As we at DFW.com gear up for our second Battle of the Burgers this summer, our antennae are up, detecting chatter about new palaces of beefy goodness in the Metroplex. Recently, we kept hearing a constant drumbeat for a new place in downtown Fort Worth: H2 Burger Co. The burgers made their debut against the backdrop of the debilitating weather of Super Bowl week. But word on the street since has been great: These were handmade burgers with a chefly touch, adding ingredients like cremini mushrooms, goat cheese and pesto. And they were supposedly mouthwatering.
Before we tasted a bite of burger, we had to find the place, which is a little oddly situated inside the Red Goose Saloon, next to Reata.
Last Friday at lunchtime, a gentleman was outside drumming up business like a carnival barker -- giving away $2-off coupons. Score! Turns out, Friday was also the day you get a free risotto ball with your entree. Double score!
Once inside, there's no disguising it -- you're in a bar with a bit of a divey tinge: Western-themed, slightly battered, exposed ductwork, walls dotted with vintage-looking posters advertising things like Davy Crockett Brand Cigars.
We prepped for the burger orgy with the XXL onion rings, a tower of gargantuan buttermilk-bock-battered circles. The batter was perfectly crunchy, with an evenhanded peppery flavor. I'm generally a ranch-dressing hater, but the homemade jalapeño ranch that accompanied these tasted more buttermilky.
The menu is relatively small; a handful of third-pound gourmet hot dogs, and a few more burgers (including turkey and veggie options), which range $7-$10 -- modest prices, we thought, for the fancy creations of Cordon Bleu-trained chef David Hollister.
I ordered the first burger on the menu, the H2 Burger ($7), which wasn't nearly as basic as the name would suggest. This half pound of Angus beef is topped with a fat slice of ripe tomato, arugula, tarragon mustard and balsamic caramelized onions, all packed onto a ciabatta bun. But then I added cheese, which bumped the price up a buck. Among your cheese choices here: Gorgonzola, smoked cheddar, Swiss, Muenster, chevre and the one I chose, Grana Padano, similar to Parmesan.
The result was fantastic. The burger itself was thick, juicy and well-seasoned and came cooked medium-rare (I typically like mine closer to medium, but my taste buds never stopped to complain). The combination of textures and flavors from the toppings -- the sophisticated tang of tarragon mustard, the slight crunch of arugula, a heavier crunch on the browned edges of the cheese -- threw me into a state of burger ecstasy. (Confession: I skipped the onions.)
My burger cohort went for the red chili burger ($9), which comes with chevre. For the chili sauce, you choose from among three heat levels (from "fire" to "blazing" to "inferno"). He's a nut for spicy food, but he played it safe by ordering the Level 1 "fire" sauce. Or so he thought.
From what he could taste of the burger before the chili sauce (no meat, just pure heat) seared his tongue and sinuses, he enjoyed it. The combination of burger juices and sauce did drip out, causing a bit of a bun breach, making him wonder if they shouldn't use a sturdier bun.
In the end, he left about half his burger, unable to work through the heat. If that was Level 1, the burger should come with a warning, or maybe a sampling of the sauces on the side.
Both burgers came with fine thin, hand-cut fries that were heavily seasoned with pepper and sea salt; no regular ketchup here, but house-made stuff made with piquillo pepper. And about those free risotto balls (one per person, and kind of an odd choice to serve with a burger): The risotto inside didn't have a very distinctive taste, but come on, it was cheesy risotto packed inside a fried ball. I'd do it again.
But here, the burger is the thing. And H2 looks like a real contender in the Burger Battle of 2011.