By Chris Chamberlain
Austin Ray, the CEO of A.Ray Hospitality and M.L.Rose Craft Beer & Burgers, has long been a proponent of sourcing local ingredients at his restaurant group, and M.L.Rose’s monthly burger specials have frequently showcased other local businesses as part of their recipes. Back in January, M.L.Rose debuted the Porter Road Smash Burger, featuring the ground beef from Chris Carter’s and James Peisker’s popular Nashville butcher operation.
That burger quickly became the best-selling burger of the month in M.L.Rose’s 15-year history, and Ray realized that he was on to something and needed to extend the partnership between the two local heroes. He and the PRB boys had batted around discussions of some sort of partnership in the past, but the popularity of that burger poured gas on the fire.
Ray is known for his exhaustive menu research, including quarterly beer panels to decide which crafts should be on draft and a long development process for the sausage recipes at Von Elrod’s Beer Hall and Kitchen. Not content to simply buy Porter Road’s already excellent regular ground beef offering, Ray’s team and Porter Road set out on a four-month beef odyssey of experimentation, tasting and developing a custom grind just for M.L.Rose.
The result is a blend of 100 percent pasture-raised, dry-aged beef that has been ground to Ray’s specifications and packaged for restaurant use. The blend of meat and fat has been designed to stand up to the heat of the griddle while maintaining the juiciness you’d expect out of a premium burger.
“This is without a doubt one of the most important moments in M.L.Rose’s story,” says Ray. “There’s so much life and joy that happens at M.L.Rose, and having an all-around better product that I’m happy to feed my kids and the community has always been the goal. We care about the beef we serve, and this Porter Road blend is a product that is cared for, well-sourced and delicious.”
As part of the research, Ray visited Porter Road’s partner farm — Rittenberry Farms in Burna, Ky. — to see the cows on the hoof. He was impressed by the dedication and humane practices of the ranchers who provide roaming acreage that is well above industry standard along with all-vegetarian feed and attention to the animals’ health at every stage of their lives. A visit to Porter Road’s processing facility in Kentucky also impressed Ray with the company’s commitment to whole animal butchery, minimal waste and hand-cutting butcher process.
“Our flavor starts in the field,” says Peisker. “How the animal is treated in the pasture and creating a positive and stress-free experience before the animal makes it to the harvesting facility has a substantial impact on the final product. Fair wages for our farmers and allowing them to build, grow and farm sustainably can be felt and tasted by each consumer.”
“A partnership like this is a part of sustainable growth for our company,” says Ray. “We’re using the whole animal to build this burger blend for M.L.Rose and the result is this incredibly high-quality product. I couldn’t be happier about the evolution of this partnership. We had occasional business conversations, and the success of our Porter Road burger of the month was an important metric, but ultimately this came together as we talked during our kids’ soccer practice. Those are the kind of moments that reinforce the reason we started local businesses.”
In addition to the change in beef, M.L.Rose is releasing a new menu including new items such as a crunchwrap filled with a Porter Road burger patty and other goodies, buffalo chicken cheese fries made with M.L.Rose’s signature crispy waffle fries, and two desserts featuring local partner Tennessee Cheesecake. If it’s been a while since you dined at M.L.Rose, now would be a great time to check it out again. It’s only getting better!
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