Looks like Bernie's Burger Bus is finally making progress towards opening its new, brick and mortar location in the Bellaire triangle. To celebrate, owner Justin Turner brought a bus to the future restaurant's parking lot to begin the process of introducing Bernie's to its patrons by selling them burgers.
Not surprisingly for a truck that's consistently voted as one of both the best food trucks and best burgers in Houston, the people of Bellaire were waiting for him. Turner says he had to rush to his prep kitchen to get more patties after the crowd blew through the 160 he brought for the occasion. In all, the bus sold almost 240 burgers in two and a half hours with one day of advance notice provided via Facebook and Twitter. Turner chuckled as he recalled that the initial crowd included a large group of Bellaire police officers.
Work has picked up inside the restaurant, too. All of the plumbing is in place, and the electrical work will be ready for the inspector's approval soon. Next up? The walls along the side will come down so that a bus can be installed inside the restaurant.
The restaurant will have tables that look like desks (complete with pencil holders) and chairs that look like bus benches.
Turner's goal has always been to recreate the food truck experience as much as possible, so a bus (sans wheels) will house the kitchen. In addition, the design by local firm Collaborative Projects calls for tables that look like desks (complete with pencil holders) and chairs that look like bus benches.
The walls that are knocked down will be replaced with windows to face the restaurant's patio, and another wall will be extended for additional seating. All told, it should seat approximately 70 people inside and 30 outside. A prep kitchen will be hidden in the back to supply the three Bernie's Burger Buses still on the street with their daily allotment of buns, meat and condiments.
One detail that may surprise people is that the restaurant will be full service. Turner said the restaurant's layout simply didn't lend itself to counter service, and servers will be better able to guide diners through the menu. Bernie's traditional beef burgers will be joined by new proteins, as with the lamb burger previewed during this week's pop-up.
While the restaurant's first priority will be to execute the bus's signature burgers and fries, Turner is also excited about the "Dean's List" menu that will allow him to showcase some of the more unusual dishes he served during his brief run doing weekly pop-ups at Grand Prize. That's good news for anyone who remembers his savory duck bread pudding or Cajun riff on dim sum.
The restaurant will also have a full cocktail menu that will use all fresh ingredients. Turner's tinkering with a Bloody Mary, but he hasn't decided yet whether that means Houston will get to try a Bernie's take on brunch.
If all goes well, the restaurant will open in March, which means Turner's crew could roll straight from staffing their stand at Reliant Stadium during the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo into launching the restaurant. But, realistically, he just hopes to be open by May.
In the meantime, a bus will show up regularly in that Bellaire parking lot. Turner's even arranged for a tent with tables and chairs, which is something he couldn't do in the City of Houston.
Just be prepared for a bit of a wait. The word is already spreading.
Bernie's Burger Bus will continue its Bellaire pop-up this weekend from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.