Urban Johnnie Bar & Grille, a concept from Johnnie’s Charcoal Broiler, is a more upscale blend of classic burgers with a variety of new items. 

click to enlarge THe Steve McQueen Burger at Urban Johnnie. - KORY B. OSWALD
  • Kory B. Oswald
  • THe Steve McQueen Burger at Urban Johnnie.

It’s always a great sign when you walk in a restaurant and the staff is bustling but doesn’t appear to be overworked or, worse, miserable. On our visit, the bartender greeted customers cheerfully and promptly as my guest and I took our seats at the bar.

The decor is thoroughly modern with lots of exposed concrete and blue neon.

The venue is surprisingly warm considering the industrial, downtown feel that shows off exposed heating and cooling ducts and acid-washed concrete walls.

Urban Johnnie is definitely sleeker and classier than its family-oriented, nondescript cousin Johnnie’s Charcoal Broiler.

We started with an appetizer of smooth and creamy onion dip ($7) served with house-made potato chips.

Our friendly server, Court, told us she took eight orders of the dip to a family gathering and it quickly became a crowd favorite. I can see why. It’s creamy, with a nice blend of onion and a moderate measure of garlic.

The hand-cut chips were not too thick or too thin and had a good amount of crunch.

Urban Johnnie can make almost any cocktail you want with its motley mix of spirits behind the bar.

Most house drink specialties cost between $6-$9 and include premium liquors. We ordered a West Old Fashioned ($9), and it’s a tricky drink to make. One thing it didn’t lack was Knob Creek Bourbon.

There are some delicious signature drinks, one with the name Who Was on My Couch? The manager told me that it’s a favorite made with St. Germaine liqueur, lemon, simple syrup, gin and a splash of soda.

After drinks and appetizers, we ordered our meals to-go. My dining companion took home a BLT that was thoughtfully prepared with the lettuce and tomato in a separate container. She also ordered fries, which are the same ones they serve at Johnnie’s Charcoal Broiler.

I ordered the Steve McQueen burger ($8). The name compelled me. Bacon and bleu cheese with spiced honey? Bring it on.

The side dishes weren’t as easy to choose, as they offered grilled broccoli with cheese sauce and mashed potatoes, among other things. However, Court talked me into sweet potato fries ($3) with seductive talk of dipping them in spiced honey, and I was not disappointed. Johnnie’s fries are not my usual choice; they’re not my style — I’m the shoestring, almost overdone, crispy type.

Soft or not, however, the honey and sweet potato fries made a delicious flavor combo.

Another thing I love is the burgers are accurately cooked to the temp you prefer. I ordered mine medium rare — give me that over a charred, tasteless hockey puck any day.

Perusing the menu, which is broad, you’ll see tacos, soups and salads, among other menu items. The staff said the tacos are one of the tastiest things on the menu: homemade corn tortillas warmed on a press, with options like barbacoa meat and shrimp. (I know what I’m getting next time.)

The gluten-free menu items also are clearly marked, as are the items that can be modified to be gluten-free. There is a large selection for all diners of all types.

Several staff members mentioned ordering their own dinners to-go at the end of their shifts. In my experience, it’s a good sign when people can work and eat at an establishment every day.

I will definitely be back to branch out from what I know to be Urban Johnnie’s specialty. I hear the Caesar salad is superb. If you’ve ever had a Caesar burger from Johnnie’s Charcoal Broiler, it makes perfect sense.

click to enlarge The CCB Sandwich and mac and cheese (Mark Hancock)
  • Mark Hancock
  • The CCB Sandwich and mac and cheese

Print headline: Urban rejuvination; Urban Johnnie Bar & Grille, a concept from Johnnie’s Charcoal Broiler, is a more upscale blend of classic burgers with a variety of new items.

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