(3) Keller's Drive-In, 6537 E. Northwest Highway, Dallas vs. (1) Fred's Texas Cafe, 915 Currie St., Fort Worth
At longtime staple Keller's Drive-In in Dallas, we couldn't help but love the resolutely old-school way in which everything is done. The Keller's specialty burger -- the No. 5 -- arrives as all burgers do, deposited on the window tray and wrapped into a tidy package in white tissue paper, like a gift from the past. Between the nicely griddle-toasted, poppy-seed-cloaked bun halves, twin thin patties yield a pleasing measure of flavor and texture, if just a slight hint of gristle. The slice of yellow cheese did hold up well, as did the bun. There was also a big layer of finely shredded lettuce, a couple slices of almost-pallid tomatoes and crinkle-cut pickle chips. All in all, the burger of yesteryear made a good showing -- but it was hardly a performance that could topple a champion.
But then something strange happened: We headed back to Cowtown to sink our teeth into a good-'n'-greasy burger at Fred's Texas Cafe, the winner of 2009's Battle of the Burgers. Only to discover -- Is such a thing possible? Yes, we're afraid it is! It's possible -- Fred's was having a rare off day. That first bite of any Fredburger typically delivers a glistening stream of burger juice. Not on this visit, when both of the burgers we sampled flirted with dryness. Still, the thick patty of the bacon mushroom burger was still a little pink right at the center, just the way we like it. On top, a blanket of Swiss cheese covered strips of bacon and a layer of divine portabello mushroom slices that were infused with black pepper and then sauteed. We also appreciated the grilled onions, the generous pickle and red tomato slices, and the fresh lettuce leaf that didn't disappear under the weight of everything. As a whole, this complex but imperfect sandwich squeaked by the trusty, not-quite-dazzling-enough Keller's burger.
But Fred's, take heed: You're the defending champion, headed into the Final Four against three ace competitors. If you coast, you're toast.
The winner: Fred's