(5) Chop House Burgers, 1700 W. Park Row Drive, No. 116, Arlington vs. (3) Charley's Old Fashion Hamburgers, 4616 Granbury Road, Fort Worth
We knew that it would be close, but we never imagined that it would be this close: A knockdown, drag-out fight that, after an initial round of deliberations, left the judges completely deadlocked.
At the Arlington upstart Chop House, we were once again dazzled by the signature Chop House burger -- a 1/3-pound patty, made of ground beef and brisket, and accompanied by a tangy-smoky-sweet, house-made steak sauce that magically helps to draw out the juiciness and flavor of the beef. The cheddar cheese sinfully melted into the meat; two strips of bacon rested seductively on top -- if there is a more elegantly composed burger in the Metroplex, we're not aware of it. (Our only modest gripe: The standard, commercially produced bun that had been toasted a little too long.)
Deeper into the Chop House menu, though, we encountered some slip-ups: The mushroom-Swiss burger had a thick, flavorful slab of cheese, but the sauteed mushrooms lacked verve and the beef was dryer than it should have been; the flat-grilled Blacken Bleu rested on a too-crunchy toasted hoagie roll; and the offbeat-sounding Carolina pork burger, which comes topped with pulled pork, barbecue sauce and coleslaw, was a complete dud. The patty was completely overcooked, and the pork was barely discernible.
At Charley's, on the other hand, there isn't a signature burger, just a range of creative offerings cooked on an old-fashioned griddle inside a barely air-conditioned shack that used to be a mobile home. It perhaps follows that everything we tried was solid -- but nothing sent us reeling the way that Chop House burger did. The avocado burger performed most ably, with the resplendently creamy avocado beautifully offsetting the saltiness of the bacon and the peppery bite of the meat. The Project X burger was a close second: We love the heat of the jalapeños and the forceful but never overpowering kick of the Tabasco-marinated beef. On the other hand, there were slips here, too: Our avocado burger fell apart at first bite; the Greatburger -- which features bacon and Canadian bacon -- suffered from too much mayo.
We rolled up our sleeves -- literally, we were standing in the 100-degree-plus heat on Charley's patio -- and deliberated. And a philosophical divide quickly revealed itself: Do you prefer dazzle or depth? The team with the all-star that carries them to victory, or the one with a bunch of strong and solid players? Again and again, we circled around these impossible questions; and again and again, we came back to that Chop House burger. The smokiness of the cheddar; the farm-freshness you can taste in the beef; that perfect measure of steak sauce, which assures that no other condiments are necessary -- seriously, how could we not advance such a spectacular effort into the final round.
A few of the judges walked away disappointed, but a consensus finally emerged. As with any landmark court battle, though, only time will tell if we were on the right or wrong side of history.
The winner: Chop House