Tasha Smith had a brilliant way of getting people interested. Burger 809 (1821 Cherokee Street, 314-899-5959), its brick and mortar Cherokee Street. On days when she cooked her bacon and jalapeno jam, she would open the front door so the entire area would be filled with the rich smell of sweet smoke. It was a siren song, drawing people from all over the neighborhood into a cartoon trance, and she guaranteed a full house.
But the house could not with the crowd. Located in a micro-sized store in the business district west of Cherokee Street on Jefferson, Burger 809 was dizzyingly small. There was no place for tables and only a small space outside for a patio; if you stand at the ordering counter and stretch your arms out, chances are you’ll touch both walls. When Smith first opened the restaurant in 2019, he knew it was going to be a challenge. As its popularity grew, so did the urgency to find a larger space.
Smith found that bigger footprint at Bluewood Brewing, a local craft beer brand that opened in a stunning historic building near the old Lemp Brewery in Benton Park in 2019, the same year it launched its business on Cherokee Street. Last year, Bluewood spun off its original food supplier, Mac’s Local Eats, and was looking for someone to fill that space. After hearing about Smith’s food and trying it out, Bluewood associates approached her about moving into her space. They met, realized their visions aligned, and signed a deal that would finally give Smith the space he needed to accommodate his growing business.
The move to Bluewood, which occurred in January, was a turning point for Burger 809. Prior to the Cherokee Street location, Smith had been running the brand as a catering and delivery-only operation while working full-time as a health advisor. for the people. with HIV/AIDS. Although he loved his day job, he was passionate about cooking and began preparing food for special events for family and friends, eventually moving onto the festival circuit. People were floored by his slider-sized burgers, so Smith expanded his business to include a partnership with third-party delivery companies. She thought the brick and mortar Cherokee Street would serve as a complement to her current business; instead, she increased it exponentially.
Smith no longer has that problem. The Bluewood tap room is an elevated space, characterized by impressive historic architecture, striking antique chandeliers, ample seating tables, and a large covered outdoor patio. The move has also allowed Smith to expand his offerings thanks to a much larger on-site kitchen; at the original Cherokee Street location, it reported to an outside curator.
For Smith, though, it’s not just the space itself that’s been so refreshing, but also the experience of having his guests dine there. It allows you to see real-time reactions to your cooking, like the pure joy on someone’s face when they bite into your Signature Slider, a delicious mini burger that balances the deep, earthy flavor of a backyard-grilled burger with sweet . and the spicy smoke of their homemade bacon and jalapeño jam. Melted Monterey Jack and mozzarella cheeses top the juicy patty, which is tucked into a buttered, grilled, pillow-soft bun. That something so apparently simple can touch every point of the palate is magical.
Burger 809’s entire slider product portfolio is remarkable. The barbecue sauce enhances the cookout atmosphere brought about by the charcoal-grilled flavor of meat on the West Side. The Hey Henry amps up the Signature Slider with Smith’s Creamy Macaroni and Cheese, a decadent and whimsical replacement for a standard slice of cheese. Another standout option is their newest offering, the Bluewood Baby. Here, Smith tops his classic grilled burger with pub silk cheese, grilled onions, lettuce, and pickles, then tucks it inside a soft pretzel bun. If this is the embodiment of the new partnership with Bluewood, it must be a match made in heaven.
Although most of the sliders feature beef burgers, Smith shows that she’s just as adept with other proteins. Her turkey burger, the Cherokee Street Slider, is incredibly juicy and enlivened with a smoky seasoning mix. The South Side Salmon Slider combines herb butter garlic browned salmon with jalapeños and a passion fruit-glazed Hawaiian roll.
Smith’s deft touch even makes a grilled cheese special. For this vegetarian sandwich, combine gooey Monterey Jack and mozzarella cheeses with tomatoes and avocado. It’s all on some of the most expertly grilled bread I’ve ever seen and it’s golden brown and buttery from corner to corner. The attention to this level of detail in a simple sandwich shows the care you put into your food.
Before the Bluewood location, Smith couldn’t offer fries, forcing her to think about her sides. The result is a wonderful selection of soul food sides that make you wonder why anyone ever thought burgers needed fries. Her Cucumber Tomato Salad is a refreshing mix of sliced tomatoes and cucumbers with a flavorful Italian dressing. Potato salad hits the quintessential picnic side dish notes with tangy yellow mustard softened by creamy mayonnaise. However, by far, Smith’s greens are the standouts. Fiery, slightly sweet, and enriched with turkey fat, she could build an entire restaurant around such a magnificent dish.
Like the heady aroma of Smith’s Bacon Jam, a side dish as good as those greens is sure to fill the house. Fortunately for Smith, he now has all the space he needs to shine.
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