WILMINGTON — It’s been six months since Sam Steger has flipped a burger for customers. But come Friday, the sizzle is back on.
His restaurant, Mess Hall, once located in the quonset hut on 16th Street and Hutchison Lane in front of Alcove Beer Garden, is showcasing its new digs in Cargo District East — the Wrightsville Avenue section of the burgeoning urban development. Mess Hall will open at 2136 Wrightsville Ave. Friday, featuring the same lunch and dinner menu — burgers, fried chicken sandwiches, tots — but also debuting breakfast and milkshakes.
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“Once we get settled in, we’re going to start doing some specials, too,” Steger said. “I don’t know if it’ll be burger of the month or what, but we will rotate some stuff in.”
Getting creative with burgers is part of the fun Steger has brought to Mess Hall since its founding. He has zhuzhed the all-American handheld, by adding fun ingredients. For instance, a Britts Donut became a middle topping during Burger Week 2021; he sold roughly 600.
One of the specials he is bringing back: the bruschetta burger.
“It has like fresh bruschetta on it and Provolone, but then we put mozzarella sticks on the burger and a white truffle aioli,” he said. “Yeah, man — so good.”
Milkshakes are the newest additions getting a fun redo. Three flavors will be offered to start: Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Nutella wafer and creamsicle. Customers can upgrade them to boozy concoctions, too, such as a shot of Fireball punching up the Cinnamon Toast Crunch offering.
“And we will probably do some like seasonal milkshakes,” Steger said.
Breakfast will consist of standard sandwiches, such as egg and cheese, sausage and cheese, or chicken, egg and cheese. There also will be a breakfast burger, plus burritos and tacos.
“I do have an oven now,” Steger said. “So one I get settled in, I think I’d like to try making some biscuits.”
Steger is going from less than 500 square feet to 3,000 in his new restaurant. The move came with many changes and delays since Mess Hall closed last October (in its former spot is Beat Street). Steger originally hoped to be open by early winter, but permitting was slow to construct necessary plumbing, electrical and HVAC work.
When Steger first decided to expand his two-year-old eatery — at the end of 2021 — he had the idea to make it a dog bar and restaurant. But the building next to his restaurant’s relocation became available and instead Steger decided to separate the two businesses.
“It just made more sense than having to worry about serving food and dealing with dogs and the health department,” he said.
He renovated Ruff Draft first and opened it at the end of last summer. The 7,000-square-foot dog park adjoins Mess Hall’s property. Steger and contractor Leslie Smith, developer of the Cargo District, installed a walk-up window at Mess Hall for folks to grab a bite while throwing Fido the frisbee.
It is adorned with a mural by Kaylee McCarty who works at Ruff Draft, next door at 2144 Wrightsville Ave.
“It’s awesome,” Steger said. “It’s a hand holding a burger and there’s flying tater tots all around it. There’s a big arrow saying ‘order here’ pointing to the window.”
Picnic tables are scattered throughout the outdoor areas, both on the Ruff Draft side near the walk up window and the Wrighstville Avenue-facing area. Altogether, including indoors, the restaurant will service around 150 patrons.
“Indoors, it looks similar to our old place,” Steger said.
The concrete floors have been sealed, plants cascade everywhere against a white and black color palette, and his sister hand-created a wallpaper design for the bathrooms. Around 600 bulbs of strung Edison lights illuminate the space.
“It’s definitely brighter,” he said.
Steger was able to keep the majority of his staff from Mess Hall and he is hiring 10 more. Once the new burger spot finds its rhythm, he plans to add weekend markets and live music.
Located at 2136 Wrightsville Ave., Mess Hall opens April 14; hours will be Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
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