Here's how Round 1 of the judges' bracket played out in the 2013 DFW Burger Battle: Ketchup region. (For the other region matchups, click here on Pickle, Mustard and Bacon. And click here to cast a vote in the Readers' Choice bracket!)
In the two years since DFW.coms last Burger Battle, chef Kenny Mills Chop House Burgers has expanded in dramatic fashion. What was once a humble strip mall storefront has consumed almost half of said strip mall, adding a bakery, merchandise for sale, a second Chop House in Mansfield and a new steak and seafood-oriented joint just up the road in Pantego (it opened in January). In that same span of time, Grumps in Burleson hasnt changed a thing its walls are still plastered with newspaper clippings and other tchtochkes. But surely, the arrival of such success for Chop House wouldnt have any bearing on a burger, right?
Grumps served up a pleasing, no-frills cheeseburger, although the buns were just a tad too toasty (the top of ours bore a scorch mark). The cheddar melted lovingly atop a well-done beef patty, with plenty of fresh toppings (lettuce, tomato and pickle) providing crisp contrast with the freshly grilled meat. It was, in a word, solidly burgerrific. Chop House almost claimed top honors in the 2011 Burger Battle, so there was anticipation for this year. The Chop House burger the mouthwatering masterpiece of meat, bacon, cheddar cheese and Mills homemade steak sauce teetered on the line between iffy (whither that tasty steak sauce?) and amazeballs (that special blend of brisket and beef, mixed with cheese and bacon, can make you moan with pleasure). The bun was sturdy, but each successive bite only brought more surprise. The hits outweighed the misses with this burger, but, still, it was startling. Perhaps that old adage is true: Bigger isnt always better. Chop House lives to fight another day, but just barely.
Winner: Chop House Burgers
The good news for Peace Burger: It has a coupla new fans. Next time were in Grapevine and we have a hankering for a good burger, well know where to go. The bad news for Peace Burger: M&M beat em. We tried Peace Burgers Peace, one of 10 $5 burgers offered, and marveled at the hurts-so-good flavors from sliced, raw jalapeños and chopped poblano peppers; a layer of creamy guac helped keep things cool. We loved the fluffy, toasted poppy-seed bun, too. Initially, the half-pound patty looked juicy, sweating like it was on trial for murder. But the juiciness was only a facade. Although it had a good, robust flavor, the patty was a bit too dry, even for a well-done burger.
It was no match for M&Ms burger, served on a grilled Rainbo bun smeared with yellow mustard. A mix of ground beef and brisket, the 8-ounce patty oozed juice and had a nice, warm pink center and terrific peppery seasoning that accented the pattys hearty, beefy flavor perfect, just perfect. Icing on the cake was fresh, crisp lettuce, large tomato slices, grilled jalapeños that added a bit of fire but didnt distract and grilled onions that added a touch of sweetness. In short, Peace, out.
Winner: Maple & Motor
First up was the Jakes mushroom-Swiss burger, and it was love at first sight. A towering two-patty behemoth, piping hot, oozing cheese and shrooms, smeared with mustard, topped with tomato slices and pickle chips even underneath that confounded poppy-seed bun, it nearly incited a foodgasm. The first bite was nearly as good as it looked, solid seasoning in the beef melding with the sunny tang of yellow mustard. But the next few bites seemed strangely devoid of flavor. A breakdown of the components revealed a gloriously juicy but inconsistently seasoned patty. Mushrooms were lackluster, and the temperature of the burger caused the lettuce to wilt early on.
At Goodfriend Beer Garden & Burger House, we ordered the whimsically named A Fungus Among Us basically its mushroom-Swiss, only this Swiss has a fancy-pants name, Emmental. The sandwich was surprisingly simple-looking. The bun was hearty and glistening, but sitting beneath it were two slices of unimpressively unmelted Swiss (er, Emmental). Hmmm. Cheese infraction? But a few bites in, all was forgiven. The plump patty intoxicated with a smoky grilled flavor and peppery seasoning, all mingling together inside this pink, juicy marvel. To boot, a few of the edges delivered a delectable, crispy sear. The forest mushrooms burst with a nearly meaty flavor, and the bun was good, too sweet, sturdy and grilled. Sorry, Jakes. Sometimes love at first sight burns out fast. Met somebody new, and it might be true love.
The winner: Goodfriend
(4) Tommys , 5228 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth vs. (5) Kellers Drive-in, 6537 E. Northwest Highway, Dallas
Combined, these two burger shrines one from Forth Worth, the other from Dallas have been grilling up magic and memories for nearly four times as long our youngest burger judge has been alive. Rarely do we encounter this much burger wisdom in one matchup, so we expected timeless taste. Sadly, only one of these classics delivered.
At Tommys, a hand-formed, thick patty was the perfect foundation for the Junkyard burger, which included American and cheddar cheeses, mushrooms, jalapeños and grilled onions. Perched atop all of that were two pieces of bacon that could have used a few more minutes on the grill. Despite its moniker, the Junkyard isnt messy. Stable and easy to devour, each bite of this burger highlighted another of its stellar ingredients. Unfortunately for Kellers Drive-in, time seemed to have gotten the better of its No. 5 Special, which came to us with two grayish, thin patties sitting beneath a too-green tomato and messy poppy-seed bun. The barely there American cheese couldnt save the day. And the tangy special sauce, which added a jump-start, couldnt get this relic in gear, either. Tommys cruises to Round 2 at the top of its game, proving a classic doesnt have to be boring.