Meet the Chef: Cosmo Burger

Published on July 26, 2023

Chef/owner of Cosmo Burger, Jacob Kruger, preparing burger inside merchant stall

With the right preparation and a few simple, high-quality ingredients, a familiar food can be out-of-this-world good. You’ll find the proof at Cosmo Burger.

Chef Jacob Kruger’s smash burger concept opened at the Lenexa Public Market almost exactly one year ago. But the curated menu that’s sated Market visitors’ cravings for an excellent burger was refined at Cosmo’s original carry-only pop-up kitchen in Dodson’s Bar & Commons in Waldo.

Jacob, who’s worked in the culinary world for about 22 years, had just left another local restaurant when an opportunity arose in the middle of the pandemic.

“I was almost took a step out of the actual culinary world entirely,” he said. “I was maybe looking for a career change, as many were in 2020. But a buddy of mine over at Dodson's Bar & Commons pulled me into the kitchen that was at that point unoccupied, and I started making burgers.”

(You might think Cosmo Burger’s name refers to its top-notch cocktail menu or stellar burgers, but it actually honors Jacob’s late yellow lab mix - “a sweet boy who loved everybody.” You’ll spot little homages to Cosmo around the space, including on the boxes.)

As their burgers grew acclaim from local food critics, Cosmo Burger was ready to expand into a second location at the Lenexa Public Market. Their commitment to quality and simplicity came with it.

“I really don’t like to overdo things as much as possible,” Jacob said. “In my mind, there are only specific ingredients that really should be on a burger to make it just right. I mean, you can add other stuff to it if you want. That’s fine. But when it comes down to the main ingredients you’re looking for, you need some kind of sauce, grilled onion, cheese, pickle. That’s it.”

Their menu: Smash burgers. Tots. Drinks. That’s it.

Smash burgers

It takes just one simple step to transform a traditional hamburger into the singular flavor of a smash burger. Unlike a pre-shaped standard burger, they're born from a ball of ground beef that’s pressed into to a thin patty on a piping hot grill. The browning of the burger adds crisp texture and savory flavor that’s unique to this kind of preparation.

The thin patties also make them easily stackable – you can order up a Cosmo Burger in single, double and triple options.

Smash burgers were a natural choice when Jacob was tasked with coming up with a new restaurant concept at Dodson’s. There aren’t many restaurants in the area that serve this specific kind of burger, and he said he enjoys the nostalgia of the style he ate at diners with friends and family as kid.

“I don’t mind the other options,” Jacob said. “But that’s always been my go-to when it comes to burgers.”

With the cornerstone of his menu decided, the ideal burger was honed through extensive, delicious trial and error.

“A lot of it was just testing and trying another iteration after another,” he said. “The summer before we opened, I went to pretty much every single burger place here in town to try what they were doing and see what burgers they were offering.”

His final product was a smash burger complemented by a potato bun, cheese, grilled onion, housemade pickles and a popular burger sauce that doesn’t overwhelm the other ingredients.

One thing you won’t find on a Cosmo burger: ketchup.

“For one, it’s a very overpowering flavor,” Jacob said. “It will take over just about the entire bite where that’s all you taste. There’s so many other flavors going on there, don’t mute everything else by putting ketchup on it.”

Even burger purists can look forward to the occasional specialty burger on Cosmo Burger’s menu.

“A lot of it is picking up off regional styles of burgers. There are all sorts of different places that I’ve read and studied on. For instance, as a special for the Lunar New Year, we did Rou Jia Mo (a pork belly burger), which is like the original burger that was made hundreds and hundreds of years ago.”

Some are inspired by diners he’s visited on road trips – like the Goober Burger, a peanut butter-topped patty made famous in Sedalia, MO. Cosmo Burger’s twist adds jalapeno jam for a summer specialty burger that’s surprisingly tasty. “It sounds weird, but if you like beef pad thai or beef satay, that’s kind of a similar concept.”

Keep an eye out for more unique spins on the Cosmo burger, especially around big Public Market events. Stretching your culinary creativity, Jacob said, is vital for any chef.

“Making the same thing over and over again, it gets a little repetitive, you’ve got to keep your brain going, throw something at it every now and then.”

Tator tots

The crisp burgers are perfectly paired with crunchy tots – but there’s a stack of reasons why they’re a staple of Cosmo Burger’s menu.

“With having such a small menu, you have to execute everything with not necessarily perfection, but pretty darn close,” Jacob said. “Tots are always good in my books, as I’m sure most people agree with. We do get a lot of questions about why we don’t have fries.

“When we initially started up, it was takeout only. And the thing is, fries, typically when traveling, don’t hold up as well. The tots will stay crispy, and they’ll stay at the point where you’re not losing the integrity of the food.”

“If you try to make fries by hand, it’s very, very labor intensive. It can be kind of tricky with the moisture content of the potato. It’s almost like you have to hire one certain person specifically for making fries.”

And, at a previous restaurant job on the Missouri side, he found out the hard way: people are passionate about their potato-based side preferences.

“Because I was introducing other items and more things to the menu at my previous job, we took away tots and started offering fries. The Waldonians, as I call them, were very upset, very mad to the point where we were getting negative reviews because we took them away. At that point, I thought if I can only offer one thing, it’s going to be tots.”

Craft cocktails

 Cosmo Burger’s slate of craft cocktails from the Dodson's bar program is more varied and seasonal, but relies on the same basic principles as its food menu: high-quality ingredients, purposeful execution.

“They make really great cocktails there,” Jacob said. “So one of the things we were trying to do is figure out how we can recreate those cocktails in a larger batch fashion. Some people are pretty apprehensive when they want an old fashioned but it’s from a keg. Once they try it, they have no idea it was coming out of the keg because of all the time and effort that went into it. We did it just the way I tested and tried and tested all the burgers before coming up with this one. Everything’s very high on the minutiae.”

His top pairing for their burger is the exquisitely executed old fashioned.

“For a burger, that’s 100% what I would go with.”

But if you’re feeling something more tropical or fruit-forward, that’s where Cosmo Burger’s seasonal menu shines – like this summer’s watermelon cooler with a basil garnish. Their slushie machine is churning out refreshing banana rum cocktails and strawberry rosé drinks.

Soon, they’ll start offering bar service on the patio during Friday Night Sound Bites and other outdoor Public Market events. Jacob said visitors can look forward to a mix of standard cocktails and seasonal sips like vodka tonics, sangrias, Negroni spritzes and mango mimosas.

"One of the things we’re trying to build on is creating more of those canned cocktails that we can sell to go,” he said.

Conveniently canned cocktails and outdoor bar service offer Cosmo Burger additional opportunities to meld into the Market’s lively event calendar and interact more with customers – something that’s become a crucial part of Cosmo Burger’s identity.

A winning combination

Jacob said the Public Market’s Lunar New Year Celebration in January 2023 was a great example of how the Market’s community-focused atmosphere brings a different flavor to Cosmo Burger and other merchants.

“When I saw how many people showed up, I was like, okay, that’s the real deal,” he said. “It was really a lot of fun. There were so many folks that had never been here before, a lot of faces I hadn’t seen.

“One of the biggest things is just getting more people to understand what this place is all about and bring them in to experience not just one place, but many different spaces in one space. I’m really looking forward to any other experiences we have for the community like that.”

That dynamic atmosphere proved to the perfect environment when Cosmo Burger was ready to expand.

“There were other options where we can have our own stall,” Jacob said. “But one of the main things we wanted to do is build upon what our brand is. I felt like this would be a great place for that. When I took my first tour here, I got to meet some of the vendors, and I thought they were great people.

“Out here, there’s a lot of traffic just all the time – the softball games, the swim meets; there’s always something going on, so you have a lot of people coming and going. It’s a good way to make your mark without having to, you know, own a full space and be responsible for that. I think it makes for a good setup for a restaurant to kind of get their feet wet.”

One year in, Cosmo Burger has certainly made their mark.

“I just want to say thanks to everybody that’s coming through, and everyone who has been supportive and just given us mentions out of nowhere,” he said. “People just randomly come up to me and tell me, ‘Oh yeah, people were talking about you on the subreddit for Kansas City,’ or ‘People mentioned you on the radio.’"

A big Chief’s fan, Jacob said he’s especially relished in getting highlighted by Sports Radio 610’s burger series and seeing players from Kansas City’s pro teams enjoying a Cosmo burger multiple times.

“Getting a shoutout from Mayor Lucas on social media was great,” he said. “You must be doing something right when the mayor reps your burger.”

“It still comes as a surprise to me when we get any feedback like that,” Jacob said. “And all I was really trying to do initially is create something really simple and just make burgers for a living. What it’s turned into is a lot, but it’s also very exciting. A lot of that is obviously made possible by everybody’s who come through and their continued support.

“That’s one of the main reasons why I’ve probably stuck around in the food industry as long as I have. Not only do you get to see the end result, see what you’ve made, but then you get the feedback from guests. That’ something I’ve always really enjoyed and makes the whole thing worth it.”