Highbrow/Lowdown

Photography by: Beau Kester/Round 1 Productions

The buds behind Butterhead Greens and Betty Bombers keep it simple—and savory.

“You don’t get to pick the temperature of your burger.”

Patrick Zimmerman delivers these fighting words as we settle into a shadowy pleather booth at Betty Bombers with his business partner, Seth Musler, surrounded by World War II propaganda in the heart of the American Legion Post 135 on Bull Street.

Then comes the peace offering: “But you can count on us to make that burger moist and delicious.”

My taste buds have made sweet, hippie love to a thick, juicy Betty Bombers cheeseburger, served just before midnight by a retro-cool Rosie-the-Riveter lookalike, so I know from experience that Patrick is telling me the truth.

“I was trained as a French chef, so rare to me is cold in the center,” the former Sapphire Grille chef de cuisine explains.  “Rare at Applebee’s is pink.  There’s nothing more disappointing than ordering what’s in your brain and getting something else instead.  So we don’t try to read minds.  We just make good food.”

This no-frills approach to dining has won throngs of loyal customers—both here and at the duo’s flagship Bull Street eatery, Butterhead Greens, a bright green and black storefront with painted plywood floors where SCAD kids and locals alike wash down lush salads, gourmet sandwiches and creative soups with the infused water or “tea o’ the day.”

“You’ve got to keep it simple and fresh,” says Seth, previously the chef de cuisine at Alligator Soul.  He now manages Betty Bombers’ lunch-to-late-night hours, while Patrick rises early to oversee Butterhead Greens’ breakfast and lunch crowd.  Both men exchange menu ideas and recipes—and collaborate on their custom catering business, King Cotton Catering.

“I think a lot of people try to open a restaurant that is everything they’ve always dreamed of,” Seth adds.  “We intend to own several so each one can just do what it does well and keep doing that.  That’s enough.”

 

A Match Made in Pooler

The partnership dates back to 2008, when the pair collaborated on Green Tomato Concepts, an organic produce company Patrick started with Georges’ on Tybee cohort Robbie Wood that offered restaurant consulting, catering and a before-its-time farm box.

“We were working out of a cooler in Pooler, curing our own meats,” Patrick remembers.  “It was fun.”  But it was also promising.  “Seth and I worked well together.  In kitchens you find that not everyone is even-keeled or dependable.  It’s a hard job that just about anybody can get into.  So when you find people you can work with that you know are trustworthy that are going to be on your side, that’s the biggest thing.”

So when Seth was ready to start working for himself, he knew who to call.

With Butterhead Greens, he says, “we wanted to create a concept that was economically feasible where we wouldn’t have to work 60 hours or more a week, all of them at night.  We studied the area and we thought something fresh, fast, affordable that would be patronized by locals and SCAD.”

That prospect was enough to bring Patrick back from a stint in Boulder, Colo., and the pair set about crafting a lunch menu to rival any in the city.  Today, the aptly named “I Surrender” salad brightens roast chicken and romaine lettuce with toasted pecans, sun-dried tomatoes, bleu cheese and a secret-recipe creamy herb dressing.  The grilled “Sustainable Sammy” pairs the complex, satisfying flavors of a house-made vegetarian patty with spinach, gruyere and basil aioli.  (“I eat it all the time,” Seth deadpans.  “I put bacon on it.”)

Butterhead Greens opened quietly across from SCAD’s Arnold Hall in 2010, winning over students and professors before pulling the rest of us in by word of mouth.  Then, Patrick and Seth saw another opportunity: a spacious, vacant kitchen at the American Legion.

“We had known the Legionnaires for years because we’d go to the bar after work,” Patrick says.  “So we did a soft opening and the bar people could eat here while Seth retooled the menu and got the kitchen up to speed.”

Today, Betty Bombers offers a bounty of scrupulously handmade sandwiches, tacos, wings and fries—even a reimagined military staple, S.O.S. (or Sh*t On a Shingle).

Think all-American favorites with a gourmet twist.

“Our Salisbury steak is pretty intense,” Seth says. “You eat it with a knife and fork.  We make our own gravy.  We reduce beef stock, red wine, caramelize our mirepoix.  We do it right.  And our Thai wings—I totally ripped off that recipe from a former boss of mine at Pak Pak in Portland.”

Patrick tried them at Seth’s house years ago and never forgot them.

“They’re weird,” he tells me.  “Fish sauce, chilies and lime on wings with fried garlic.  Delicious!”

Clearly, the pair’s modus operandi is to lure us into casual, unassuming environments and situations (midday, late-night) and then take our taste buds by surprise.

“Nobody knew what quinoa was when we opened up in 2010,” Patrick says of the ancient, protein-rich “super” grain he and Seth have transformed into a zesty, bionic tabouleh 2.0.  “We’ve taken risks with menu items and they’re paying off.”

Embracing the Paradox

So what’s the next big risk for adventurous eaters?  You’ll find it on the specials board at Butterhead Greens.

“Cold soups—we cannot sell cold soups!” Seth laments.  “We keep putting them on the board but they’re still weird to people.”

But the Western Culinary Institute graduate, who cut his teeth at Chicago’s James Beard award-winning Tru and iconic Everest restaurants, can’t resist the fresh simplicity of a chilled combination—especially now, as the temperature climbs and Savannah’s fruits and vegetables proliferate.

“Seth made a cantaloupe soup with smoked paprika oil—so refreshing on a hot day,” affirms Patrick, a Culinary Institute of America alum who has worked as an organic caterer and private chef.

Cold soup?  Is it a gamble I’m willing to take with these T-shirt-and-jeans-clad chefs, these self-described “back-of-the-house” restaurateurs?  I think of my helpless weekly pilgrimage to Butterhead for the “I Surrender,” and my post-Cosmo need for a scrupulously well-done Betty Bombers cheeseburger, its juices forming happy rivulets down my chin.

“White grape and pine nut cold soup?”  Seth offers.

Somebody hand me a spoon.

All the Lovely Loquats

Roughly the size and color of apricots, the native Chinese loquat is Savannah’s “most underrated food,” according to Patrick.  “Out west they’re expensive,” he muses, “but here they grow everywhere and people just let them fall all over the ground.”  Delicate, fragrant and mildly sedative, the fruits of this popular ornamental evergreen make for delicious jam fresh off the tree.  If you don’t have a tree of your own, chances are that your neighbor will be happy to share.

 

Patrick Zimmerman’s Loquat Jam

(Makes 4 cups)

6 cups ripe loquats

Zest of 4 lemons, minced

¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 packet of fruit pectin (Sure-Jell works great!)

6 cups white sugar

¼ teaspoon powdered ginger

Peel and pit freshly picked loquats, then toss immediately with the lemon zest and juice in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan to retain the color.  Add pectin and bring to a boil.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sugar and ginger.  Return fruit mixture to the heat and boil for one minute.

Skim any foam and film from the surface of the mixture and pour the jam into sterilized canning jars.  Enjoy fresh, freeze or follow canning procedures.

 

 

 

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