I always thought I could make a pretty decent burger on my Lodge hibachi grill, when you came right down to it, but it turns out I wasn't even close.
When I was in a hurry, and didn't want to get out of my car, I thought Char's was always a good drive-thru choice. And the Garbage Burger at Terry's Sports Bar is a delicious meal in itself.
Then, about six months ago, my wife and I were in High Point and for no apparent reason other than the whim we rode in on, we walked into Tipsy'z Tavern, where I ordered a cheeseburger and onion rings. Mmmm. I thought I'd attained Nirvana.
I didn't know anything.
A few months ago, during one of our neighborhood porch parties, Lexington's Big Rock Tavern on National Boulevard was mentioned. It might have had something to do with Trivia Night or Karaoke Night, or where to go for great wings, I'm not sure. But Kim and I took a chance and walked in.
|James "Koozie" Thomason knows his way around a kitchen.|
But now it's Big Rock Tavern, where you can get a direct link to Burger Heaven.
The first time we went, I ordered a cheeseburger. It's always a good hint when the wait staff asks how I want the meat cooked because it indicates somebody in the kitchen actually cares. I like mine medium.
When the burger arrived, I was shocked. It was a half-pounder. Huge. Flame-broiled. Lettuce. Tomato. Cheddar cheese. Onions. Mustard, no mayonnaise. Hot chips overflowing on the side. I'd found my express to Burger Heaven. Take me now, Lord.
No, wait. Let me finish this burger first.
Kim, meanwhile, had dutifully ordered the ribeye salad. The beef, she said, was incredibly tender. And tasty. And grilled just right.
We soon became late Saturday afternoon regulars. I couldn't get past the cheeseburgers. Kim has since tried the grilled chicken salad, and usually alternates with the ribeye, depending on what her diet suggests that day. It usually doesn't suggest the fried mushrooms, but, my goodness...
|A half-pound cheeseburger or a grilled ribeye salad beckon...|
A very large man walked over to the table. I thought he might be the bouncer because, you know, I'm such a rabble-rouser. But it turns out, he was the cook, James "Koozie" Thomason. I had to ask...
"How do you do it? Where did you go to culinary school?"
"I didn't," said Koozie. "I just always liked cooking. When I was 16, I worked in an Italian restaurant, and then did odd jobs for a while until I got here. Sean (Smith, the owner) and Carrie are good friends and they took a chance on me and here I am. This place is like home to me now."
I get it. Home cooking.
The kitchen is Koozie's domain. It's all his except for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday — the slam nights — when he gets assistance. Mostly, said Koozie, "you work one order at a time and take it as it comes. It's all about time management in the kitchen."
Big Rock basically offers a modest menu, but that doesn't mean Koozie can't adjust.
"There are some customers who come in and tell me, 'Fix whatever you want,'" said Koozie, who's been making magic happen at Big Rock for about two years or so. Consequently, new food groups have shown up, like quesadillas and wraps (There's even a Koozie wrap). So there's some things that are not on the menu.
One of the keys for the restaurant's success (The place started life as a sports bar, and it still retains that theme with perhaps a dozen TV's decorating the place and a humble selection of craft and draught beers. But it's fair to say that it's a family restaurant, too, where people bring their kids for birthday parties) is the fresh food. The burgers are hand-pattied. The ribeyes are cut to order.
"We use nothing but fresh food," said Koozie. "Sean gets fresh stock every day. I don't know how he does it."
Sean, for his part, knows he has a gem in Koozie.
"He's a great cook, obviously," said Smith. "He's worked really hard being here. He started out washing dishes and just kinda worked his way up. He's pretty much self-taught. Some of our recipes are in-house stuff, but he's taken them and rolled with them and done a very, very good job with them.
"He's actually got his own line of wraps here and customers ask for them," added Smith. "We're very lucky to have him."
Meanwhile, Koozie keeps on keeping on. Is this his dream job?
"I don't know if it's my dream job," laughed Koozie, "but I am passionate about it. I put a lot of heart in my work. And thanks to the great customers, I get a lot of satisfaction out of it."
So do we.