Cowbell Burger & Whiskey Bar | Charlotte NC Travel & Tourism
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Cowbell Burger & Whiskey Bar

Creative burgers combined with a glass of whiskey, old fashioned service and rock ‘n’ roll creates a special experience you don’t want to miss.

By Chrissie Nelson

I sat down with owner Brandon Viebrock just as the lunch rush was ending. As a few patrons chowed down on juicy burgers, bartenders restocked the bars, and businessmen put their jackets on and stepped into the sunshine on Fifth Street, Brandon and I sat in a back corner booth and talked ground chuck hand patties, whiskey flights, craft cocktails and rock ‘n’ roll.

Originally from New Jersey, Viebrock grew up in the restaurant industry; his parents owned a deli business for more than 15 years. He moved to Charlotte in 1992 and connected with business partner Shawn Wilfong. They opened their first venture – Mortimer’s – in the EpiCentre five years ago. From there, the business duo seized real estate opportunities and developed their restaurant concepts by assessing what was needed in Charlotte by looking at the demographic of the area and the existing offerings. The result was three completely different homegrown concepts: Mortimer’s, a cool café and pub in Uptown; the southern inspired Leroy Fox in Cotswold, which Viebrock affectionately refers to as a “Charlotte darling;” and Cowbell, serving burgers that rock in Uptown.

Viebrock and Wilfong knew they wanted to be in the business of burgers, so they took over Nix Burgers in Uptown in the fall of 2012. They ran Nix for a few months, learning the craft of burgers and what worked and didn’t work. From the experience, Viebrock learned “it wasn’t that folks didn’t wanted succulent artisanal handcrafted burgers;” rather, it was that there were opportunities to improve on the details and customer experience. So Viebrock and Wilfong decided to work on the space to bring something new and exciting to Fifth Street. They wanted to create something swankier with more rock ‘n’ roll. The result was Cowbell.

When you step inside Cowbell, you’ll notice the décor pays tribute to the masters of rock ‘n’ roll and popular music. A photo wall, created by local Charlotte artists, is filled with “pre-super stardom glares and retrospective thoughts” of Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, The Boss, The Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, Jack Nicholson, Amy Winehouse and Van Halen. Cowbell is a spot where the rock icons of the 1970s would want to come hang out, eat a burger and sip on fine whiskey.

Cowbell’s menu is full of interpretations of the classic offerings that have been served in burger and soda shops over the past 50 years. The menu centers on burgers, and when creating the menu, Viebrock and Wilfong’s first focus was on a delicious burger patty that was full of flavor on its own. The beef burgers are fresh hand patties made from a brisket and chuck mix that comes from a fourth generation butcher in the Bronx, New York. When asked how they picked this particular butcher, Viebrock chuckled and said, “There were a lot of tastings.”

From there, they created unique interpretations of essential burger builds like the Elvis, a classic burger “perfect like the King” with a beef patty atop an onion Kaiser roll with black wax cheddar, ketchup, mustard, shredded lettuce, roma tomatoes and pickles. Bacon lovers adore the Boogan’s bacon burger topped with both bacon marmalade and bacon strips. The NYC fuses part burger and part Reuben sandwich by piling pastrami, aged Swiss cheese and sauerkraut atop a beef patty. A crowd favorite is the big Will’ s breakfast served on a croissant with an egg cooked over easy and praline bacon.

Viebrock recommends the bruiser, Cowbell’s take on a traditional black and bleu with gorgonzola, caramelized onions, roasted shitake mushrooms and horseradish cream cooked medium rare. And no North Carolina burger joint would be complete without their version of a Carolina-style burger, simply called the Carolina at Cowbell, slathered with cheddar cheese, chili, yellow mustard and slaw.

There are several beef alternatives on Cowbell’s 20-burger menu. The Danny California is a turkey burger with a West Coast vibe: piled high with roasted red pepper, smoked habanero Jack cheese and avocado. The dumpling is a pork burger with Asian flare including Hoison glaze and Sriracha aioli. Cowbell has two different veggie patties – one made with black beans, quinoa and walnut and the other with curry spiced pinto beans and farro.

Appetizers, wings, salads, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, spiked shakes and desserts round out Cowbell’s menu. A fan favorite is the deviled eggs, elevated with crispy prosciutto and house-brined pickles. Other popular items include the Sinatra (they had me at deep-fried, hand-pulled mozzarella) and the Ronstadt wrap. Viebrock’s favorite at the moment is the disco fries: poutine style, skin on French fries with mozzarella cheese curds, sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions and brown gravy. If you try it, get some crumbled, blackened ground beef patty on top. According to Viebrock, “They’re nuts.”

On top of the mouthwatering menu items, Cowbell offers a stand-out selection of whiskey, including several unique varieties you can’t find anywhere else in the Queen City. When Viebrock and Wilfong settled on a burger, rock ‘n’ roll concept, whiskey was a no brainer. According to Viebrock, “Whiskey is rock ‘n’ roll. It is so American to me and it's so southern too. We are southern.”

With 100 whiskeys, Cowbell wants to make whiskey accessible and affordable for customers to enjoy. They offer flights at three different price levels so customers can taste and explore whiskey from all over the world. Cowbell also hosts special events centered on whiskey. Recently they hosted a whiskey dinner with flights, education and burger pairings.

For non-whiskey drinkers, Cowbell’s bartenders also sling handcrafted signature cocktails including nine different flavors of mules (all made with all natural ginger beer and fresh juices). Sip on the Cowbell, their southern-inspired cocktail with a hint of peach and iced tea or a here comes the sun, handcrafted by their “little darlings” with Hendrick’s gin and St. Germain elderflower. If beer is more your thing, Cowbell’s bartenders will pour you a pint of your favorite local brew.

The next time you’re craving a burger, pop in to Cowbell for a handmade, elevated, juicy burger with a rock ‘n’ roll attitude. You’ll leave feeling full and like a rock star.

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