Redesigned restaurant takes on a more relaxed and American menu

Sara Benner

[Updated at 10:56 a.m., corrected attribution]

“Well, we’ve decided to close the Good Knight … We’ll see you around,” tweeted popular restaurant The Good Knight on its three-year anniversary. But out of the gourmet gastropub’s ashes comes Sputnik, an American-style burger joint with a funny Russian name.

Randall Stockton, former owner of The Good Knight and current owner of Sputnik, is also the owner of many other restaurant ventures, including Rio Rita and Live Oak Barbecue — the closest thing Austin has to a food trailer chain. In the last year, he has opened seven venues. In the wake of The Good Knight’s closing, Stockton decided to open his latest project, Sputnik, in the The Good Knight’s location.

Originally, Stockton and his wife Donya intended to make The Good Knight’s space into a burger place. But fate’s intervening hand distracted the Stocktons from their initial vision. Instead of going with their instinct toward a relaxed burger joint, they opened a gastropub — a bar that pairs cocktails with gourmet entrees.

With only 25 seats and a tiny kitchen, going gourmet wasn’t necessarily the best logistical choice for their restaurant space. In the long run, the restaurant was too small to support The Good Knight’s intricate menu and turn the tables over often enough, Stockton said.

“Despite the fact that we wanted to do a burger joint, when we tried something different instead, we’re still very proud of The Good Knight menu. I thought it was really great food and there were plenty of people that really enjoyed it, but logistically it just wasn’t working out,” Stockton said.

The new restaurant’s menu, consisting of burgers, hot dogs and fries, is a lot like the restaurant space itself: deconstructed and simple with a sexy twist. The dimly-lit space is filled with oversized, dark wooden booths and a bar that spans the length of the restaurant. The walls are decorated with scantily adorned pin-up girls, which Stockton says are of his wife’s choosing.

Brandon Stratton has been the head chef of The Good Knight since he moved to Austin two years ago. Stratton will continue his reign over the kitchen as head chef for Sputnik. Although The Good Knight’s menu was complex, with favorites like shepherd’s pie and pork belly confit, Stratton said he feels Sputnik’s down-to-earth burgers will stand out among specialty gourmet burger enterprises in the area.

“In my opinion, burgers aren’t supposed to be gourmet. They’re not supposed to be specialty. They’re supposed to be comfort and that’s what we focused on. There’s no pretentiousness going on here,” Stratton said.

With simplicity as his mantra, Stratton has created recipes for Sputnik that are traditional yet unique. The burgers are 8 ounces, juicy, hand-formed, freshly ground and seasoned 80/20 chuck patties, served with pickles, onions, lettuce and tomato on a delectable brioche bun from the HearthStone Baking Company.

“When I’m craving comfort food and want a hamburger, I don’t want a hamburger that’s got fried egg on it, with this and that. I just want a good, old-fashioned, burger,” Stratton said.
As the weeks go on, Sputnik will add more items to its menu. The item Stratton is most excited for is his favorite burger, known as the Altered Beast, a tribute to the secret, off-the-menu, In-N-Out Animal Style burger. The Animal Style burger is a mustard-cooked patty topped with grilled pickles, onions, extra cheese and In-N-Out’s special sauce, whereas the Altered Beast is a Sputnik patty topped with grilled onions, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and a “special sauce” of its own. Just like its In-N-Out muse, the Altered Beast is not on the menu. However, Stratton is willing to serve it up to those who order it by name.

Though small and with a limited menu, Sputnik’s flame-kissed American fare is a welcome addition to the East Side food scene.