Hey, hey, hey, what’s up everybody? We’re back again. The Pacecast is back again. I’m your host Reggie Pace and we are back. The Eat With Pace series, sponsored by RVA Magazine. We’re talking to a lot of chefs in town and restauranteurs, movers and shakers. And today we have Chef Mike and Kimberly from Bully Burger and Buttermilk and Honey inside Hatch Local Food Hall. You also know them from Lillie Pearl and all kinds of other stuff.
Image courtesy of Hatch Local
Let’s get the show started. Hey, nice to meet you Chef Mike and Kim. Thank you so much for being on the show.
Michael Lindsay: Thank you Reggie. We appreciate you.
Kimberly Lange-Lindsay: Absolutely. <laughs>
Alright, I’d like to start off with one hard hitting question that everyone’s dying to know. Tell me, what are your Zodiac signs?
Michael Lindsay: I’m Michael Lindsay and I’m a Pisces. Here we go.
Kimberly Lange-Lindsay: I’m Kimberly Lange-Lindsay and I’m a Leo.
Everyone judge accordingly out there. Alright, we’re going to move on. Alright, how long have you been in Richmond? I know you’ve got a lot of businesses going on, but how long here?
Michael Lindsay: We’ve been in Richmond since 2016.
Alright. What’s the first one that you started with here?
Michael Lindsay: So, for us on our own, we started with Lillie Pearl November 2020.
Fantastic spot. If you’ve never been to Lillie Pearl, go check that out. Did you work anywhere else in town before that or just came in as entrepreneurs?
Michael Lindsay: Yeah, so when we moved to the area, I was opening Matchbox in Short Pump. Kim was actually working for Matchbox as well, but she was a GM up in Woodbridge. I was a chef down here in Short Pump.
Kim got tired of that and I had a previous relationship with Chris Staples from EAT Restaurant Partners. I just reached out to him and I actually worked with him a little bit when I worked for Firebirds previously when I lived in Richmond. He was with me and he was able to kind of get Kim a job. She started out at Fat Dragon. Then the goal was to hire her for Red Salt. Once Kim kind of got involved in the conversation and went to what I do, I worked at Capital Grill, and I worked at Firebirds and Ruth Chris. I was kind of helping them kind of figure out the kitchen part of it.
One thing led to another and they ended up hiring me as the chef of Red Salt. Kim an I actually opened that together and joined EAT Restaurant Partners to open that in 2017. I worked my way up, became the culinary director. I did PBR. I did the concept, came up with the menu. I did Hot Chick. I did Fatty Smokes. I did Wong Gonzalez Tacos. And then, you know, Kim worked her way up and became the director of operations. She oversaw all 13 restaurants by the time we left in 2012.
Wow. Extreme power couples.
Michael Lindsay: It’s kind of cool to come to Richmond and be able to kind of make our mark with EAT. We loved being there. Of course, you know, COVID hits and things change and mindsets change and who better to open a concept than Kim and I. And, you know, with our history of corporate restaurants, we just really had an incredible base and discipline. And then working with EAT, we were able to kind of stretch that out and understand how the private sector works. And then, you know, tie those two things together and really stretch our legs here in Richmond on our own.
Wow. That’s quite the journey. It reminds me about I’m a musician and that reminds me about that in which it’s like, well, I started here. Then we met these guys. Then, like, those guys didn’t work out. So we went to these guys and I moved and now I hang out with these guys. And, you know what, I’m tired of working for other people. That’s cool, too. But, you know, let me try to step out real quick.
Michael Lindsay: Yeah, man.
The chicken sandwich! photo by Lauren Serpa
That makes a ton of sense. All right. Well, let’s get right to it. Let’s get down to the most important stuff. What do you think makes the perfect crispy fried chicken?
Kimberly Lange-Lindsay: I love that. <laughs>
How do you make it so perfect? I know it’s different from just fried on the bone to making the chicken sandwiches, but the batter you all have is off the chain. Explain to me what you think makes it so perfect.
Michael Lindsay: Yeah, I think the perfect piece is the perfect balance of the flour and the cornstarch. The cornstarch just gives it that second level of crispiness where it holds up. To me, that’s the key.
Do you season it or do you just keep that? Is that proprietary?
Michael Lindsay: We wet brine it first from 18 to 24 hours. You never want to do it much more than that.
And then from there, what we do is we make a batter, so a flour batter. It mixes our seasoned flour with buttermilk and kind of fold that together, and the chicken kind of rests in that. And then from there, we use our seasoned flour to kind of finish the breading process. So we’ve done that to kind of streamline the flavor, but also make sure the consistency is right, no matter who’s doing it. Then 350 degrees in the fryer and the breasts go for about five to seven minutes, and the tenders go for about four to six minutes.
Photo by Lauren Serpa
All right. That sounds amazing. It’s unique, and also it stays juicy in the middle also. It does really encapsulate the chicken in a way that makes it perfect. When we stay on the subject of crunch, you also have crinkle cut fries, and I love crinkle cut fries. And you have fried green tomatoes. Now, a lot of crunchy stuff coming out of this place. That kind of defines you all. What about that makes the perfect french fry, and why did you pick crinkle cut?
Michael Lindsay: Hands down, crinkle cut is just the best fucking fry you can ever have. <laughs> Period, period, period, period. And I think that’s because of those edges. And when you find the right one, they make a million different ones now. But, you know, in the beginning, we were cutting our own fries. And it’s going to sound crazy, but we were home one night, and Kim picked up dinner from there and brought it home, and the fries were terrible. I was like, all the work we put into these fries. And people don’t say anything because, oh, my God, it’s a hand-cut fry, but it wasn’t good. They were soggy! <laughs> You know, like, it only holds up so long.
So us going to a fry that has a little bit of a coating on it and then going to a crinkle cut fry that’s, you know, the perfect, half in size, all those things, because, you know, we kind of went through and we tested a bunch of different ones. But I found a fry that can hold up for a minimum of 30 minutes.
I like to hear this.
Yeah, man. So it’s going to sound crazy. Hand-cut fries are delicious when you get them on the spot, but they suck to go.
Kimberly Lange-Lindsay: Yeah, they just don’t hold up…
Michael Lindsay: …and there’s no way to get them to hold up.
They steam up in the bag, you know.
Michael Lindsay: Yeah, yeah. All the little things, you got to have special boxes, and it doesn’t matter. It just, you know, all that work is for nothing. So what we did was I found the perfect fry. I felt like it was it. We tested it, you know, for a couple of weeks. We taste tested it in the restaurant. The guests actually really loved it. I personally, that’s my favorite fry anyway. But, you know, you feel like, oh, yeah, I want to do a fresh fry. You know, you open something during COVID. It’s got to be great when they get home.
So if that chicken sandwich can hold up, the fries have to do the same. So we went to that crinkle fry. It holds up incredible. It holds the seasoning great. And, you know, that’s why we ended up choosing that fry.
Amazing. I love to hear how much care that you all are putting into, like, keeping the consistency of quality. Sometimes you go to a spot and you go, like, when was the last time anybody that had anything to do with this restaurant tasted this food? Like, when was the last time you get like this? And to hear that you all, like, got dinner as a regular people from your own spot just to check on it. That’s free advice right there for everybody.
Michael Lindsay: That’s it.
Write that down.
Michael Lindsay: Write it down. I agree.
Photo by Lauren Serpa
All right. Next question, also extremely important, extremely important. The bread that you’re choosing for your burgers, we got to talk about Bully Burger, too. The bread that you’re choosing for your burgers and the bread that you’re choosing for your chicken sandwiches and all of your different things, what is your favorite type of bread?
Michael Lindsay: All right. So the bread that we’ve chosen, again, I’ve vetted through all types of bread. One big piece is you want the quality of the bread to look like it costs a million dollars.
Michael Lindsay: You want that bread to look incredible. So, you know, that shiny top to me is just feast to like, this is beautiful. It’s a beautiful picture, all those things. But a lot of times you’re going to get that in a brioche. But a brioche on a fried chicken sandwich is too much. It’s too thick. It’s too dense. So you want the texture of a regular bun underneath that shine. So I was able to find a bun that is essentially a regular hamburger bun, but it’s finished with the quality of a brioche.
Oh, yeah. I see.
Michael Lindsay: So then that way when you eat it, and then the cut on this bun is perfect because it’s a heavy cut on the bottom and a level cut on the top, because sometimes they’ll go thin bottom and heavy top with a look, but it breaks down on you. So this one is cut so the bottom is thicker and then the top is almost a little, just a little bit bigger. But then it squishes and breaks down. So when you bite, it’s chicken forward and the bread is just that piece of it that completes the sandwich, but it doesn’t become the sandwich. The chicken is still the focal point. The ingredients can shine. You can taste the lettuce. You can taste the tomato and the bread breaks down enough to where it almost gets thin in the bite. And then all the elements of the sandwich is still there.
Perfect. Perfect. Perfect answer. Another question. Here we go. We’re going to keep it moving. The dessert, the banana pudding cookies are incredible. Can you tell me a story about that?
Michael Lindsay: All right. So we met the sweetest thing, Liana Diggett. She is responsible for making those cookies.
Shout out to her.
Michael Lindsay: Yeah, shout out. Shout out to the sweetest thing, cookie lady. But we met her through our connection with Jackson Ward Collective as we were ramping up. She had a full-time job. She was kind of doing this on the side. And at Jackson Ward Collective, we had like a meetup, and her cookie was part of the grab bag. And I remember eating it and I was like, wow, this cookie is next level. So I just got with her. We had a couple of conversations. I was like, listen, I’m doing this chicken concept. When we get it, you know, because we started the concept in Lily Pearl as a backup for delivery for the pandemic. I was like, when you get to the brick and mortar, I want your cookie to be the cookie. So we just got together. We worked out, you know, the logistics and stuff and, again, it’s about supporting someone local. Me and Kim are really big about supporting local business owners in a way that makes sense for us, makes sense for them, that helps them build their brand as well. So that’s how we ended up linking up and getting with her. So she’s done a couple special different cookies for us, the pizza cobbler cookie, strawberry shortcake, strawberry cheesecake. So she’s done some cool stuff. But coming in and putting cookie hands down is like, there’s nothing else like it.
Yeah, I agree. I agree with that.
Michael Lindsay: Yeah, she goes hard on that.
The Big Mike, photo by Lauren Serpa
Yeah. All right. Let’s talk about The Big Mike and let’s talk about the Return of the Mack. I’m assuming as a music fan, that’s how you got there.
Michael Lindsay: That’s right! <laughs>
It’s funny, like return of The Big Mike being right underneath The Big Mic is like screaming, you know, McDowell’s energy.
Michael Lindsay: Right, right. <laughs> A hundred percent, man.
Screaming McDowell’s energy. Tell me about the mac and cheese you make, because I saw that y’all won an award for mac and cheese at one point. Tell me about the cheeses you’re using and like what type of mac and cheese did you go for?
Michael Lindsay: All right, so for me, my mom makes an incredible mac and cheese. She’s kind of the lady at church that, you know, people would buy it from her or she would trade with someone who cooked, who made potato salad the best or whatever. So I kind of based my recipe off of her baked mac and cheese. What we’ll use in it is shredded jack, shredded cheddar, and we use just some pimentos in it. So, you know, make it old school with a little bit of cream, milk, egg. We use our house seasoning blend in there to give it a little flavor. And then we bake it. We like to bake it open so it gets this nice crust on the top. So every time you hit it, it’s almost like that little perfect little edge crunch, that coloring, that browning. And, you know, again, I got it down, I got it perfected, and, you know, we did the Richmond Mac and Cheese Festival, and we did that, and then we did a version of that with Nashville Spice in it. And we won, I don’t know, out of 40-some people, we won first and second place. So I just tell them, you know, I can now say Chef Mike’s famous mac and cheese.
The illustrious award winning Mac n Cheese! photo by Lauren Serpa
Award-winning mac and cheese!
Michael Lindsay: That’s right! Yeah, I always wanted to get there, like, how do you get to say that? I get to say it. It’s like winning the Super Bowl once, you can talk about it forever.
Illustrious mac and cheese. <laughs>
Michael Lindsay: Illustrious, illustrious. That’s exactly right. So, you know, putting that together and building the menu for Bully Burger, everything for me is nostalgic, right? I think everybody wants to do something cool on a burger, something crazy, but for me everything’s got to kind of make sense. So even today I could go to McDonald’s and I could eat a Big Mac, but in my head I’m like, God, if they just made that sauce with egg, if they just made sure the cheese was melted, you know, all those little things.
So when I created The Big Mike is in the feeling of a chef-made Big Mac. I was able to – I can’t tell you, I did crazy research. I had all my vendors researching, finding me the three-cut bun, and the three-cut bun had to be cut right. So I got one, the bottom bun was too thin, the middle was too thin, so it had to stand up, it had to be beautiful. I was able to track it down, I was able to get it and get it in there and do it.
The same thing for the Black Castle Slider, it was like I had to find the right bun that reminded me of White Castle burger bun. It couldn’t be too fancy, right? It couldn’t be too perfect. So, you know, again, it’s just me taking those things that we love and we know about and putting that little chef’s spin on it. But when you eat the Big Mike, you’re like, damn, this is a Big Mac. And it’s just the most incredible version of what a Big Mac probably was in the very beginning before it became a million McDonald’s, you know?
Michael Lindsay: So, you know, that’s that. And then Return to Mac, honestly, was just kind of about putting together that backyard burger when you add the barbecue sauce to it, the mac and cheese on it.
You were listening to that song too at that barbecue. You were walking around listening to Return to Mac. You were dancing with a paper plate in your hand and it hit you!
Michael Lindsay: That’s exactly right, bro! <laughs> And you know how everything kind of touches each other on the plate and you get that bite, I’m telling you. Especially if you just know that Black Cookout, you’re like, this is a Black Cookout on a burger, you know what I mean?
Michael Lindsay: Yeah.
Nashville sauce, Photo by Lauren Serpa
All right. I heard you mention Nashville Spice. I was just in Nashville not too long ago on tour and I got some crazy spice because I just can’t help myself when I’m traveling. I just do that stuff. I feel like Nashville Hot has really exploded to being everywhere. Like it’s in every restaurant. And I see people kind of going a little bit too ham with it, you know, just throwing it all willy-nilly on everything. It’s flavorless and just hot with no vibe. What makes your Nashville Hot the correct way? What makes it perfect?
Michael Lindsay: All right. So when we introduced it at Hot Chick, I did it traditional with the hot oil. We mixed it in, of course, and we had the right ratio. But one thing that I found is exactly what you said, right? If somebody doesn’t care, they don’t mix it right, it’s just like a mess.
Yeah. Not a ton of flavor, just hot, right? So what I did was I took the recipe I had, which I added chili powder to it to give it some depth and smokiness that I think some people don’t use. What I did was I got that spice and created it, one, so I could use it dry, and it wasn’t a mess during the pandemic. People could order it and it wouldn’t be everywhere and destroy the bun and all those things. And it had true flavor. So it gave you the spice. It gave you the vibe of the Nashville, but it had a different angle to it. So once we were able to get the flavor down and I felt good about it, and once we put it on the sandwich, it just took off and became this crazy thing that’s still our best seller.
Yeah. I mean, it’s so popular right now, so it’s easy to get lost in the sauce. It is. So having one that tastes good is very, very important to stand out in some kind of way.
Michael Lindsay: That’s it. That’s it. I think a lot of people, you know, they might come up with a great sac ue, but is it something that you can’t execute when you’re not standing over them every day?
Michael Lindsay: You know, it’s something they understand. Do they know how the oil and the spices work together? When it’s getting too thick, you know, adding more. So it’s just so many elements to it that, you know, can really truly screw it up if you’re not paying attention to it. So we wanted to streamline it and make it make sense. And now we get, you know, that seasoning made for us. So every time that you get it, it’s the same at every restaurant.
Amazing. All right. We got a couple more questions for you. Cheese. Cheese is very important. Almost all of the burgers have some sort of cheese, like there’s cheese everywhere. Pimento cheese. Are y’all making the pimento cheese? And also how do you pick which cheese is going to go where? Are you going to put cheddar here? Are you going to put like American there? Like how do you think about that?
Michael Lindsay: So, yeah, pimento cheese, we make ours. And a lot of times we do it different ways. So we have one that’s a little thinner, and we’re going to, you know, put it on, you know, like a cold variation of a dip. But a lot of times the way we use it, we make it thicker. And I do that so that it melts like a slice of cheese. And then we also make our pimento cheese balls out of it. So, again, it has to be kind of thicker. So when you put that panko breadcrumbs and you fry it, it breaks down and doesn’t turn to mush. In making that, you know, I just make sure that I use, you know, a thick cheddar. I don’t use as much mayonnaise, of course, or it’s not as thin. And the fries are pretty good.
I think, too, you know, when you’re thinking about a burger and you’re thinking about the elements of the things that are on it, you know, in my restaurants I use a lot of mustard cheese. I use a lot of Hervardi cheese. And I do it because people don’t see it a lot. But, you know, the way that Hervardi and mustard melts and the way the mild flavor comes from, the mustard cheese kind of works really good on a Lilly burger. But if you have a gamey burger like we do at ML State, you know, the Hervardi is perfect on that.
But, you know, if you’re making a big night, it has to have American. But you’ve got to find that good American cheese. It can’t be the crap slices where you’re ripping out the paper. Exactly. It’s got to be able to melt right and then still have that good flavor profile that makes the burger taste good.
And then, you know, if you’re, you know, we have a hatch chili burger that we put pepper jack on, those two things just go together. You’ve got the Nashville spice on it. And then when you’re going to do a bacon cheeseburger, that cheddar, you need that sharpness. And, yeah, you know, and it stands up with the bacon that’s on the burger and all the other ingredients and things like that.
So, for me, it does, it takes a thought process. We go through it. We taste them with the team. I’ll bring in a couple people, we’ll taste. And then, you know, we do what people say hits. You know, if five says it’s hitting and two says it’s not, okay, we’re on track. If it’s split, then it’s, you know what, sounds like we can go either way. It doesn’t matter on this burger. So we do put a lot of thought and process into making sure the flavor is balanced.
You know, I don’t want to open up a burger spot and just like throw it together. And that’s what burgers are. Burgers are simple. I don’t think there’s anything to it. But if you put a little bit of thought in it, I think you can change the profile of how people eat things. And like, wow, why is this different? And they won’t even put the finger on the fact that it’s cheddar versus American or adding that pepper jack to, you know,chili burger, elevates that a little bit in a way that, you know, the white cheese blends and tastes with the chilies and the spice.
Amazing. All right. This is my favorite question. What do you think your favorite childhood meal was? Now, it can be either something that was made for you, or it could be whatever you made for yourself when you first really started cooking, you know, like what was your favorite meal that you were getting?
Michael Lindsay: Yeah, hands down, even to this day, it’s hot dogs, bro.
Michael Lindsay: Still hot dogs, man. Fucking get it to me, put it on the grill, get it crispy. Or I broil them in the oven where they get that nice crust on them on a high broil. I can eat it on a regular bun. You know, every now and then we get fancy, do split tops. But hot dogs were my favorite, you know, growing up and to this day they’re still my favorite. The crazy thing is I don’t even have it on any menu, so you can look for that to come at some point real soon.
Look out, look out!
Michael Lindsay: Yeah, yeah, yeah. When Bully Burger gets that stand alone, you’re going to see some dogs on there.
Photo by Lauren Serpa
Oh, yeah, can’t wait. I mean, I’ve just enjoyed this so much. It’s so refreshing to hear. I mean, y’all are like scientists. You go, you take things, you test it, you go back, you judge it with a critical eye, you test it again. You judge it with a critical eye, you test it again. It’s not an ego driven, you know, I know what’s up, and I’m going to change the minds. You have a very egalitarian way of looking at how these things should be made, and that’s really cool and refreshing. Explain to me why anybody should care about, you know, Buttermilk or Bully Burger. Why should they come eat? Why should they come eat with y’all?
Michael Lindsay: Yeah, they should definitely come eat with us, and it’s exactly what you said. It’s not ego driven. Like every step of everything we do is at the highest level you can do it at. We make all the sauces, the ranch. It’s some of the best ranch you’re ever going to taste. We don’t use a packet. We use herbs to bring that flavor profile together. Like it takes an hour to make a batch of ranch for us, right? It sounds stupid, but I’m telling you it’s different, right? That’s it. You know, everything we do, our hot sauce is at another level. You’re not going to find anything like it.
So for us it’s about what I call chicken love, the brining process, right, the wet brine, the dry brine, what we do with the batter, how we fry the chicken, how long we hold the chicken. You know, if you’ve been to any establishment, like, your chicken sandwich ain’t coming up to five minutes. You know, like we’re cooking it, we’re cooking it fresh, we’re not holding it.
You know, same thing for Bully Burger, man. It’s well thought out. We put a lot of thought in it. We use Seven Hills beef. And when I tell you that, yeah, Seven Hills beef is a Virginia beef, but it is hands down the best beef to make a burger with, and I’m testing it against everything. There’s people that come to me, hey, let me sell you these burgers. Let me – I’ve got a Wagyu, I’ve got a Chuck Brisket, chopped, blanched, it doesn’t matter. Their flavor profile is hidden. It’s great that it’s a Virginia product, but we don’t shortcut to do and use something cheaper because it’s a smash burger.
It’s all about the flavor. So for us, people should come eat with us because it’s chef driven, and I say chef driven because we care every single day what it is. If that sandwich isn’t in your top two best chicken sandwiches you’ve ever had, everybody can do a great chicken sandwich. But our goal is to be that one that you like damn, that thing is hitting.
I’m not going to say we’ve got the best burgers in Richmond, but I’m telling you, you come in there, you eat them Black Castle Sliders, you have the Big Mike, you’re going to be like, shit, they are hitting. And that’s it, right?
And it’s got to be that way every time. We put a lot of work in it, a lot of thought process. We build a team of people to make sure that as we grow this quality stays the same, and that’s why people need to come rock with us.
That’s why I think Buttermilk has taken off and been like, oh, my God, it’s the best chicken sandwich in Richmond. It’s not the cheapest, but I tell you what, it is definitely one of the best. And I can say that because we put that work into it. Like I’m dedicated to it. Like you say, it’s not like, yeah, I’m Chef Mike, or, you know, sometimes with artists, right? Yo, Jay-Z should say whatever the hell he wants to say, and 80% of the people say it’s hot, but it would be like me and you would be like, damn, Jay, that was pretty….
….that was pretty lame.
Michael Lindsay: Yeah, step up, B. Like get your swag back, right? So we don’t take that time off. We don’t take it for granted. Every time we do something, every restaurant we open, like it’s diligent. It’s the work. We make sure that is the best product that I can put out, and we don’t do it just because.
Photo by Lauren Serpa
I love it. Love to hear that. Well, thank you so much. Big, big thanks to y’all. I wish y’all all the luck. The products are fantastic. I’ll come see y’all at the Hatch and, like, take a couple pictures of some sandwiches for later, but this has been a great talk, and I hope people can hear how passionate y’all are about making it great, and we’ll make them come and spend some money in your establishment. Thank you very much, Mike. Thank you very much, Kim.
Michael Lindsay: Appreciate you. Thank you so much, Reg.
Follow Chef Mike @chef.m.lindsey
Follow Bully Burger @bullyburger.rva
Follow Buttermilk and Honey @buttermilkandhoneyrva
Follow Lillie Pearl @lillie.pearl.rva
Follow ML Steak House @mlsteak.rva
Follow Jubilee @jubilee.rva
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All photos by Lauren Serpa, give her a follow @laurenserpaphotographs