The old part of downtown Arlington is looking new again, thanks to a flurry of new-restaurant activity. The popular Babe's Chicken Dinner House was recently joined by Mellow Mushroom and Twisted Root Burger Co., and over Labor Day weekend, the mean-machine-themed Grease Monkey Burger Shop & Social Club came roaring in.
Less than two months into its opening, Grease Monkey is already attracting huge crowds. Go on the weekend, and you're bound to wait about 30 minutes for your burger.
Weekend mob scenes are easily attributable to the restaurant's spacious patio and a bar that extends outside. Sitting at the bar is nice: You can have a burger and beer, watch a sports game on one of the several flat screens, and still be outdoors.
Opened by first-time restaurateur and lifelong Arlington resident Greg Gardner, Grease Monkey is a few blocks from the University of Texas at Arlington; still, it's not dominated by college kids. On both weekday and weekend visits, plenty of children were running around, and couples in their 30s and 40s shared burgers and fries.
Better burgers are nearby, at Tom's Burgers & Grill and Chop House Burgers, but Grease Monkey's are solid, if not occasionally over the top. Let's just say that if you're into Magnolia Motor Lounge's nutty devotion to having fried with that, Grease Monkey is your kind of place.
On the small menu made up of six burgers (all of which cost $7.75), along with nachos, salads and fried sides, there was the chicken-fried burger, glistening with a batter-dipped patty, along with the chicken-fried bacon-barbecue burger, topped with batter-coated bacon, cheddar cheese, fried onion strings and a chipotle-infused barbecue sauce. Even the star ingredient of the portobello burger comes battered.
We chose the restaurant's signature burger, the Angry Burger, which came with two healthy-size strips of roasted green chile peppers and a melted slice of pepper jack cheese. It had a few neat twists: A red chipotle mayo sauce gave the burger a delightfully tangy taste, and a handful of fried jalapeño slices gave it a fiery bite.
We requested that the burger be cooked medium; it arrived medium well, with just a few traces of pink inside. But the half-pound Angus beef patty, cooked on a flat-top grill, was seasoned well and had a pleasantly smoky flavor. The sweet sourdough buns were what made it so good: thick, soft, toasted and swathed with a mix of cilantro, honey, lime and jalapeño.
Chicken nachos ($6.99) were less impressive. A quartet of flat, deep-fried tostada chips were topped with cheddar cheese but only a tiny bit of grilled chicken. Edges of the chips looked as if they had been blow-torched.
A much better chicken dish was the grilled chicken and strawberry salad ($6.99), one of five salads offered. It was mammoth, piled high with iceberg lettuce, generous chunks of grilled chicken, strawberry slices and crumbled feta cheese. It was supposed to come with almonds, but none were present. On the side came a thick strawberry vinaigrette, more tart than sweet.
Three sides -- fries, onion strings and chipotle sweet potato tots -- were offered individually or on a sample platter called "Up for a Threesome?" ($5.99). The fries were hand-cut thinly, some with skins still on, but were soggy and limp. Onion strings were better, crispy and seasoned lightly with salt and pepper. The sweet potato tots were good, too, crunchy on the outside, tender inside, although the chipotle element was hard to detect.
Named after a slang term for a car mechanic, and located next to the 1930s Vandergriff Chevrolet building, Grease Monkey has an intense vehicular motif. At the counter where you order, menus are painted on hanging car hoods. Inside the dining area, brightly colored tables are held up by car wheels and the walls are lined with plywood and decorated with hubcaps and grilles.
Best of all: the condiment bar, made out of the front of a lipstick-red Kenworth.