Meat of the Matter 

Govind Armstrong brings his Burger Bar to Tunica.

Dressed to please: Govind Armstrong's half-pounder.

Vanessa Stump

Dressed to please: Govind Armstrong's half-pounder.

We'll admit it. We talk about burgers a lot in the food world. But that's because the burger is a quintessential American food: ripe for innovation and still classic to its core.

Govind Armstrong, the man behind 8 oz. Burger Bar, gets it. That's why he branched out from fine dining to a fast-casual, chef-driven burger joint in his hometown of Los Angeles. And after exporting that concept to Horseshoe Casino in Bossier, Louisiana, and planning locations in Seattle, Miami Beach, and Boca Raton, Armstrong decided to bring his burgers to Tunica, Mississippi.

By the end of the year, Horseshoe Casino in Tunica will have its very own 8 oz. Burger Bar, complete with farm-fresh burgers, homemade buns and condiments, original milkshakes and malts, and fried olives.

Fried olives?

"We're going to start with them on the menu and see how they go. You love them or you hate them," Armstrong says. He takes Queen olives, removes the pimentos, stuffs them with house-made chorizo or lamb sausage, lightly breads them, and deep-fries them. "They're really delicious and go so great with a cocktail or beer. They're really nice and crispy on the outside and then you get the tart brininess from the olive and the spiciness from the chorizo."

Fried olives are just one of many interesting items on the menu, which also includes mini Kobe corn dogs made with Kobe beef and cornmeal batter, a PB&J milkshake, and a braised-short-rib grilled cheese that hit it big after a cameo on Oprah. For the grilled cheese, Armstrong starts with Angus short ribs, braises them for 18 hours, shreds the meat and covers it in the braising reduction, tops it with red onion marmalade and a unique Bel Paese cheese, and serves it all on homemade sourdough.

"It's super popular, but after the Oprah thing we had so many requests we had to up the ante. Before the show, we would sell about 20 grilled cheese sandwiches a night. The day after it aired on Oprah, it became 60 and sometimes 80 a night," Armstrong says. "It was kind of absurd."

But let's get to the burgers. Armstrong created his menu around the eight-ounce signature burger. The half-pound patty is made of the "house blend" of beef — short rib, chuck, and tri-tip ground in-house — and dressed simply with torn leaf lettuce, special sauce, thin-sliced onion, tomato, and pickles on a homemade bun. The special house blend of beef is something Armstrong developed out of weeks of testing, settling on this particular combination for its flavor, texture, and bite.

"It's just a very clean-tasting burger," Armstrong says. "Some of them we even smoke prior to grilling, which adds a whole other layer of flavor."

From there, the burgers get a little fancier. The Million Dollar burger is a patty topped with smoked brisket, barbecue sauce, bacon, and crispy fried onions. Armstrong also put together a veggie burger, although he admits it was a tricky project for such a carnivorous chef. The hand-formed patty is built from organic brown rice, organic lentils, sautéed onion and garlic and spices, and topped with tomato, pickles, onions, baby arugula, alfalfa sprouts, avocado, and special sauce.

All of the condiments and pickles are made from scratch, ranging from a poblano relish and a red onion marmalade to green peppercorn aioli and fried caper tartar sauce. Sides include thick-cut garlic fries, truffled potato skins, fried pickles, and andouille mac-and-cheese. The shakes, malts, and floats section of the menu rounds out the dining experience. In addition to the standard vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry flavors, Armstrong has added adult shakes made with a splash of Kahlúa or Jameson whiskey.

Armstrong expects to be open by the end of the year, which means 2012 will get off to a good start for burger-lovers. For a sneak peek of what's to come, visit 8ozburgerbar.com.

8 oz. Burger Bar, Horseshoe Casino Tunica, 1021 Casino Center Dr. (800-303-7463), horseshoetunica.com

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