The northern suburbs of Melbourne have been flooded by burger restaurants in recent years, so the competition is fierce and the bar has been set high. It was therefore with interest when during one of our recent drinking adventures the crew at The City Lane came across Kustom Burgers Thornbury, which is one of the more recent entrants into the battle for supremacy in the Melbourne burger scene.
Open since May 2015, Kustom Burgers is a ‘vehicular’ take on the American-style diner. The interior of the venue is adorned with an array of car parts and other car-themed fittings, including a number of car hoods, grilles and even an entire pick-up truck! Adding to the American feel are other nice touches such as a gumball machine and candy available from a milk bar style set-up at the end of the relatively small dining area.
For patrons waiting for their burgers to be made (which doesn’t take long), there is also a fully-operational electric slot car track which took us back to our collective childhoods – down to the multi-car pileup on a sharp corner.
The menu is naturally consistent with the overall theme with the names of the burgers referencing cars ranging from the Ford F150 (which is Kustom Burgers’ take on the standard beef burger), to the Hot Rod (their spicy burger) and the Chevy Impala (chicken burger). There is also an Aussie-style burger with egg and beetroot that pays homage to the FJ Holden and the ‘EH Smashed’ which contains a double beef patty smashed flat. Burgers are available on either an ‘old school’ seeded bun or brioche.
Rounding out the food offering are buffalo wings and an array of sides including coleslaw, chilli con carne and fries of the standard and chilli cheese variety. The drinks list consists of a range of local and imported sodas (which pleasingly included A&W Root Beer which is one of Jeff’s favourites), spiders and milkshakes. Unfortunately there is no alcohol available, but for anyone thirsting for a beer Carwyn Cellars is only a few doors up the road.
F150 Kustom Burger ($13.00) and EM Smashed Burger ($14.00)
Seeing as we had a reasonable sized party in attendance we took advantage of the ability to sample a range of the items on the menu. The first of our group who got in line ordered the F150 and the EM Smashed burgers.
The measure of any burger joint is their stock, single patty beef burger so the F150 was a logical place to start our tasting adventure. This definitely confirmed that Kustom Burgers know what they are doing and ticked many of the boxes that we feel are essential in a good burger – the patty was juicy and cooked medium-rare, the evenly melted cheese is imported from the US and is the same as that used by In-N-Out, and the serving of bacon was both generous and cooked soft which is our preference (although some may prefer the bacon crispier) and the bun was soft and not sweet.
The only downside is that the lettuce doesn’t really work in an American-style burger which really should be just meat, cheese and bacon. The house-made Kustom mustard had nice slightly sour, slightly sweet flavour that really complemented the meat and the amount of sauce was pretty much spot on so that it did not overpower the main ingredients.
The EH Smashed burger continued in the same vein and also tasted great, but we would caution anyone looking to try it that the patties are more squashed together than properly ‘smashed’ as is the case with say the Rockwell and Sons double patty smash burger.
Hot Rod Chilli Burger ($14.00)
A spicy burger is more or less mandatory on the menu at burger places nowadays and Kustom Burger’s take on this style came with options of spicy BBQ, hot chilli chipotle or hero chilli sauce – we liked the concept of having a variable level of spiciness as one person’s mild spicy kick is another person’s death sauce. Jeff of course ordered the hero chilli sauce which came with a warning that it is only for ‘serious chilli heads’.
The Hot Rod improved on the standard burger through the omission of lettuce, however we would say that the hero chilli sauce, which is powered by habaneros and chipotle, didn’t quite live up to expectations – there was definitely a noticeable kick, but for something that came with a warning it didn’t light our mouths afire as we were expecting. We would suggest that Kustom Burgers consider adding an extra level above the hero sauce for the true spice fiends out there.
Impala Southern Fried Chicken Burger ($15.00)
Next we tried out the fried chicken burger, which is named after the Chevy Impala, one of the most popular cars in America.
The chicken was (as is suggested by the name) done in the style of the American South with buttermilk and an in-house herb and spice blend and was cooked well throughout without being dry and tasted excellent – one of the better fried chicken burgers we have tried. Accompanying the chicken was the same cheese that is used on the beef burgers (not melted though which was a shame), as well as coleslaw, jalapenos and chipotle mayo. The slaw added a good crunch to the burger and the jalapenos and mayo created a slight spiciness although there was perhaps a bit too much mayo which we found was quite dominant.
To go with our burgers, we also ordered a few sides – the buffalo wings, deep fried pickles and both chilli and normal fries.
Nitro Buffalo Wings ($12.00)
The buffalo wings were not so much buffalo wings but straight out fried chicken wings – this said the chicken was cooked in the same style as the chicken burger and was of the same high quality. We tried the nitro buffalo sauce which we were hoping would give us the spicy hit that we didn’t quite get from the Hot Rod burger, however it was surprisingly a little bland – we would recommend combining the wings with one of the other sauces.
Deep Fried Pickles ($6.50)
The deep fried pickles were served with a tangy sauce and were a perfectly serviceable side dish without being exceptional. There were 2 members of our group who really like pickles, and while they had no trouble finishing these off, they both agreed they had tried better.
Turbo Chilli Fries ($7.50) and Hub Cap Fries ($6.50)
The two types of fries that we tried were a quite a contrast. On the one hand the standard hub cap fries were amongst the best fries that we have had in a burger place – the beer batter was nice and crispy and the seasoning was tasty. In contrast, the chilli fries were disappointing, the chilli didn’t have much flavour and made the fries quite soggy which spoiled this particular dish.
Kustom Burgers is a great addition to the increasingly vibrant Thornbury stretch of High Street that offers a cool vibe in an interesting space. We would recommend that you go for the great range of burgers but give the side dishes a miss except for the excellent fries – but do aim to get there earlyish on a Friday or Saturday night if you intend to eat it as it does pack out.
861 High Street
Telephone: (03) 9484 9316
Mon – Wed: 11:00am to 9:00pm
Thurs: 11:00am to 10:00pm
Fri – Sat: 11:00am to midnight
Sun: 11:00am to 10:00pm