Caterer to Coldplay, Van Halen and more about to turn Lamar Lounge menu up to 11
By Tad Wilkes, Nightlife & Lifestyles Editor
Charles Owens has come full circle, from working at Harvest Cafe, to launching Proud Larrys’, to jetting around the world catering food for everyone from the cast of Lost to the New Kids on the Block. Now, he’s the guy behind the wildly popular burger at the Lamar Lounge in Oxford. HottyToddy.com talked with Owens, who is about to really crank up the lounge’s menu to a new level.
HT: Tell us a little about your culinary background and experience.
Owens: I began my culinary career at the Harvest Cafe here in Oxford in 1991. The Harvest was a vegetarian restaurant located where Old Venice is now. I then moved to Leadville, Colorado, for three winter seasons, and I worked at Club Med in the Copper Mountain ski resort. In 1993, I opened Proud Larrys’, where I was the kitchen manager for a few years. In 1994 I left for Charleston, South Carolina, where I attended Johnson & Wales University and graduated summa cum Laude in 1995.
I then moved to San Francisco where I lived and worked for three years. My main focus was to gain experience in fine dining, and to that end I worked at Eos-an Asian fusion restaurant, under the guidance of Chef Arnold Wong. After San Francisco I left for New Orleans where I cooked for another year before moving on to Atlanta. It was in Atlanta where I began my catering career and was sous chef at Legendary Events, Atlanta’s premier catering company. It was also during my time in Atlanta when I got involved with tour catering. I have worked for the the past 13 years as a caterer for major music tours including the Eagles, Van Halen, Coldplay, Lady Gaga, New Kids on the Block, and Kid Rock, just to name a few.
I also (with Global Infusion Group out of London) traveled to China to cater for the World University Games and the Asian Games, feeding upwards of 14,000 people per meal for weeks at a time. I also lived in Honolulu with my wife Kellie, where we opened Rock ‘n’ roll Kitchen, a catering company for film and television work. We were there for a year and catered many movie and TV shows including Lost. I returned to Oxford with Kellie in 2005, and we have been here ever since.
HT: What approach did you take to the menu at the Lamar Lounge, and how have you tweaked it since opening?
Owens: My approach to our menu at the Lounge is less is more. It has been my experience that the simplest things in foodservice are the hardest things to do well. We opened with just a hamburger and a veggie burger, although we quickly added a chicken sandwich, a beer-battered shrimp, and a shrimp etouffee. While all these things are “simplistic,” there is quite a bit of labor and thought that goes into these dishes. We have the only handmade veggie burger in Oxford (quinoa, black bean and sweet potato).
Our blackened chicken sandwich comes with a tomato bacon jam, avocado salad, and creole aioli. Our etouffee is a labor of love that starts with a dark roux, shrimp stock, and finished with a shrimp demi-glace. All of our shrimp are from the coast, and I endeavor to use as many locally sourced ingredients as possible. Our tomatoes come from a green house in Tupelo, so they will be fresh and nice all winter.
I feel like there are many restaurants in Oxford and quality ones at that. However, I feel that there is a sameness to many of them, and we want to offer something a little bit different. Our handcut french fries are properly blanched at a low temperature early in the day and then refried at a high temperature for service, thus yielding a crispy, beautiful fry. Our menu is technique-driven, and I think it is reflected in our food.
HT: We’ve heard rumors that y’all are adding a walk-in and expanding the menu. What are your plans?
Owens: Yes, we are building a walk-in as we speak. The main reason that the menu is so limited now is simply a lack of refrigeration space. Once the walk-in comes online, the menu will expand to a full-service restaurant menu. Along with the walk-in, I am getting a smoker so we can do BBQ and other items from the smoker. I’m very excited about that. People can expect to see, along with our current items, ribs, pulled pork, and smoked chicken. I will be adding a variety of salads and appetizers, as well as a few more entrees and one top secret sandwich, which will blow people’s minds. i will also have some housemade deserts to round everything off.
HT: What do you think it is about the Lamar burger that has made it so popular?
Owens: Well, we use 100% certified Angus beef. This is quite simply a higher quality beef than most restaurants are using. We treat it gently and only season it with salt and pepper. Also, we cook the burger to the proper temperature. If you order it medium that’s what you will get—not mid-well, etc. It is also a full 8.5-ounce burger, so it’s quite a sandwich. i think people are glad to get a fresh, handmade burger, cooked exactly how they want it and properly seasoned. Again, less is more.
The Lamar Lounge is located at 1309 North Lamar Boulevard, and is open Monday through Wednesday, and Saturday, from 11 a.m. to midnight, and Thursday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.