Burgers American Grill's Nathan Havercroft likes warm meat and cold Hofbräu

Executive chef Nathan Havercroft talks about food and his new burger joint.

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Havercroft is happy to be in business for himself.
  • Havercroft is happy to be in business for himself.
"The fanciest it gets here might be aioli," Nathan Havercroft says on a Thursday afternoon as he watches the lunch crowd at his new restaurant. "And we could call that garlic mayo, but the truth is, we just need to give people good food at a fair price."

The food at Burgers American Grill (770 SW U.S. Highway 40, Blue Springs) isn't fancy, but it's also not the usual fast-casual. Havercroft, 31, is offering things like hand-shaken lemonades, milkshakes flavored with fresh fruit, and double-fried french fries.

The former Saddle & Sirloin Club executive chef got into the burger business in Blue Springs for a simple reason: "I'm hoping I can work hard now for me, so that I'll have more time to spend with my family," he says.

Havercroft grew up in Maize, Kansas, working shifts at the local Dairy Queen. He moved to Kansas City to enroll in the culinary arts program at Johnson County Community College, and competed on the team that won the American Culinary Federation national championship in 2002. While in school, he spent mornings apprenticing at Biscotti's, which made pastries for Dean & Deluca, and afternoons cooking on the line at the Milburn Country Club.

He was just 22 when he was named executive chef at the Blue Springs Country Club. He spent five years there before moving on to the Saddle & Sirloin Club in 2009. For his latest venture, he has teamed up with Bill Cowden, the original proprietor of Don Chilito's in Mission. Burgers American Grill opened February 1, in the space formerly occupied by a Tanner's Bar & Grill.

Havercroft expects to add a sloppy Joe, a Southwestern play on a Philly cheesesteak, maybe a banh mi over the next few months. Meanwhile, customers have asked for beer, so Havercroft says he'll file for a beer and wine license. (He's also planning to make his own root beer.) Fat City sat down with the chef and owner to find out more about him and Burgers.

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The Pitch: What makes for a good burger?

Havercroft: You need good fresh stuff. You can't shortcut it. Just don't give me a burger under the heat lamp. Give me warm, well-seasoned meat, a toasted bun and crisp cool veggies on top.

Besides your own place, where do you like to go out to eat? We go to Kobe in Independence. I just want to go out and relax and have somebody else cook for me. They do the teppanyaki and put on a little show. I just have to sit there and eat a medium-rare rib-eye. But one of my favorite places is my backyard. I'll wear flip-flops and shorts, sit with friends, throw something on the barbecue and have a Hofbräu.

What's always in your kitchen? I have a ton of condiments. There's always soy sauce because I usually have a stash of some old Chinese food floating around. There's usually ketchup because it doesn't go bad. I have some Heinz 57 and A.1 Steak Sauce because then I can go buy something and throw it on the grill for a few minutes.

What's your favorite ingredient? When I was in fine dining, I really liked working with truffle oil. It's such a subtle flavor, but nothing else tastes like it. Until you've had it, you can't compare it to anything. My second is morels. Those are the king in the world of mushrooms. If we get some, I save those for my house.

What's one food you hate? I love sushi, but the first time I had sushi, I got salmon sashimi, and it was super pungent. I love salmon cooked, but raw it's got a funky, oily taste that about ruined the whole thing for me. It tasted like salmon, just 100 times over.

A classic double and strawberry shake at Burgers.
  • A classic double and strawberry shake at Burgers.
What's one food you love? Peanut butter - you can put it on almost anything. I like peanut-butter milkshakes. It can go in Asian food. It gives body to a teriyaki sauce. I hated maple syrup as a kid, so I used to put peanut butter on waffles with honey. I'll take old-school Jif, and I like both crunchy and smooth. But it's crunchy if I'm having a PB&J, just so it doesn't stick to the roof of your mouth.

What's your guilty pleasure? Sleeping in and staying out late - I enjoy the heck out of them because they happen so rarely these days.

What's your best recent food find? This isn't a recent one - I found it a long time ago - but I still really love it. Pomegranate molasses has such an interesting flavor. You find it in a lot of Indian-food stores. I love to cook it down with port wine, butter and honey and make a glaze. I really dig orange-blossom water, too. That's on the sweet side, but it gives pastry a nice floral hit. I don't think about the newest, hottest thing. I just find different ways to use old things.

What's one book that every chef should read? Everybody should glance at Kitchen Confidential once or twice and have a copy of Culinary Artistry. It's a good reference. It lays out seasonal ingredients and what goes with them.

What's your dream drinking or eating destination? I can't even tell you the name of the place. I went to the Grand Caymans with my wife on vacation, and there was a little breakfast joint on the third floor. We drank mimosas and had fresh mango scones with guava jelly while looking at crystal-blue water and white sand. If money was no option, that's where I'd be every day.

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