The idea behind this series is fairly simple: My girlfriend and I will go out to eat at a Chattanooga-area restaurant and then describe our dining experience there. Keep in mind that this is not a food review per se, but instead an attempt to relate to readers our single, one-time experience at a restaurant. It just is what it is, as they say. There will also be pictures. Lots of pictures.
I am a 29-year-old voracious eater of anything weird, while my girlfriend, age 24, is the complete opposite. This makes dining for us a strange affair. I enjoy a tremendous amount of flavor and complexity, but her M.O. is “simple, no frills.” This week, it’s the restaurant that pushes the limits of taste: Sofa King Juicy Burger. I will keep my own use of double entendres at a minimum.
Initially, nobody believed the rumors that a new burger joint called “Sofa King Juicy Burger” was opening in Red Bank. Considering the restaurant was conceived by the guys who brought us Aretha Frankenstein’s and Crust made a little more sense, but it still seemed unbelievable. And yet, a few months later, it was there in all of its retro glory. The concept is a sort of boutique burger joint with a fun theme. The burgers are made using local ingredients, and the milkshakes are made with liquid nitrogen.The building is located on Dayton Boulevard in what, I think, was the abandoned shell of a sketchy drinking establishment. In college, we just called that whole area of town “Blockbuster Land” for obvious reasons. The building is an odd shape, but the interior is laid out well with plenty of seating on both tables and sofas. It’s fun to read the various decor on the wall, which reflect 1950s and '60s catalog advertisements. My very first impression was that, at the least, the restaurant had a quality theme to back the double entendre name.
Like our experience at Sluggo’s last week, you’re required to stand in line to place your order at Sofa King. There are several passive aggressive messages on the walls that implore you to have your order ready before you get to the front of the line. We got the point and had our order ready. People have suggested that the wait can be atrocious (30 minutes just to order) during peak hours. We didn’t have an issue at 7:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night. Your mileage may vary. The service was fantastic for a burger joint. We noticed immediately that everybody working had a huge smile on their face. The people in the milkshake lab were all smiles, the cooks had smiles, the food runners had smiles ... people were smiling. Craven, the line cashier and seeming master of ceremonies, was wonderful. I let her suggest me a milkshake (more on that later) that we now call “The Craven” and that I plan to order again. Everybody was sharp this night.
Sofa King Juicy Burger doesn’t feel like a family restaurant, but it doesn’t have that “bar feel,” either. I suppose the best way to describe the vibe is that it’s a burger joint: good food, cold beer and a casual atmosphere. I imagine this place would be great for small groups of friends. The seating is such that complete privacy is out of the question. We were able to find a corner table, but don’t go to Sofa King expecting your own secluded area. This place is built for lively conversation and mingling. I like it. It’s different.
Water. We had no money left for beer. But they tell me the $1 PBR shorties are fantastic with the burgers.
The hype for this food has been unlike anything I’ve ever seen for a new restaurant in Chattanooga. I’ve spoken with people who were both disappointed and thrilled with the burgers. The menu provides several options for your burgering (I just made that word up, I think). You can choose one of the “special” burger concoctions, or you can construct your own from a list of ingredients. The same idea is used for the milkshakes. All the burgers have double patties. Lauren decided to build her own burger with the following: whole-wheat bun, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, pickles and yellow mustard. I chose the “awesome burger” with a whole-wheat bun, lettuce, tomato, Boursin cheese and local strawberry jam. We also split an order of fries. I was not aware the onion rings were battered using Aretha Frankenstein’s pancake mix, or I would’ve opted for those instead.
The “less is more" approach is evident with these burgers. I think the idea was to take quality, local ingredients and make something simple and good. They succeeded. With grass-fed beef, you really don’t need to add much filler because the meat is the star. The burgers were delicious. Lauren appreciated the simplicity of her burger, and I enjoyed the odd riff on mine. There was a note of pepper in the beef, which added a wonderful flavor. My burger was exceptional. The soft, creamy texture and slightly salty flavor of the Boursin mixed well with the sweetness of the strawberry jam. However, the beef was still the star of the show. The burger was, as it was suggested, an “awesome burger." I can’t wait to try the “nutty burger” with bacon and peanut butter. We were full, but the milkshake lab beckoned.
We ventured over to the milkshake lab to try one of the “liquid nitrogen” offerings. The ice cream is frozen using liquid nitrogen and ingredients like nuts, chocolate, peanut butter and even pink peppercorns. The result is a creamy, velvety milkshake that is just as good, if not better, than the “juicy burgers.” In addition, you get to watch the mad scientists (disguised college kids) create your milkshake in the laboratory using a combination of nitrogen, high-powered butane torches, mixing bowls and Erlenmeyer flasks. There is smoke, fire and furrowed brows, and suddenly, you have a delicious milkshake. Lauren opted for the straight-up chocolate, and I had “The Craven” (cashier Craven’s favorite concoction), which contained walnuts, Ghirardelli chocolate, organic peanut butter and banana. She is a genius. These shakes, like the burgers, are simple products resulting from a complex series of steps. This single milkshake took five minutes of constant attention to make. The result was the best milkshake I’ve ever tasted. I expect to be back more for the milkshakes than the burgers. The other milkshakes I want to try are the “Cat Man Du” with vanilla ice cream, cashews, olive oil and Himalayan pink salt—how good does that sound?—and the “Moonshaker” with vanilla ice cream and MoonPie blended in.
Would we go back?
I want to go back today. Despite the ridiculous name and “sofa” theme, Sofa King Juicy Burger is ... and I’m sorry for this ... Sofa King delicious. With boutique burgers and milkshakes, you do have to pay a premium. Our meal (two burgers, fries and two milkshakes) topped out at close to $35 with tip. Some might argue that’s a little pricey for a burger joint, but you should keep in mind what you’re getting: grass-fed burgers with local ingredients, a great atmosphere of weirdness and mad scientists making the most delicious milkshakes you’ve ever tasted. Sofa King Juicy Burger lives up to the hype. It’s a great addition to the restaurant scene in Chattanooga.