Note: This post is part of our guest series, The Corner, by digital media students at The University of Virginia. Today’s student contributor is Meghan Kasel.
In 2007, while living out west, JR Hadley observed an emerging focus in the restaurant world on farm-to-table cuisine, local sourcing, and organic ingredients. He thought a gourmet burger bar with these elements could take off. Though thousands of miles away, when he caught word that a space on the Corner had become available, Hadley, a Charlottesville native, leapt at the chance to return home and make his idea a reality.
Opening in August 2008, just in time for football season, Boylan Heights immediately established itself as a Corner staple. “We found that people really latched on to the mantra we were pushing,” Hadley said – a straight-forward crowd-pleasing menu built on grass-fed, organic beef from local Virginia farms.
Boylan, as regulars call it, prides itself on its unique atmosphere, which Hadley describes as “1980s prep school—a little rough around the edges.” This theme runs throughout the restaurant, with locker-lined walls, varsity letter printed menus, and a wait staff rocking button down shirts or ones boldly stating “PREP.” The theme is also a nod to Boylan’s allegiance to the University to which it caters, as the menu is organized under headings such as “The Lawn,” “The Range,” and “The Dean’s List.” Yet, Boylan stops short of going over-the-top—its self-conscious kitsch adding to its charm.
With two sprawling floors of space, and two large bars with multiple flat screen televisions, Boylan serves as a great place to catch the game, but they are serious about food, too. The fresh and fun menu features beef, veggie, and turkey burgers, an extensive draft list, and a ever-changing burger-of-the-month, or B.O.M.B. This month’s? American Thanksgiving featuring pulled turkey, cranberry chutney, granny smith apples and melted brie cheese.
What to Order
When asked his favorite menu item, Hadley doesn’t hesitate: “The Western Civ” — an organic beef patty piled on with cheddar, pulled pork, onion straws, and cole slaw. Just describing it, Hadley shakes his head, smiles and quietly adds, “It’s amazing.” And, while the menu contains a number of similarly elaborate combinations, Boylan’s most popular option is its simplest — the “build your own” burger option. In keeping with the scholastic theme, Boylan outfits each table with a pile of #2 pencils and a large stack of Scantron test sheets, familiar to the students that are regulars. On the sheet, customers can choose their meat, toppings, and bun, as well as from an array of sides and specialty sauces. Its one test students don’t seem to mind taking.