Dinner With Phil
A new location of New Orleans burger staple Phil’s Grill pays homage to the city’s musical legends.
Seven years ago, after running corporate restaurants and working for someone else, Phil de Gruy decided to open his own place in Metairie, Louisiana. While brainstorming menu items, he noticed that the only thing he was sure — and passionate — about was burgers. But he didn’t want to open just another burger joint. Taking a nod from the order card diners receive at sushi restaurants, he decided to let patrons of his restaurant build their own burger. Now, two more locations and over a million possible combinations of burgers and fixings later, Phil de Gruy is king of burgers in the New Orleans market.
New to Phil’s empire this year is a location in the city’s Central Business District that pays homage to not only burgers, but also The Big Easy’s musical legends. The third outpost of Phil’s Grill at 748 Camp St. is housed in a historic building that was once home to recording icon Cosimo Matassa, who captured the sounds of Fats Domino, Little Richard, Aaron Neville, Irma Thomas and Dr. John.
“This kind of fell into my lap,” says Phil about the new location, which was formerly headquarters for Naked Pizza. Walking into the building, bronze musical notes inlaid in the floor tipped him off about the building’s history, something he wanted to preserve rather than cover up. “If these walls could talk …” he says. Since moving in, patrons have told him stories about musical moments in history they witnessed in the building. In 1969, the space hosted Mick Jagger’s birthday party, and in 1973, Led Zeppelin partied there.
“What we were able to do here ties it all together,” adds Phil. In addition to the musical notes underfoot, abstract portraits of musicians and album covers line the walls, a hand-drawn blackboard lists the musicians who recorded there, and specialty drinks on the menu have names like Cosimo, Fat Man, Dixie Cup, Fessor and Toussaint Tchoup. Music also pipes through the speakers, as diners are presented with a “build a burger” worksheet that allows them to choose their protein, bun, sauce, toppings, cheese and a side. This is where the over a million combinations comes in, as burgers run the gamut from traditional angus beef to veggie, tuna and alligator, with toppings including everything from fried onion strings to crunchy coleslaw.
If it sounds daunting, it is, but don’t worry. Your server will be happy to make recommendations and approve your order before putting it in. He’ll also tell you about the signature grilled pineapple ketchup, which Phil calls his “secret weapon.” Phil’s favorite burger? The “Philet” with blue cheese and fried onion strings. The day we visited, the special was a delicious ahi tuna salad that deserves a permanent place on the menu, and we also tried the zucchini fries for an appetizer, which were perfectly fried and have a great ratio of vegetable to breading.
Phil knows that as more and more burger joints pop up and more restaurants add gourmet burgers to their menus, he’ll have to work harder to solidify his title as “Burger King” in New Orleans. He’s not worried though and plans to continue to spread the burger love, having already given High Hat Cafe’s Pimento Cheese Burger his seal of approval and coached Chef John Besh on the merits of the perfect bun.
“It’s the quintessential American comfort food,” says Phil. “If you’ve had a bad day or a rough night, a burger makes it right.”
Photo Credits: Burger with fried pickles and Camp Street interior courtesy of Phil’s Grill; menu and Dixie Cup by Deep South.