Sweet Grass: A Southern Belle

Sweet grass (Muhlenbergia filipes) commonly grows in the American southeast, and was the traditional basket weaving material of the Seminole Indians in Florida and African Americans from the Gullah tradition in South Carolina. It is also a colloquial term for marijuana, and has been used as such by obscure rappers. If you reference sweet grass baskets in a rap posted on Youtube, hilarity ensures.

Sweet Grass is also a restaurant located in Bloomington, started by two friends from the Carolinas. Once we realized that they had some creative burger options on their southern-inspired menu, we had to pay a visit. Interestingly, the burger does not come in a woven basket, and fortunately, a burger from Sweet Grass satiates hunger rather than causes the munchies. It is unclear whether there is rap played there at times.

Neil:

I had been to Sweet Grass twice before our burger excursion, but this was my first burger, and it surpassed all expectations.  I’ll be completely honest: I am not always the biggest fan of Southern food.  However, Sweet Grass really delivers, especially with their burgers.

I went for the Pimento Burger, because it’s something I haven’t really seen before.  You don’t usually find much pimento cheese outside of the South,[1] though Wikipedia tells me that pimento cheese is also a popular snack in the Philippines.  Who knew?  In addition to pimento cheese, the Pimento Burger comes topped with bacon, fried onions, lettuce and tomato.

The odd, cavern-esque atmosphere of the restaurant did not create any sky-high expectations for the food.

The Pimento Burger

The Pimento Burger

However, all trepidation was blown away as soon as the burger arrived.  Pause here and take a look at the photo of the burger.  If you don’t want to dive into that meaty, cheesy, bacon-y sandwich of goodness after just one look then you are probably not alive (or just a vegetarian.  Or healthy).  We eat with our eyes, as they say, which is why presentation is so important.  The great looking burger, accompanied by fresh cut chips ticked all the presentation boxes.

But did the taste live up to how it looked?  Definitely… and then some.  With so many flavorful components, I was worried that some might get hidden.  Thankfully, I worried for nothing.  The patty was cooked beyond the medium that I requested[2] but the sear was good and the patty was flavorful and juicy.  The bacon slices were thick, perfectly cooked and provided the nice, bacon-y pow that is so welcome on any cheeseburger.  The pimento cheese was very gooey and flavorful and worked in harmony with the bacon and the beef.  The fried onions were also right on point.  They retained their crunch, even though they were on top of the layer of cheese.

The bun was the one disappointment.  It was fine from a quality perspective, but it was barely toasted, and us burger boys expect all burger buns to be toasted.

All the burgers at Sweet Grass are served with fresh cut chips.  The chips are nice and crispy and not at all greasy.  They were an excellent accompaniment to the burger.  Sweet Grass has a wide range of other sides for $1.95, so there is certainly something to please almost any diner.

I couldn’t stop talking about the Pimento Burger for the rest of the day.  I still find myself thinking about it often.  This was, quite simply, an awesome burger.

Chris:

Sweet Grass raised some apprehension for me. How will a restaurant with a diverse menu, involving everything from crab cakes and “smoked drunken chicken,” to catfish tacos and shrimp po’ boys, treat their burgers? Are the burgers going to be an afterthought, or a throwaway set of menu items to appease less adventurous diners who are not feeling seafood or southern fare?

Sweet Grass gives burgers their due respect, and crafts them with thought and creativity. I opted for the Smoke Shack Burger, described as a “1/2 lb. burger topped with fried onion strings, Blue Ridge BBQ sauce, jalapeños, lettuce, tomato, and cheddar cheese on a toasted bun.”

With an offering like that, how could I refuse? So I ordered the Smoke Stack cooked medium and an (unsweetened) iced tea.

When the burger arrived, it was clear that the kitchen wanted it to look like something real. It arrived already stacked

The Smoke Stack

The Smoke Shack

high on its white, homemade-looking bun. I could easily see the onion strings, lettuce and jalapeños seductively peaking out from underneath their breaded cover, and a dribble of barbecue sauce trickling down the side.

After cutting into the burger, I found that the layers were distinct and beautiful. The cheddar cheese anchored the jalapeños on the patty and the lettuce and fried onions gave distinct layers as well as a nice textured crunch on each bite.IMG_0544

The patty was a little overcooked for a medium temperature, lacking in any pink color. Like Neil, I still found the patty quite juicy and well seasoned.

The flavor of the burger was exhilarating, with the spicy zest of the fresh jalapeños, tempered by the creamy cheddar cheese and accentuated by the slightly sweet, fried onion strings. The barbecue sauce also added a sweet and sour taste that worked well with the overall burger.

The fresh jalapeños packed a kick, in part because they were not deseeded prior to being put on the burger. Fresh jalapeños provide complexity in flavor compared to when they are pickled, and here they tasted slightly like a bell pepper initially. Unlike in other burger experiences, these jalapeños were well distributed around the patty, and I did not find the spice overwhelming given my medium tolerance of capsaicin. Yet even so, those with an aversion to spice should beware!

On the whole, the burger was extremely satisfying, and especially high in quality for the price.

Chris at Sweet Grass

Conclusion

From a taste perspective, our burgers were almost every bit as good as the burgers at Feast, our only 5/5 burger so far.  However, both of our burgers were cooked beyond the requested medium temperature, and the bun was under-toasted.  Even with these negative marks, our burgers were top notch.  We’ll be back to Sweet Grass.

Raw Score:           4.5+ / 5 burgers
Price-adjusted:     5  / 5 burgers

Price:                   $8.95
Gained points:      Taste, size, quality, creativity, almost everything
Lost points:          Under-toasted bun, medium-well instead of medium
Drinks:                  Iced tea all around!

Date of visit:         1/17/13 (Antonovden in Bulgaria)


[1] I only know what pimento cheese is because Augusta National sells pimento cheese sandwiches (for only $1.50!!!) during the Masters. I have never been to the Masters, but I expect to win it one of these years..

[2] This seems to be something I write in every review.

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3 thoughts on “Sweet Grass: A Southern Belle

    • They do, but I was happy with chips. And I didn’t want to spend the extra $1.95. Blogging is not a lucrative gig.

  1. I read this review at 3:30 in the morning and it made me extremely hungry! I’ve never tried pimiento cheese but this description makes it sound worthy of using it on the burger. It surprised me that the jalapenos didn’t overwhelm the other flavors in the Smoke Shack Burger, so it must have been just a perfectly balanced combination. Put this on the list for May, Neil. (although would be very happy to return to Feast)

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