22 April 2024

Norfolk’s Perfect Burger: LeGrand Kitchen 

Before you even set foot into Riverview’s LeGrand Kitchen, the restaurant makes its intentions very clear: this place is about rock ‘n roll, good times and even better hamburgers. Swathed in a baby-blue-on-gray exterior paint scheme featuring a large mural of singer Gary U.S. Bonds, LeGrand is an unabashed ode to the music, food and sometimes raucous culture that shaped Norfolk in the middle of the 20th Century.

Visiting on a quiet Thursday afternoon, the kitchen is in full-on pre-shift prep mode. Owner/chef Stephen Marsh, an unassuming restaurateur who looks like he’d be equally comfortable practicing ollies in a local skate park, quietly presides over his staff as fruit infusions are expertly prepared at the bar and sauces whipped up before the evening’s rush. 

As he shows off his collection of postcards and early Norfolk memorabilia, one of his chefs glides by with a spoonful of what appears to be a creamy aioli. Marsh takes a quick taste and gives the thumbs up. Without a word, it’s clear everything is on track for another successful night at the new location at 4226 Granby St. 

Despite having moved into this location after a massive crowdfunding effort just over a year ago, LeGrand is still known for its staple dish: the OG Burger. Featuring a double patty topped with grilled onion, pickled lettuce, American cheese and covered in roasted shallot mayo on a Big Marty bun, the burger is still the reason people flock from around the region – and even the country – to pack LeGrand on a given night. 

“We still sell a lot of burgers and to-go burgers,” Marsh says. “The burger is exactly the way you remember it from the old location.”

In fact, the burger has developed such a following that it recently ranked number 61 on Yelp’s list of Top 100 Burgers in America, which means Marsh’s creation shares the same space as burgers from Gordon Ramsay and the Michelin-starred kitchen at Minetta Tavern in New York City. 

Courtesy LeGrand Kitchen

“The burger, we always say it’s like a gateway drug,” Marsh says. “Burgers are served everywhere, but not all of them are good, so if you can gain someone’s trust with something as simple as that … it takes a couple of times for them to come and say, ‘that’s so good, now let’s try something else on the menu.’” 

Marsh says the key to the perfect burger is a thin patty combined with high heat for a searing effect. LeGrand uses trimmings from its steaks that are aged in house and then ground up. 

“We don’t charge more money for it. We just add that extra quality,” he says.  

A New Start in Riverview 

Marsh is quick to point out that he’s “been in the kitchen” for as long as he can remember. He cut his teeth in the kitchen at 15 as a dishwasher in Pungo and has worked his way up in the industry in the intervening decades. Over the years, he’s operated the original LeGrand at Colley and 46th Street, as well as old-school oyster bar and seafood restaurant Shiptown just down the road. When he was priced out of the old location, he packed up and moved to the Riverview section of Granby Street – the same area generally occupied by MJ’s Tavern, Blanca and Mi Hogar Mexican, just south of the Granby Street Bridge. The space was previously home to Crackers Little Bar Bistro.

With a soundtrack provided by the Pixies, the Cure and the Smiths, LeGrand offers a distinctively laid back vibe. That’s intentional, Marsh says. 

“From day one, we wanted to be the working man’s place, so they don’t feel like they’re underdressed. We just want to be a place where you can come in any day of the week and it doesn’t have to feel like an event.” 

Despite Marsh’s humbling demeanor, he isn’t just about making great burgers. A look at the current menu displays a broad range of kitchen talent. Diners can choose from pork belly served with cherries, almond, coconut and candied jalapeno; or opt for a Pimento Cheese on toasted bread from local French bakery La Brioche. Scallops, fresh fish, steaks, chicken and the aptly-named “Tour de Pork” are also on offer. 

Working with local purveyors like La Brioche is critical to being part of the community, he says. 

“There’s so many things we do here in house, but we’re not gonna get better baking than what they produce. It’s a nice symbiotic relationship.”

Behind the bar, his lead bartender, Patrick, works on infusions such as clarified banana water for ice cubes, as well as apple infused sweet vermouth and a champagne cocktail mixed with Asian pear and vanilla infused syrup. 

“He has a wealth of knowledge back there,” says of his bartender “We have a larger staff here now, but we’re still doing the same style of cuisine. None of that has really changed.”

Preserving the Legacy of LeGrand Records

Marsh says the restaurant’s name is a tip of the hat to Norfolk’s own musical heritage. Just as Memphis is famous for Sun Studios and Stax Records, and Detroit was home to Motown, Norfolk was the birthplace of LeGrand Records. Situated on nearby Church Street, LeGrand’s namesake produced early rock and doo-wop hits in the 1950s under the guidance of producer Frank Guida. Performers such as the Hamptons, saxophonist Gene “Daddy G.” Barge and crooner Gary “U.S.” Bonds churned out hits for several years in the halcyon days before large corporations took over the game. 

In a recent Instagram post, Marsh says, “Legrand was named after Norfolk’s very own Legrand Records started in the late ‘50s on Church Street by Sicilian transplant Frank Guida. The label put out many influential and groundbreaking songs and huge bands from overseas like The Rolling Stones requested to be driven down Church Street to see where history was made.”

The decor in LeGrand Kitchen reflects this history. The large mural of a pompadour-coiffed Bonds was painted by local artist John Hickey and one of the restaurant’s two bathrooms is plastered in LeGrand Records history (the other serves as an ode to Shiptown). The bar features more than a thousand local postcards, and it was a labor of love for Marsh, who originally built it as part of a coffee table in his home. Staring up at patrons in the postcard collection is a prized autographed headshot of Bonds, famous for the sons “New Orleans” and “Quarter to Three.” 

Marsh seems to understand his prominent place in Norfolk food culture, but takes it all in stride. In the end, he just hopes people come in and enjoy themselves at his eatery. 

“We’re just kind of a staple now. It’s a great feeling to have the community backing us on what we’re doing,” he says. “Somebody just told us, ‘when you go to Norfolk, you have to go here.’ It’s a really good feeling.” 

LeGrand Kitchen is open Tuesday through Thursday from 5-9 p.m. and Friday-Saturday from 5-10 p.m. Learn more at https://www.legrandkitchen.com/

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