Master P wants to “Make Em Say Uhh” again, this time when they bite into one of his burgers.
The restaurant specializes in griddle-crisp burgers with some over-the-top toppings and a special sauce, plus chicken and waffles and milkshakes (see menu below).
It’s based in part on a fictional restaurant from Miller’s latest movie, “I Got the Hook-Up 2,” released earlier this summer. But Big Poppa Burgers is no movie set or one-off pop-up.
Miller said the burgers are inspired by memories of good times around his grandfather’s grill when he was growing up. The restaurant concept itself is part of a broader approach to business he’s been working across different fields.
“It’s a family restaurant, that’s what it’s about,” Miller said in a phone interview from Los Angeles.
“My family loves to cook,” he said. “As a kid, hamburgers were my favorite food. It was the way my grandfather cooked them up. I’d always watch him. He seasoned it well, he grilled it well, he put some sauce on there, that was a perfect burger.”
Big Poppa Burgers does not look like a celebrity-driven restaurant. The address had been home to Italian restaurant Bertucci’s for generations (the B for Bertucci’s is still visible in its decorative tile floor).
Today, this corner joint feels like a mom-and-pop (or maybe a mom and big poppa), homespun and a little rough around the edges. That means it fits right in along this part of Harvey, a hard-working stretch of industrial riverfront between a clutch of shipping businesses and blocks of small, suburban homes. It feels a world away from the hot spots of the modern New Orleans dining across the river.
Subtract any allure of a New Orleans mega-star involved here, though, and this restaurant would be worth seeking out for its burger.
I visited in the middle of a mellow lunch shift when groups of guys filled a few booths for workday meals and a steady flow of couples and solo diners came through.
Of course I started with the namesake Big Poppa Burger. This is a burger for a big appetite. It has a thick, hand-formed patty, with irregular crannies giving alternating texture. The Big Poppa sauce here is a custom barbecue sauce — New Orleans style, thick, dark and sweet with a hint of hickory flavor.
Fried onion rings are a fairly familiar topping option, and they’re available here (or grilled, or raw). But Big Poppa Burgers ups the ante with breaded, deep fried bacon too.
Bacon seems like the last food that needs this treatment. But in this case, the effect is a double-crisp, extra salty layer of bacon between the ample burger and the lettuce and tomato. The kaiser roll was up to the task of keeping it all together until the sauce-dripping end.
That sauce ties into something bigger at work at Big Poppa Burgers than even fried bacon burgers. The barbecue sauce and a related Big Poppa Burgers hot sauce are both bottled for sale as a retail line.
Cross promotion and multilateral marketing have been a hallmark of Miller’s career. Any catchphrase he coined in a song – right back to that signature “uhh” – was worked across the enterprise. Performers signed to No Limit Records were forever turning up in the songs and music videos of others on the label. Miller is taking a similar approach to the burger game.
“I started out in the music business, but my longevity is about creating brands and businesses, and you utilize your power to promote all your brands,” he said. “You only can do that if you own something. This is about having a family restaurant and putting that business in the community where you come from.”
Miller grew up in the Calliope housing projects, also known as B.W. Cooper. The record label he eventually created, No Limit Records, was a hit factory that helped put New Orleans on the map for hip hop. By 1998 it was being touted as the biggest independent label of any genre.
Miller expanded into many different lines of business, including movies. “I Got the Hook-Up 2” is a sequel to a movie from 1998 that starred Miller alongside a host of other rap artists (Ice Cube, Mia X, Snoop Dogg, Mystikal, C-Murder, Fiend, to name a few).
Two decades later, “I Got the Hook-Up 2” starts out with two buddies who run a burger restaurant, Big Poppa Burgers. In the movie, the restaurant is shut down and hijinks ensue.
In real life, Miller thinks Big Poppa Burgers is a concept that can grow, and he hopes to plant more across town. The menu is short so it can be readily duplicated, he said.
“We’re not trying to do everything,” he said. “People don’t always realize you have to start small and build it, you start with great taste and have people start associating your name with that taste.”
3300 Fourth St., Harvey, 504-328-8089