house flavor is The Bubba Sauce: mayo ketchup, parsley, and garlic powder. Dressings, too, are from scratch: ranch, blue cheese, Russian — some dousing more than 50 handhelds listed on the menu.

Michaels’ personal favorite is the “Sweet Sriracha Burger,” smothered in grilled onions and candied jalapeños, provolone and Sriracha.

Jordan Michaels brings eggs to his line cook, to add atop the brown sugar and egg burger, one of the most popular served at Angus Grill, according to the restaurateur. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

Having been in the food industry since he was 16, Michaels got his start in beef — technically, at the Beef Farm in Greenville. He worked his first job as a busboy.

“I just stuck with restaurants ever since,” he said, except for the few years he worked for FedEx. Thereafter, Michaels was employed by a produce company, which put him back into kitchens, peddling fresh ingredients.

“It just made me miss it that much more,” he said.

Eventually, Michaels became general manager of Buffalo Wild Wings and worked at the sports bar for more than a decade before transitioning over to Angus Grill. The burger spot launched in Winterville, N.C., near Pitt Community College before expanding onto Jarvis Street near East Carolina University — its largest location, also operating with a full bar, like Wilmington.

Michaels is the majority owner of the Port City spot, as well as the 10th Street location in Greenville. “That one is more like an express,” he explained — a smaller version. Michaels and Angus Grill investors opened the express eatery at the start of Covid-19.

“It’s in a part of a town that didn’t really have anywhere to eat or anywhere to go,” Michaels said. “So we made it work.”

He said the restaurant did well being takeout, especially since Covid-19 mandates didn’t really work against it. The company also was scouting Wilmington at the end of 2019, beginning of 2020, and had looked at its current location at 1001 4th St., which used to be The District. Michaels said the price just wasn’t right at that time.

Then Covid hit. The District announced on social media it was officially closing Mar. 20, 2020.

Once Michaels’ express location proved successful, Angus Grill revisited the Wilmington area again. “We looked at several locations in Carolina Beach, Leland, but this location came back to us,” he said. More importantly, the price was right the second time around, according to the restaurateur.

Michaels and company began renovating BAD’s Angus Grill four months ago — painting, upfitting electrical and plumbing work, and adding high-top tables. Large-screen TVs beckon viewers to the latest games, and adorning the walls is artwork by a local tattoo artist.

“He just came in and hung them yesterday,” Michaels said.

The black and white pieces pop with splashes of red and represent iconic places throughout Wilmington: Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, Airlie Gardens, Battleship NC. The art is also available for purchase.

Renovations aren’t fully complete; Michaels has plans to build an outdoor patio behind the restaurant once demolition is completed on a house behind the restaurant.

“With the amphitheater going in, hopefully, you’ll be able to hear the music, too,” he said. Michaels is still toying with bringing in local talent eventually.

The real draw will stay focused on Angus Grill’s menu, he said. Aside from offering almost three dozen burgers — black bean, turkey, and Beyond burgers included — the menu expands into other handhelds. It has variations on cheesesteaks (steak-and-egg, Hawaiian, Buffalo chicken, teriyaki), as well as wraps (Buffalo, Caesar, fajita, bruschetta) and a few specialty sandwiches. It also offers salads and appetizers, like mac-and-cheese bites, jalapeño poppers, fried green tomatoes, and mozz sticks — all of which appear as toppings on burgers too.

Employees work steadily at the new Angus Grill, located on N. 4th St., as it opens lunch service on Monday. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

As a line cook began flipping patties on the flat top Monday, two servers overseeing the dining area let customers in before even turning on the open sign. Michaels viewed the early interest optimistically. He also admitted it was problematic merely finding help to operate the restaurant. Right now, Angus Grill runs with seven people. Michaels said he received only 12 applications when he put out a call “for hire.”

RELATED: Restaurant workers became jobless at the start of the pandemic. Why haven’t they come back?

“It was low — really low,” he said. “We need to comfortably be at 15 or 20 employees just to have, you know, a break because we don’t want our people to burn out.”

It’s why Michaels launched Angus Grill Thursday without much fanfare. He wanted to test-run operations to see what they could handle. They served around 50 people, he said, without a hitch.

As he turned over Oesch’s lunch bill and checked in on his dining experience, the hiring issue became magnified more. “I worked in the restaurant industry for years,” Oesch told Michaels.

Oesch was laid off from his job of eight years and hadn’t been called back to work. He’s only had luck with part-time offers. “And the reality is: I can’t live off part-time work,” he said. “Trying to find a job — at least one that’s full-time — is hard right now.”

“We’re still in need of more employees,” Michaels added. “We will continue to hire.”

Angus Grill will operate Sunday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. It also will launch on DoorDash UberEATS, and Grubhub, and has an online ordering system for pick-up.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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