Here's how Round 1 of the judges' bracket played out in the 2013 DFW Burger Battle: Bacon Region. (For the other region matchups, click here on Pickle, Mustard and Ketchup. And click here to cast a vote in the Readers' Choice bracket!)
Hello, funky Austin import. Were here to judge you. Ever since Hopdoddy migrated into the DFW burger market in October 2012, its been high-octane clamor all the way. Could the burger possibly match the hype? We gave the Magic Shroom a whirl. And oh, how it thrilled. The patty was thick and juicy (but not distractingly so). Cooked to a shade past medium, we would have loved it a tad pinker, but the quality of that peppery Angus sang. The sandwich itself was smartly engineered, too: The patty sat between white onion rings, a red tomato, a bed of leaf lettuce (on bottom), and (on top) a generous layer of melty goat cheese, meaty mushrooms, a note-perfect slathering of bright green basil pesto and barely noticeable mayo. There was plenty of juice from the patty and mushrooms, but the bottom layer of veggies stayed crisp. This was bliss on a bun. Heading toward Mixed Up Burgers, we were sure this would be a walk.
As its name suggests, Mixed Ups method is to pack your toppings into the raw patty, then sear it all together on the grill. We chose a trio of our favorites: bacon, mushrooms and blue cheese, which our helpful server assured us would melt well into the burger. She was right. And though it might not have had Hopdoddys gorgeous looks (this was chopped iceberg lettuce, a pale tomato and pickle chips), we were impressed by the hand-formed patty in all its clunky, unevenly seared glory. Served open-faced, with burger on one side, bun lid and veggies on the other, this was a harmonious mouthful when assembled: crispy, salty bacon pieces mingled with scrumptious beef and just-melted-enough blue cheese. A bit later, we added a smear of mustard, which made the harmony soar even higher. This was no Hopdoddy walkover. But then came deconstruction time: the mushrooms were there, but so finely chopped you had to look for them. And because of all the patty-packing and searing, the beef was a little more dry than we like. Well be back for you, Mixed Up. But for now, weve gotta ask: Whos your Doddy?
Lets call it the battle of blue cheese bacon burgers. M&O Station Grills stalwart, slightly stiff bun was slathered with a tomatoey relish sauce of a surprisingly orange hue. Next came rings of raw onion, melted blue cheese, two nicely seasoned patties, a pair of bacon slices cooked till done but still pliable, more blue cheese, shredded lettuce and more of the orangey stuff. The dominant flavor changed with each bite. Sometimes, the blue cheese spoke loudest; other times it was the smokiness of the bacon. The bun, while a bit boring, did its job of holding this creation together.
Grease Monkeys black and blue burger had great visual appeal. The chubby bun was painted with parsley butter and grilled. Just beneath it, a half-dozen crispy onion rings got things off to a good start. But then things faded from there. Bits of bacon were disappointingly small and sparse and the promised blue cheese seemed to be totally MIA, though perhaps it had melted into the slice of Swiss. The burger patty itself was worthy, a good half-inch thick and cooked so there was still a hint of pink, but the overall message of this sandwich was salt and grease. M&O, the west Fort Worth mom-and-pop shop, motors into Round 2.
Winner: M&O Station Grill
If this were a beauty pageant, we wouldve kindly thanked Tim Loves Dirty Love burger for taking the time to participate, held the Exit door open and waved it goodbye. Clearly, on this day, the Dirty Love Burger woke up on the wrong side of the grill. Its top bun was wrinkly and mushy. You couldnt even see the bacon; it was curled up underneath the cheddar cheese, whereas it usually protrudes wildly like Phil Spectors hair. The whole thing just looked sloppy and unappetizing. On the other side of town, OCs double-patty California Burger was sharply dressed in generous avocado slices, iceberg lettuce, fresh tomatoes, grilled buns and a slice of cheddar, all neatly stacked.
But this is a battle that comes down to taste, not looks, and the Love Burgers thin patty of brisket and chuck reminded us why this burger is often cited as one of Fort Worths best: The meat was well-seasoned and well-cooked; the tiny patty had lots of juice, flavor and good pink color. OCs double dose of Black Angus seemed like a worthy try. Heck, the patties were still sizzling when we took our first bites. But the majority of what we tasted was Thousand Island dressing. What little flavor we got from the meat (a little bit of smoke, a little bit of pepper), we liked; there just wasnt enough of it. With Loves burger, the tangy Love Sauce complemented the meat; at OC, the sauce overpowered it. As you know, looks aint everything.
The winner: Love Shack
It doesnt get much more old-school than this matchup between the heritage Fort Worth burger place and the equally storied Texas-based chain. And it doesnt get much closer than this matchup between two jalapeño cheeseburgers: Kincaids Cowtown Burger (Black Angus patty, jalapeño, American cheese, grilled onion, mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions) and the more prosaically named jalapeño & cheese Whataburger (similar ingredients, but raw onions instead of grilled and mustard instead of mayo).
Both made for good flavorful whole bites, although the jalapeños underperformed on the Whataburger and the cheese was too subtle on the Cowtown Burger. Both patties were a little too chewy for our taste, but Kincaids had marginally better flavor. That was enough to give Kincaids the edge, along with the grilled onions, which outperformed Whataburgers surprisingly bland raw onions. After squeaking out a victory over a fast-food chain, Kincaids is going to have to step up its game if it wants to go further in this burger battle.