Prior to the lunch date that I am about to describe I don’t think that I had ever been to the Johannesburg suburb of Glenhazel. I know that I hadn’t ever eaten therein. There is much talk of the city’s ethnic diversity but considerably less examination as to whether this translates into multi-culturalism. In anticipation of a comment section explosion of point scoring and blame apportioning as to why this is and whether I should have been where I was, I refer readers to my February 2015 review of King Arabic Sandwiches Palestinian restaurant in Mayfair (see here). If nothing else, I hope it shows that I am equal opportunities epicurean offender. My point is that, as I drove into Glenhazel, I fell, Alice down the rabbit hole, into an intriguing ethnic enclave that I didn’t know still existed.
I was meeting a friend who lives her life according to the laws of Kashrut. She suggested Burger & Brew Kosher restaurant so off I went. I accidentally arrived an hour early which gave me time to explore the shops adjacent to the afore mentioned eatery. The Kosher World supermarket had fridges full of Danish herring. Authentic Ashkenazi boiled bagels and golden-brown plaits of challah were piled high at the bakery. Behind the glass counter at Nussbaum’s Kosher butchery (established 1936) were rows of briskets and tubs of chopped liver. Dill pickles in a salt brine bobbed about in barrels. On every available inch of outer wall space, the Chabad Seniors dating agency had stuck posters promising ‘less oi and more joy’ for anyone who signed up for their services.
While (with the possible exception of the electronics store which sold Keep Calm and Shabbat Shalom protective cellphone cases) the surrounding businesses reflected ye olde Jewish Johannesburg, Burger & Brew offers a taste of contemporary Kosher. Chef-patron Baruch Lurie’s eatery is small but snug with stylish wood and brushed steel fittings. It is the sort of space you can imagine being located somewhere around Union Square, Manhattan. The menu fits firmly into the worldwide culinary trend for upscale fast food where gourmet burgers, posh-nosh barbeque and dirty fries are always Instagram ready.
I entered Burger & Brew with all sorts of prejudices and preconceptions as to the potential for a good burger to come out of a Kosher kitchen. I had theories as to why Kosher meat cuts (and the manner in which blood is drawn out thereof) would make the patties tough and tasteless. Plus, I wasn’t at all sure that a burger without the possibility of cheese and bacon was worthy of the name. I have seldom been more wrong about a restaurant. Let me be clear. Even without bacon and cheese, this is the best burger bar in Gauteng.
The fact that Lurie and his team get it so right is all the more impressive when one considers how many Johannesburg hipster burger bars are getting it so horribly wrong. The city is full of foodie fools trying to improve the beauty of a basic burger by poncing it up. To do so is to miss the point. Does anyone actually want fleks of foie gras in the patty or doughnut buns? A classic burger is the perfect package, a pop art idol, an unimprovable piece of edible design. And so, it is at Burger & Brew. Succulent, hearty, two-hands required burgers land a magnificent beefy punch. Each offering is supported by a slightly sweet, lightly toasted bun laden with a selection of superb sauces. I chose a vibrant green coriander and chili chimichurri. Prices are determined by the number of toppings chosen but a basic burger comes in at R69.
I assuaged my bacon-fixation with lashings of lamb and beef macon – which don’t really taste like bacon but are deliciously, salty and smoky in their own right. Faux couriço (fauriço?) bits make an appearance (along with maple glaze) in the dirty fries. There are also beef ribs (R149 for 500g) with a sweet, spicy barbeque sauce worth getting seriously sticky for.
A special mention must go to the excellent onion rings (R25 per portion). Onion rings really are fast food’s most underrated side-dish. At Burger & Brew they are fantastic bouffant, pillowy yet crunchy clouds of deep fried joy.
As the name suggests the emphasis at Burger & Brew is on beer. CDC and Darling (R35 per pint) compete for customer attention with a small selection of well-priced Belgian beers. Management say that they are still evaluating whether or not craft gin is Kosher so they currently stick to Bombay Sapphire and Beefeater with the full range of Fitch and Leedes trendy tonics. Backsberg and Israeli Gamla wines are sold at R40 per glass. Wine enthusiasts in search of additional liquid pleasures should know that next door Nussbaum’s butchery sells a small but thoughtful selection of high-end Kosher wines. The butchers happily send over bottles to the burger bar. No mark up. The only constraint is that the butchery closes at 8pm so evening eaters need to pick their wine before that.
There is a widespread prejudice against Kosher wine but possession of a Kosher certification doesn’t represent quality one way or the other. A badly made Kosher wine is a bad wine, but it is not bad because it is Kosher. The Nussbaum’s list has clearly been compiled according to the 11th commandment “thou shalt not drink bad Kosher wine.” The French, Italian, American, Australian and Kiwi wines on offer at Nussbaum’s have scored highly and won medals at major competing against non-kosher offerings. There are individual estate signature wines such Jerusalem Hills Cabernet Sauvignon and ranges from well-regarded Kosher merchants such as Italian Bartenura. The US based Royal Wine Corporation’s premium Baron Hertzog label represents the best of Californian Kosher and also French Bordeaux and Rhone valley wines made by Pierre Miodownick (widely regarded as the doyen of modern quality kosher wine). Prices (ranging between R100 and R250) match what online sellers prices vend their wines for in dollars. Considering that it is already on your table and VAT is taken care of this is very reasonable. Nussbaums bring in the best wines at Passover and so the splendor of the shelves is somewhat seasonal but even when I had my lunch in August there were plenty of well-priced, good quality wines to choose from. Nussbaums is less than 10 meters from Burger & Brew, those who are prepared to walk 150 meters down the road to the Kosher World Supermarket will find an even larger selection.
The bottom line is that Burger & Brew is a terrific restaurant. Great food. Nice décor. Pleasant, unobtrusive service. Well-priced beer and wine. Even those who don’t require their meals to be prepared under the supervision of the Johannesburg Beth Din should be eating and drinking here. A lot.
Burger & Brew: 53 Ridge Rd, Glenhazel, Johannesburg, telephone coming soon.
Open Sun-Wed 12pm-9pm, Thur 12pm-10pm, Fri 11-3pm, Sat an hour after Sabbath until 10pm.
- Dr Anna Trapido was trained as an anthropologist at King’s College Cambridge and a chef at the Prue Leith College of Food and Wine. She has twice won the World Gourmand Cookbook Award. She has made a birthday cake for Will Smith, a Christmas cake for Nelson Mandela and cranberry scones for Michelle Obama. She is in favour of Champagne socialism and once swallowed a digital watch by mistake.