Get with this, OK? Burger joint. Black-and-white linoleum tiles on the floor, more neon hanging around than you'll see at the county fair. Bowls of peanuts, shells on the floor, jukebox on the wall.
And wafting from the kitchen? The aroma of grilled lobster tail with blackberry ginger sauce on a buttered brioche.
Yes, my friend, welcome to Terry's Turf Club. When you pull up to the unassuming but steep front steps across from the old factory with the busted windows and see the warning on the door about how "restrooms are for patrons only," you might be a little nervous. Well, never fear, you've come to the right place.
Terry Carter's neon collection was the focal point of his previous venture, Neon's, an Over-the-Rhine nightclub — one of my favorite places during its heyday.
And although the Turf Club features live music late on Friday and Saturday nights, it's definitely focused on food.
When we visited on a Sunday afternoon, the crowd was largely families with little kids. One of my first clues to the excellent service was when a server thoughtfully brought a tiny glass of simple syrup alongside the lemonade that one of the children had ordered.
"It's fresh-squeezed," she explained. "So if it's too sour, he can add a little sugar water."
The menu is short but sweet and centered on burgers — if you use the term loosely. Top of the list is a hamburger ($6.50), but there's also a filet mignon ($13.50) with béarnaise sauce. There are ample non-beef options including grilled chicken ($6.50) and portabella or shitake mushroom ($6.50). Seafood offerings start with grilled cod ($6.50) and proceed past halibut or mahi-mahi ($12.50) all the way to grilled lobster tail ($24).
How does lobster tail qualify as a burger? Well, we had to find out, so my hubby ordered one. He waived the gourmet sauce, but I might have tried blackberry ginger or curried mango — just two of the specialties that add $1.75 to the burger's price.
Fresh-cut fries are $3.50, but the order is definitely big enough for two. I managed to dip some fries in the roasted red pepper and goat cheese sauce, just to get a taste, and the sauce was super. The fries themselves are obviously homemade, complete with skin, and we polished off our plateful.
I opted for a blue cheese burger, sauced with burgundy wine that's been reduced with wild mushrooms and truffles. One addition would have made this burger more flavorful than most steaks I've eaten in my lifetime: grilled onions. Next time! This is a seriously gourmet burger — juicy, maybe just a tiny bit done past where I usually order them, but superb.
The sauces reveal a little bit about the owner's background: At some point in his past, he did some time at the five-star Maisonette. His nephew makes the sauces now, but Terry ensures that standards are held; in fact, they grow their own tarragon for the béarnaise.
And the lobster burger? Fantastic. All the delicious flavor of grilled lobster, sans shell. I assumed that he'd gotten the idea from the New England summer tradition of lobster on a hot dog bun, but I found out the real story on follow-up.
"It's from Belize," Terry said. "We were right in the jungle, and they were making tortillas on a car hood, stuffing them with lobster meat with mustard on it, and it was incredible."
I laughed and asked if he was planning to have a car hood installed.
"Nah, we'll stay with the grill," he said. "Everything's grilled, everything we serve, but I finish it off with some olive oil."
He makes it sound too easy.
What a great, simple concept: Taking a seven-item menu and adding enough sauce and topping choices to have something for everyone. You could put together a grilled portabella mushroom, add the goat cheese sauce and grilled onions and have a vegetarian feast, or go for the shrimp burger with mango, tequila and jalapeno sauce. There are no bad combinations when the starting points are this good.
Dessert is limited to homemade gelato ($3), but that's hardly a limit. We had a "neopolitano" — one scoop each of chocolate, almond and blackberry. Flavors change daily; these were pretty impressive.
I can easily see why Terry's is wowing the foodie crowd. There's no comparison between these burgers and your backyard barbecue — while homemade is good, Terry's is better.
But now that the crowds know, I'd advise you to get there early. Seating capacity is 49 people, so I imagine there's a full house most nights.
TERRY'S TURF CLUB
Go: 4618 Eastern Ave., East End
Hours: 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Monday-Thursday; 4 p.m.-2:30 a.m. Friday; noon-2:30 a.m. Saturday; noon-9 p.m. Sunday
Entree Prices: $6.50-$26
Payment: Major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Plenty of chicken and seafood options
Accessibility: Staff will assist patrons with the stairs if possible but can't provide full accessibility