burger champ photo by michelle volansky

First Look: Burger Champ in Maplewood

Burger Champ, the latest concept from restaurateur Chris Kelling, is set to open Friday, Nov. 3, at 2704 Sutton Blvd. in downtown Maplewood in the former home of Elmwood. The sister restaurant to Pizza Champ, which opened just down the road in 2022, the new eatery focuses on all manner of burgers, along with an array of milkshakes and assorted other eats and drinks. 

The new place takes Kelling a few more steps away from his fine-dining background and into the realm of high-quality, fast-casual eats. “I put that to bed in 2020,” Kelling said of his white tablecloth era, when Elmwood, the fine-dining restaurant he and then-partner Adam Altnether ran in the same space, closed amidst the pandemic. His focus now is on accessible, high-quality fare that everyone can enjoy, with no pretense. “Our goal isn’t to be the best, just your favorite,” Kelling said.

Burger Champ features counter service and a menu that’s built to please. Executive chef Jeff Friesen, who earned his stripes in a wide variety of kitchens, including Juniper and Taco Buddha, puts his skills to good use on Burger Champ’s array of smash-style burgers. The list includes five variations (The Champ, barbecue-bacon-cheddar, mushroom Swiss, jalapeno-white cheddar and the Fancy Boy), along with a build-your-own option featuring tons of toppings, sourdough, potato and gluten-free buns or a lettuce wrap, and turkey or Impossible patties for those who forgo beef. There’s also the Chicken Champ, a hot dog, chicken tenders and veggies & hummus, plus a trio of top-notch salads (garden, Caesar and grain) for those looking for something other than burgers. 

Burger Champ also offers a bevy of sweet treats to complement its savory selections. Milkshakes on hand include decadent options like cookies and cream, peanut butter and jelly, banana-butterscotch, creamsicle, strawberry, vanilla and chocolate. Pastry chef Mathew Rice of Pink Door Cookies in Nashville, who readers will recognize from his long association with the Niche Food Group, helped develop the milkshake menu, while local chef Chris Bork of Vista Ramen and Place & Time fame gave an assist on creating the savory options.

Grown-up beverage options include beer, wine and a quartet of low-ABV draft cocktails courtesy of Bangers Only, the cocktail consulting company from local bar vets Tim Wiggins and Kyle Mathis. Look for cocktails such as a take on a whiskey cola, a vodka-raspberry soda and more.

The interior of Burger Champ has few echoes of the Elmwood days. The expansive space, which measures out to around 3,500 square feet, holds about 70 seats, a mixture of two- and four-tops along with some family-style tables. The decor is a mix of minimalist and industrial elements, from the skinny black sconces and chandeliers to the exposed beams and ductwork. Warm tones of russet, brown and black on the walls and light wood tabletops help make the space modern and sleek without being stark. Kelling had grad students from the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University add some pop to the walls with multi-colored stencils of the restaurants crown logo on the back wall. The windows on the west side of the restaurant facing Sutton Avenue had been covered over in the space’s earlier incarnation but are now open and provide plenty of light for those looking for some IG-worthy pics of their burgers. There’s also a bank of big screen TVs on the back wall and a couple over the front counter for game days.

Burger Champ’s hours will be 2 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 2 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.