After nine years of serving juicy, hand-crafted gourmet burgers around town, first from a big red portable stand and then from a just-as-red giant bus, Nitro Burger has put down roots.
Eddy Cloran and his wife, Cherry Kress, opened the family-friendly Nitro Burger in November after a six-month renovation of what used to be the Nowhere Bar.
And what a renovation!
Cloran and Kress have created an eye-popping homage to drive-ins of yesteryear at 2050 Cornhusker Highway, with red-and-white padded booths, red- and chrome-colored tables and chairs, teal walls and black-and-white checkered floors. There’s even a sitting area in the middle of the restaurant with a couch, chairs and lamp that could have come right from a 1950s-era home.
“We’ve been planning this for a long time,” Kress said.
Cloran and Kress said they will keep the big red bus for special events, but the focus now is the restaurant.
“We found we were doing more private events than not,” Kress said. “We needed something that was open regularly for our followers.”
And something “with bathrooms and heat,” she joked.
Cloran went to culinary school at Southeast Community College and worked at a number of restaurants and catering companies in Lincoln before starting Nitro Burger in July 2011 from a portable stand on the northeast corner of Superior Street and Cornhusker Highway. He and Kress moved the operation around town before getting the bus in late 2013.
Nitro Burger built a fan base through Cloran’s half-pound gourmet burgers loaded with a variety of ingredients and homemade condiments. Nitro Burger’s motto: It’s what fast food wanted to be when it grew up! Perfect.
The new digs have allowed Nitro Burger to expand its menu, with four new options and a monthly special among the 11 gourmet hand-pattied burgers (5 or 8 ounces). Five-ounce burgers start at $5.25 and 8-ounce verisions at $6.50.
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Two burgers -- Stars & Stripes and Buffalo Bill Bacon -- have been on the menu since the beginning.
Each gourmet burger, cooked until it’s no longer pink inside, is packed with ingredients and served on a kaiser bun, Texas toast or, in the case of the Crop Duster, a jalapeno cheddar cornbread. The Bettie ($8), which I enjoyed, included avocado cream cheese, sliced cucumbers, roma tomatoes, shredded romaine and zesty house ranch dip. My wife went with the Mozzarella Mushroom Meltaway ($7.75), with sauteed garlic and mushrooms, mozzarella cheese, cream cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette.
We accompanied our meal with hand-cut, house-battered onion strings with Cloran’s house seasoning. The seasoning made the rings. I also ordered a Toasted Coconut Brownie milkshake ($5.25), one of 11 flavors. I learned later that Cloran makes his own ice cream for the shakes. Nice!
I’ve been a fan since Cloran and Kress started Nitro Burger. With more menu choices and now having them available everyday in a cool place, well, that’s just super. Grade: A
Nitro Burger, with its retro theme, will spark memories of King’s Food Hosts or, more recently, Rock ‘n’ Roll Runza. In addition to what I've mentioned, the restaurant features a nifty wall made from 2-by-4s painted in different colors and a street sign marking the intersection of Burger Lane and Nitro Boulevard. There’s also a jukebox. Grade: A+
I was hoping for servers on roller skates, but that’s not the case (or practical). Instead, Nitro Burger stayed true to its food truck beginnings, with a fast-casual concept. Patrons order at the counter, grab utensils and napkins and find a seat. Food is delivered. There is care taken in creating the gourmet burgers, so don’t expect a quick turnaround. We received our meals about 12 minutes after ordering. My shake arrived about seven minutes before that. Grade: B
Nitro Burger offers turkey or vegetarian bean patties for those who don’t eat or want beef. The restaurant also has gluten-free buns. Side items include hand-breaded jalapeno poppers ($3.25), fries ($2.50), sweet potato fries ($3.25) and onion strings ($3.25). The fries and strings are hand cut and served with a homemade smoked paprika ketchup, zesty ranch or chipotle dip. Grade: B
Jeff Korbelik is winery manager at James Arthur Vineyards, former Journal Star features editor and author of “Lost Restaurants of Lincoln, Nebraska.” He’s reviewed restaurants for Ground Zero since 1998.