Mulligan’s burger endures as a great OBX indulgence

By on March 12, 2017

Mulligan’s night kitchen manager Duck Etheridge, left, and Chef Cedric Banks with their Hawaiian burger, offered as a special.

Mulligan’s Grille on Historic Cottage Row
4005 S Croatan Hwy.
Milepost 13
Nags Head, NC
(252) 480-2000
Open all year
Check their website for hours

Story and Photos by Jim Trotman

Sometimes, only a cheeseburger will do.

This one all began with a chat among friends at the gym. The sweating was over, the muscles needed rest and the remainder of the day was yet to be planned. The subject of really good cheeseburgers came up.

“You know,” I offered, “I’ve heard the burgers at Mulligan’s were pretty good.”
“Good? They’re great!” responded Friend A.
“You have to try their Carolina Burger,” said Friend B.
“I’m free about two,” said Friend A.
“Let’s do it,” said Friend B.

I had no choice. Good thing we all put in a good workout that day. One probably shouldn’t make them a steady diet, but a for a special occasion, what harm can just one do?

I confess I had been slow on the uptake regarding the burgers at Mulligan’s Grille. I’d heard the positive claims many times and had just never taken the plunge to see for myself. Furthermore, it seems ridiculous to have been avoiding for so long since I live essentially “just over the dune” from the establishment.

What can be said about a good cheeseburger that Jimmy Buffett hasn’t already written and sung? Plenty. For one thing, Buffet left out the words umami, colossal and substantial. Lyle Lovett was even more efficient in his “Here I Am” when he closes out the last verse with, “Please, if it’s not too late, make it a cheeseburger.”

Bottom left, The Islander, top, the Carolina and bottom right, the Mulligan

That afternoon found the three of us seated at one of Mulligan’s comfy tables. When the choice of drinks arose, we decided on martinis all around, differing only by the number of olives each requested. I asked for just one, Friend B asked for two and Friend A asked for “a whole bunch of them.” Our server, Maresa, was up to the task, bringing the drinks with one conspicuously different in having the full length of the stirrer festooned with olives.

Friend A ordered the Mulligan’s Burger, Friend B the Carolina Burger and I chose the Islander Burger.

All the burgers featured juicy, thick half-pound patties and fresh buns. They all came with lettuce, tomato, onions, pickle and a side of fries in a nifty mini-fry basket in addition to their unique feature ingredients.

The Carolina burger.

My Islander featured pepper jack cheese, Thousand Island dressing (wink, wink) and a jerk seasoning that carried enough of the Caribbean taste without overpowering the combination. The tart dressing added a zing to complement the sharp jerk notes.

The Carolina Burger hit the table with southern chili and slaw. The chili is bean-less, which to Texans is redundant. In this case, the onions are sliced as opposed to chopped, the way Friend B prefers, but that didn’t stop him from devouring it or me from enjoying my bit if it, the crisp, tart slaw cutting the robust chili and burger tastes just right.

Friend A’s signature Mulligan’s Burger came with lump crabmeat and bacon. My friend chose provolone as the cheese topper. Crab and bacon are an unstoppable combination and tend to be great whenever they appear together. As Friend A said, it was to die for.

I returned a few days later to speak with Mulligan’s kitchen manager, Chef Cedric Banks. Banks is a restaurant and food service veteran who has been cooking in the area for the past 20 years. Before coming to Mulligan’s Grille two years ago, he spent 10 years cooking at Duck Woods Country Club.

I ask about his culinary style. Banks says, “I’m a country guy that likes to take things and give a country twist to it. That’s pretty much what I do.”

The signature Mulligan’s burger

As for any favorite trend he sees on the local culinary scene he says, “Here lately, I will say the collard greens. It’s been real enjoyable. All the time I’ve been cooking, and this is the first time I’ve cooked so much collard greens. It’s a good thing, you know, to see people really enjoying them.” I make a note to return to try some.

As to the ideas behind the burgers, Banks says, “The owners Gus and Shannon (Gus Zinovis and Shannon Moody), they do a lot of research and then just throw things at me and I just come up with the best presentation I can do.”

As for the burgers, “We cut our beef every morning. And we have our special Mulligan seasoning, but I can’t tell you what’s in it.” The buns are made fresh daily at Proof bakery, just up the road in Kitty Hawk.

The patties cook on a flat-top grill, and the chef employs a spatula to aid in forming them into their final shape, resulting in a crispy, broken edge that seems to naturally hold those good juices. As with proper hamburger method, the meat is seasoned on the grill. With the various additions assembled, the cheese goes on top and then is steamed down under a dome to finish.

The Islander burger.

The Hawaiian burger.

The Hawaiian Burger was the burger special the day I returned. The Hawaiian, when available, sports the same half-pound patty but is adorned with ham, a pineapple slice, red onion and sliced red pepper. It is topped with provolone and a dousing of a honey-mayo aioli as the finishing touch. Biting your way through these many layers brings a harmonious cascade of tastes and textures. Not sure if I was transported all the away to Maui, but pineapple got me at least halfway there.

These are on the gourmet side of the burger continuum and are priced accordingly. If you wish, the beef can be substituted with chicken breast, Turkey burger, veggie burger or Portabella mushroom cap. Gluten-free buns can be had for an extra charge.

Of course, Mulligan’s offers a variety of classic and inventive seafood dishes and sandwiches and plenty of specialty drinks, beers and wines.

We understand not all dining establishments can remain open year-round, but we locals certainly appreciate those, like Mulligan’s, that do.

On another laudable note, Mulligan’s has joined other restaurants in sustainability and as much local sourcing as possible. Their green-tailed shrimp and oysters come from the Pamlico Sound and the produce is grown on Currituck County farms. They are committed to recycling frying oil, oyster shells, bottles and delivery boxes. Even the carry-out bags are bio-degradable.

On a cold winter afternoon, when it is still too chilly for the upstairs outdoor tiki deck to open, this is a warm, cozy place for a beverage and a tasty burger. Now we know.


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