(5) Chop House Burgers, 1700 W. Park Row Drive, No. 116, Arlington vs. (3) Love Shack, 110 E. Exchange Ave., Fort Worth
When chef Tim Love opened Love Shack in the Stockyards in 2007, he set a new standard for chef-driven burgers in DFW. His signature Dirty Love Burger -- a 50-50 mix of prime tenderloin and brisket, topped with wild boar bacon, a quail egg and his creamy, spicy Love sauce -- was less a burger and more a work of art. Four years later, though, there's a new burger masterpiece in town.
Kenny Mills, a former steakhouse chef, opened Chop House Burgers in Arlington in 2010, and his is one of the best and most exciting creations we have tasted in this year's competition. Succulent and perfectly cooked, the Chop House burger is a sophisticated blend of slow-roasted brisket and chargrilled ground beef, infused with Mills' sweet, smoky house-made steak sauce. The toppings are all first-rate, too. A blanket of melted smoked cheddar comes perfectly draped over thick-cut applewood bacon. The lettuce, tomato and onion are crunchy and fresh. And that steak sauce adds a fourth dimension to the experience. Only the plain white bun, a little too toasty on this trip, keeps the Chop House burger from being perfection on a plate.
Love Shack would not be outgrilled easily, though. The Stockyards Shack -- the original of three locations -- produced a genuinely delicious Dirty Love burger. The brisket and prime tenderloin patty was cooked medium and juicy, with hints of peppercorns within. The boar bacon was chewy and flavorful and the Kraft American cheese was melted beautifully - an old-fashioned twist on a thoroughly modern burger. But the quail egg evaporated into the bun. The Love Sauce got lost. And the patty was a bit on the firm side. All minor missteps, but against Chop House, even the slightest wobble spells defeat.
The winner: Chop House Burgers
(Note to burger fans, Chop House will be closed July 28-31 for vacation. It reopens Monday, Aug. 1)