Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar, the popular burger chain founded in Charlotte in 2007, built its reputation on being a nothing-but-burgers restaurant. And looking at its menu today, that formula (and claim to fame) remains largely unchanged, almost a decade later. It’s an award-winning formula, scoring numerous Best Burger awards, including most recently a nod in Creative Loafing’s Best of Charlotte awards.
But which burger is getting all those awards? Except for a few salads and some nice appetizers, everything on the menu is a burger. Even the “non-burgers” are burgers made variously of black beans, turkey, chicken or tuna. You can get a buffalo burger or a chicken patty substituted in, or go with a grass fed beef patty from a local farm.
So the winning “best burger” at Bad Daddy’s isn’t any one particular burger. It’s a burger just the way you like it. It’s your best burger – designed by you.
Choose your meat (9 options). Choose your bun (6 options including a low-carb lettuce wrap). Choose your cheese, toppings and sauce (a dozen or so of each). Bad Daddy’s even offers a choice of bacon – applewood smoked, buttermilk fried or jalapeno. And your burger can be cooked any way you want it – rare to well.
According to Caitlin, our server on a recent visit, no one has managed to count up all the different combinations available. “One thing’s for sure,” she told us. “You aren’t going to get bored eating here.”
Of course, to a first-time visitor all those decisions can be a bit overwhelming, but Bad Daddy’s has that covered with a selection of custom burgers – all of which are open to substitutions – to get your creative juices flowing. Favorites include the Bacon Cheeseburger on Steroids (topped with three pieces each applewood and jalapeno bacon, Monterey jack cheese, housemade bacon mayo, along with lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle) and the Bad Daddy homage to Dr. Seuss, the Sam I Am (topped with rosemary ham, housemade pesto, American cheese and a fried egg), a grown-up green eggs and ham.
For our first visit to the Ballantyne Bad Daddy’s we opted for a build-it-yourself buffalo burger made with NC bison topped with blue cheese and bacon, and one of the custom burgers, the Frenchie, a turkey burger topped with brie cheese, grilled apples, applewood smoked bacon, and the house’s garlic mayo. Both were perfectly cooked to our specifications, juicy and huge.
We tried several appetizers as well, including housemade potato chips that came with a French onion dip and a tasty pimento cheese dip. Caitlin told us the fried pickles are a customer favorite, and for good reason. We also tried an appetizer special – fried asparagus spears, accompanied by a tangy creole honey mustard.
One of the factors that make the food at Bad Daddy’s stand out from the crowd is undoubtedly the many items that are prepared fresh and made in-house, including all the sauces and dressings that allow customers to fine tune a burger to their own particular tastes. These include the chipotle-laced Bad Daddy’s Sauce, a walnut pesto, mayos flavored with horseradish, garlic, Poblano pepper or bacon, and several mustard varieties. Not to mention that knock-out pimento cheese.
The full bar includes a wide selection of local craft beers, including several seasonals. We were delighted to discover that North Carolina drafts were just $3 on our Thursday visit and dived into a Catawba White Zombie witbier in honor of the season. However, there is almost always something on special, as well as $3 PBRs, $3.50 domestic bottles and $4 tall boys available all the time. Bad Daddy’s also has its own amber ale, made for the family of restaurants by Full Steam, a top Colorado brewery.
The philosophy of have-it-your-way goes beyond burgers at Bad Daddy’s. Customers can also design their own salads, a popular option for the lunch crowd. A choice of greens – romaine, spinach or a mixture – can be topped with a choice of seven ingredients for a fixed price of about $6 for a small salad, about $9 for a large. As you’d expect the choice of toppings is huge, ranging from avocado and pepperoncini to a variety of fruits, cheeses and crunchies, plus the option of ten proteins on top, available for a reasonable additional fee. The housemade dressings include several intriguing flavors, including chipotle or avocado ranch, peanut soy and an oregano-laced Greek vinaigrette.
We were just tucking our more-than-we-could-eat meals into to-go boxes when we found out about another DIY opportunity at Bad Daddy’s – dessert! Along with rootbeer floats, banana pudding and peanut butter pie, the restaurant offers design-your-own vanilla softserve shakes to which you can add everything from bacon crumbles to shots of rum. A favorite? The Chunky Elvis with Ghiradelli chocolate, bananas and peanut butter.
The Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar concept, complete with DIY options and craft beers on draft paired with an upscale atmosphere and table service, is a uniquely Charlotte creation. In 2007, Frank Scibelli, founder of Mama Ricotta’s and numerous other dining concepts, joined forces with fellow restaurateur Dennis Thompson (the man behind the Lone Star Steakhouse and Firebird’s brands) to open the first Bad Daddy’s in the Dilworth neighborhood. Charlotte currently has Bad Daddy’s in Birkdale and at the airport in addition to the original Dilworth store and the location in Ballantyne we visited. There are additional locations in Mooreville, Raleigh, Cary and Winston-Salem, NC; Greenville, SC; and Knoxville, TN, plus four locations in Colorado.
The Colorado stores opened under license by Good Times Restaurants, a fast food burger chain with a penchant for fresh, natural foods. Early this year, Bad Daddy’s was acquired by Good Times which plans to take the concept country-wide.
A Carolina restaurant concept goes national. And no barbecue involved.
Note: We would like to thank the Ballantyne Bad Daddy’s location for allowing us to taste so many of the restaurant’s specialties, and for the excellent service and hospitality.