Here's how Round 1 of the judges' bracket played out in the 2013 DFW Burger Battle: Mustard Region. (For the other region matchups, click here on Pickle, Baconand Ketchup. And click here to cast a vote in the Readers' Choice bracket!)
Freds Texas Cafe, our 2009 champion and a Final Four burger in 2011, served up its signature Diablo piping hot and cooked meticulously to medium, as requested. The first bite sent an exhilarating rush of heat up our nostrils, the chipotle peppers flashing Freds championship form. The beef was juicy, too, lightly spiced and melded nicely with the vinegary mustard, pickles and sweet grilled onions. But our Swiss cheese, the creamy yin to the chipotles fiery yang, wasnt fully melted, throwing off the burgers equilibrium. When the flimsy Mrs Bairds bun gave way on our third bite, the Diablo seemed, for once, vulnerable.
Burger Xtreme, in business just a couple of years, occupies a corner space in a southwest Fort Worth strip mall. Nothing remarkable to see here, except the burgers half-pound beauties served on sturdy 5-inch buns. Our Bacon Cheeseburger Extreme was juicy throughout, cooked to the requested medium, and the patty had more assertive salt-and-pepper flavor. The American cheese was melted masterfully, and the bacon was among the best weve had: smoky, chewy, an able sidekick to the beef. The veggies were fresh, and only a heavy hand with the mustard kept this burger from being an unqualified success.
If this had been a prize fight, we might have called it a draw. Two heavyweights one famous, the other virtually unknown throwing haymakers, neither willing to go down. But in the end, it was the ex-champ that seemed more wobbly, undone by a bun.
Winner: Burger Xtreme
LA stands for Los Angeles, or as close as you can get at a burger counter in a strip shopping center in Valley Ranch. And LA nearly ousted Dutchs home-team burger in this round, delivering a Koreatown-style teriyaki cheeseburger with a fried egg, chopped jalapeños and spicy kimchee instead of pickles. Its all served on a sweet Hawaiian bun similar to Dutchs, so this was a head-on clash.
The egg-jalapeño combination is interesting sort of like a Whataburger with a taquito on top but when you peel back all the toppings, LA Burgers flaw was the teriyaki ground beef. There just wasnt enough of it under all that California flash. Dutchs half-pound burger delivered more beef on a bigger bun. Even with bacon, grilled onions, cheddar, shredded bibb lettuce and deep red tomatoes, a single-meat version of Dutchs Lineman burger tasted primarily of fresh, well-seasoned beef. The thick, half-pound patty crumbled at the touch of a fork. Somehow, this half-pound burger seemed much larger than LA Burgers. And in the Burger Battle, meat matters.
Smashburger, the Colorado-based chain that planted its flag in DFW a few years ago, derives its name from the smashing technique it uses to sear extra flavor into its burgers. But our Classic Smash, which arrived open faced in a basket, was flat as a pancake and largely flavorless, as if it had taken too much of a pounding on the grill. (The partially melted cheese didnt help, either.) The toasted egg bun was scrumptious and gave us a flicker of hope. But with standard veggies and forgettable condiments (ketchup and Smash Sauce), this burger did very little to distinguish itself.
Twisted Root, on the other hand, is a funky Deep Ellum original that occasionally goes too far trying to be different. But on this day, we chose a fairly standard burger, and the half-pounder with cheddar and bacon arrived sizzling, on a buttery-brown bun. The patty was seasoned with a pinch too much pepper, but the delicious burger juice (is there a better word?) made up for it. We got an ample mouthful of crisp bacon with each bite, and the house-made ancho-chipotle ketchup gave this traditional burger a modern flair and a powerful punch of flavor one that easily knocked out Smashburger.
The winner: Twisted Root
In an area with Five Guys, Kincaids and Snuffers within a short drive of one another, Johnny Bs has staked its claim as the hometown burger joint, with Southlake Carroll memorabilia among the wall decorations. Johnny Bs also honors the high school with its Dragonburger, a name that also refers to the jalapeño/chili-with-an-i topping on the triple-decker cheeseburger. An architectural marvel in presentation, it toppled into a forkburger on first bite after the patties proved to be too much for the sourdough bun. But that first bite revealed that the trio of thin patties and the cheese stood out, thanks in part to a delicate hand with the chili and the jalapeños, which provided spice without turning this into a fire-breather. Among the other ingredients lettuce, tomato, onion and Thousand Island sauce only the julienned raw onions didnt get lost.
But the patties beefy flavor was enough to give Johnny Bs the edge over Pappas peppercorn ranch burger, which was greasy and showed pink even though the menu says its burgers are prepared medium well. Except for the peppercorns, which provided a hint of heat, everything about this burger the ranch dressing, the steak sauce, the onion-ring topping tasted less impressive than it looked. The menu says this burger comes with pepper-jack cheese. But we couldnt find it. And we couldnt believe that Pappas, once a Final Four competitor, was slain this easily by the Dragonburger.
Winner: Johnny Bs