Let’s be honest: the burger scene has been around for a number of years; we’re not reinventing the wheel,” says Krave Chef and General Manager Matt MacIsaac. “But what we are doing is cooking a simple, humble burger, and that’s something a lot of places have lost touch with.”
It was something MacIsaac himself got reacquainted with in 2013, when, after about a decade working in Halifax restaurants that included Salty’s, he began developing the concept for the gourmet burger restaurant that would become Krave. That summer he and his wife took off for a food adventure across the United States. In Las Vegas, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Atlantic City they chowed down in some of the trendiest burger spots they could find. But what they soon realized was that they wanted what everyone else was gravitating towards: fast-casual restaurants where a burger was a burger, not some monstrosity with 40-plus toppings. Places like Shake Shack, White Castle and In-N-Out Burger. “You go to In-N-Out, and they’re lined up 20 deep to get in,” says MacIsaac “It’s just crazy.”
In September 2014, he brought some of that fast-casual craziness to Spring Garden Road, opening Krave in the spot where Onyx once was, between Turkish Delight and Pizza Delight. Since then, it’s become a go-to for any serious burger buff in this city, whether they’re of grass-fed, gluten-free or veggie persuasions.
Inside, it’s a clean, modern design with white and brick walls, about 70 red chairs, white tables and a long white bar. The menu is on the wall at the end of that bar, and it’s there where you order from about eight rotating burger options, including one monthly chef’s feature with a 10 per cent donation to a local charity. There are also poutine, fries and onion rings; three mac and cheeses; veggie, chicken and other options like hot gourmet hot dogs; milkshakes; and local beer and wine. Then you find a seat and wait for your order to be brought to you.
Today, a sunny Sunday in August, I’m waiting for a bacon cheeseburger ($8.29), fries ($3.29) and a vanilla milkshake ($4.49) at the high-top table near the front window. The Jays game is playing on a nearby TV.
When I spoke with MacIsaac a few days earlier, he told me that as any good burger should be, these are grass-fed, locally-sourced (Atlantic Beef) and steroid free. The difference here, though, is that the patties are all beef, only seasoned with salt and pepper, and, most importantly, ground in-house just once. “That’s the way a burger was meant to be eaten,” he said. “Traditional grocery store meat is ground three times, which gives the meat a sausage-like texture. Here, with one grind, it’s a coarser texture, and you can taste the difference.”
I taste that difference after my first bite into the bacon cheeseburger, which, along with the fries and milkshake, arrives about five minutes after sitting down. Unlike the greasy mess of some burgers out there, the beef on this sandwich has a steak-like consistency, which pairs well with the lean Meadowbrook shoulder bacon and thin but ample cheddar. The other noticeable difference: each bite has a little bit of everything advertised, which can be surprisingly difficult to pull off in a burger.
As for the fries and milkshake, both should be near the top of any Halifax best-of list. Perfectly crispy and golden brown with the potato skin still on one side, the fresh-cut fries are seasoned with just enough salt and pepper. The milkshake has a consistently soft, creamy mouthfeel right to the last slurp, and the vanilla flavour is never too sweet.
During that earlier conversation with MacIsaac, I asked him what he hopes people take away from the experience of eating here. His answer, like his food, humble. “I hope it takes them back to a time when they had a simple burger in a casual spot, and that they just enjoy their time with friends and family or whoever they’re with. We’ll take care of the rest.”
After eating here multiple times, I have to agree that my experience lines up quite closely with MacIsaac’s hope, and some day in the near future it may for many others too. Franchising will “definitely” happen, says MacIsaac, and though he’s not sure (or just not revealing) where those Krave outposts will open at this point, he says that we shouldn’t be worried about any serious changes to the Krave concept.
And really, why would they change anything? If MacIsaac and his team are able to keep the focus on simple and delicious, they just might see those 20-deep In-N-Out lineups very soon.