A funny thing happened when we announced that four burger joints would be allowed to compete for two play-in spots in our 2011 Battle of the Burgers bracket: A lot of burger lovers decided that they wanted a say in the matter.
Our survey asking you to pick the best underrated burgers in town (or bubble burgers) resulted in an onslaught of interest -- and more than 2,300 votes. At least two burger joints that we hadn't thought of including at all, Magnolia Motor Lounge and Patty Shack Burgers, rallied huge forces of support.
Our original plan was to allow only the top four vote-getters to compete in the play-ins.
But support for Nicky D's and Patty Shack -- the latter of which pulled in more than 200 votes in the final 24 hours of polling last week -- proved hard to ignore. Thus, we altered our plans slightly, and took two burger joints that we had previously guaranteed spots in the Top 32 and forced them to compete in the play-in rounds.
Sorry, Heart Attack Grill and Al's Hamburgers, but sometimes you have to sing for your supper.
The judges descended upon the play-in competitors late last week. As always, the rules are as follows: Judges eat at one place (usually splitting a burger so as not to get too full) and then travel directly to the competing burger joint. Service, sides, atmosphere -- all of it is ignored. The only thing that matters is the burger and how it tastes as a harmonious whole. Often the victor is quite clear, though as this week's play-in competitions showed, sometimes it all comes down to the most minute details and taste factors.
Here are the results of the play-in rounds, along with the final list of 32 burger joints that will be competing in this year's tournament. We'll reveal the complete bracket with seedings and tell you a little more about the individual competitiors in the July 7 issue of DFW.com Ink. That's when we'll also open up voting for this year's Reader's Choice.
And congrats to all the burgers that made the final cut. In a ferociously competitive burger region like Dallas-Fort Worth, you're all already winners in our book.
Mooyah Burgers and Fries, 2720 Texas 121, Euless vs. Chapps Café, 2596 E. Arkansas Lane, Arlington
A study in contrasts: Mooyah, all bright white, yellow and red surfaces, is a national chain that arrived in North Texas in 2007. Chapps, with its wood-paneled counter and roomy eating area, is tucked inside a mostly forgotten shopping strip in east Arlington, a lingering relic of another era. (There are a handful of other Chapps locations in the area.) The burgers, too, couldn't be more different. Mooyah serves up a pair of flat patties, neatly divided by slices of gooey cheddar; Chapps delivers a thick single patty made from Nolan Ryan's Beef. But while Chapps put up a decent showing, Mooyah's burger had any number of ace components -- a thick, perfectly smoky piece of bacon; crunchy, tangy pickle chips; a fluffy, lightly seeded bun. All of those factors more than made up for the fact that the patties themselves lack a certain punch in the seasoning department. The beef at Chapps, meanwhile, bordered on the dry, and the flavorfully grilled onions that came on top couldn't obscure the fact that the burger as a whole lacked any real verve or imagination.
The winner: Mooyah
Al's Hamburgers, 1001 N.E. Green Oaks Blvd., Arlington vs. Nicky D's, 1605 Highway 1187, Crowley
This was not what we would call an especially elegant battle. Nicky D's, an old-fashioned diner in Crowley festooned with wall-to-wall memorabilia and kitsch, serves a big ol' mess of a burger that falls apart in your hands at the first bite. Al's, a one-time drive-in reopened as a storefront in Arlington in 1989, delivers its thin-pattied burger in a paper wrapping with a light sheen of grease. Honestly, neither burger rocked us -- both suffered from slightly substandard toppings, store-bought buns and not-quite-sharp-enough cheddar cheese. But we give the edge to Nicky D's, where we tried the Big Mushroom Cheeseburger, if only for the sheer, greasy exuberance of the concoction -- it's certainly a burger with personality. On the other hand, the double cheeseburger at Al's -- the bestseller, per the menu -- felt like the sort of OK-but-forgettable burger that you could get at a million other places.
The winner: Nicky D's
Tom's Burgers and Grill, 1530 N. Cooper St., Arlington vs. Magnolia Motor Lounge, 3005 Morton St., Fort Worth
Two very solid burger joints, one a relatively new restaurant/bar with a classic-car theme, the other an old-school diner, faced off in this early bracket barnburner. Magnolia Motor Lounge's half-pound Angus beef patties were juicy despite the medium-well grilling. And its signature Kitchen Sink burger (mushrooms, pepper jack cheese, chicken-fried bacon, country ham and a fried egg, plus jalapeño) held together well considering the avalanche of elements. Credit goes to a heavenly bun. But all those ingredients became indistinguishable from each another; we barely tasted the cheese. (We also tried a standard cheeseburger at Magnolia, but it was unremarkable.)
At Tom's, meanwhile, the bacon cheeseburger was a pure classic. You could taste the skill with which the beef had been cooked on the open wood-fired grill. The bacon was perfectly chewy, the brioche bun nicely buttered and toasted. Granted, we would have liked a stronger showing from the cheddar. But the magic here is in the grill, and that was the key to Tom's narrow victory.
The winner: Tom's
Heart Attack Grill, 1718 N. Market St., Dallas vs. Patty Shack Burgers, 510 E. Avenue K, Grand Prairie
This was a matchup of unapologetic patty purveyors. Grand Prairie's Patty Shack, a strip-mall roadhouse just off 360, prides itself on "gourmet burgers" with an array of mix-ins. Heart Attack Grill, the controversial Phoenix chain that recently opened in Dallas, boasts artery-hardening "bypass" burgers. We admire both places' bravado, just not their burgers.
At Patty Shack, the "Jethro," a third-pound patty stuffed with Cajun spices, bacon and bleu cheese crumbles and topped with grilled onions, looked as if it had been run over by a dump truck, with a crusty edge and gaps in the patty. The first few bites yielded an overwhelming wave of bleu cheese, followed by the too-salty hunks of bacon. In the "Shackadelic," a third-pound patty stuffed with bacon, mushrooms and Swiss cheese, we found almost no trace of mushrooms or Swiss. At Heart Attack Grill, the gimmicks -- the mandatory hospital gowns, the waitresses dressed like naughty nurses -- are amusing, but the Single Bypass Burger is nothing to smile about. The half-pound patty with melted American cheese and five slices of bacon was a little dry and the meat lacked any distinct flavor other than pepper. The bacon was a bit limp, the veggies fresh but too cold. If this burger is your final meal, you won't die happy. For now, Heart Attack survives. But it's on life support.
The winner: Heart Attack Grill
And the competitors are . . .
Here are the 32 burger joints competing in the DFW.com 2011 Battle of the Burgers, in alphabetical order. We'll reveal the final seeded bracket in our July 7 issue.
Charley's Old Fashioned Hamburgers, Fort Worth
Chop House Burgers, Arlington
Chubby's Burger Shack, Fort Worth
Dutch's, Fort Worth
Five Guys Burgers and Fries, multiple locations
Fred's Texas Café, Fort Worth
Fuddruckers, multiple locations
Grumps, multiple locations
H2 Burger Co., Fort Worth
Heart Attack Grill, Dallas
In-N-Out Burger, multiple locations
Jackson's Grocery and Grill, Arlington
Jakes, multiple locations
Johnny B's, Southlake
Keller's Drive-In, Dallas
Kincaid's Hamburgers, multiple locations
Love Shack, Fort Worth
Maple and Motor, Dallas
M&O Station Grill, Fort Worth
Mooyah, multiple locations
Nicky D's, Crowley
OC Burgers, Euless and Watauga
Pappas Burger, Fort Worth
Pop's Burgers and Grill, Fort Worth
Red Robin, multiple locations
Smashburger, multiple locations
Steak 'n Shake, multiple locations
Tommy's Hamburgers, multiple locations
Tom's Burgers and Grill, Arlington
Twisted Root Burger Co., Dallas and Roanoke
Whataburger, multiple locations
Wingfield's Breakfast and Burger, Dallas