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A brief history of hamburgering in North Texas: In 1991, a truck driver named Charley Bell purchased a run-down shack on Granbury Road with plans of opening his own burger emporium. He called it Charley's Old Fashion Hamburgers. At first, business was nothing to shout about, until a notice in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram favorably compared Charley's to Kincaid's and Tommy's -- then the longtime legends on the Fort Worth hamburger scene.
The crowds started coming. Word started spreading. And a new local star was born.
Another history lesson: In 1978, J.D. and Gari Chandler opened a tiny cafe, just off West Seventh Street, named after their dog, where they served up beer, burgers and live music. Over time, it became a funky favorite of locals. In 2005, when the Chandlers' son, "Outlaw Chef" Terry Chandler, formally took the reins, the legend exploded -- and he boldly expanded and reinvented the menu. A fire in 2006 couldn't keep Fred's Texas Cafe down. And even with the expansion of the gleaming West Seventh development all around it, Fred's remains the scrappy iconoclast surrounded by its much more respectable cousins -- and we love it all the more for that.
These are stories worth recounting, especially in light of this week's dazzling Final Four showdowns in the 2011 Battle of the Burgers. These two local legends made it all the way to the semifinals, but so did two places that are just beginning to write their histories: Chop House Burgers in Arlington and Pop's Burger and Fries in west Fort Worth.
Could the newcomers possibly compete against the Fort Worth hamburger gold standard?
Well, yes, they could -- boldly, brilliantly and thrillingly.
And the performance of Chop House and Pop's made us realize something. Just as Kincaid's and Tommy's were once the new kids on the block, untested and overlooked, just as Charley's and Fred's were once dismissed as being not nearly as good as Kincaid's and Tommy's, Chop House and Pop's are now the Young Turks, eager and determined to prove their might in perhaps the most competitive meat market in the country.
Which is to say: Times change. Legends lose their luster. Newcomers avidly arrive to steal the spotlight. The circle of hamburger life carries on.
The question that remains is this: Are we presently at the dawn of a new age of burger-making? Ten or 15 years hence, will local burgers look back upon 2010 as a kind of golden epoch; the year that two local legends -- Pop's and Chop House -- first opened their doors and began building word of mouth?
We can't predict the future. What we can tell you, though, is that both of these newcomers are serving up hamburgers with a confidence and authority that usually takes years to perfect. We can't wait for what should be an exhilarating final matchup between them next week.
One other thing we know for sure: In seven days time, one of these upstarts is going to be crowned the new king.
Here are the results of the semi-finals:
The Mustard and Ketchup regionals Chop House Burgers vs. Charley's Old Fashion Hamburgers: Click here to find out the winner.
Bacon and Pickle regionals Pop's Burger and Grill vs. Fred's Texas Cafe: Click here to find out the winner.