As we have with each Burger Battle, we sought out a civilian burger lover to help us judge the Final Four. We asked readers to write and tell us what made them the most passionate, burger-obsessed fan in the Metroplex. We got a slew of terrific entries this year, but in the end we went with someone who not only name-checked the Hamburglar, but has already picked out the actor she’d like to be portrayed by in a documentary on famous bovine eaters (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Her zeal for burgers, and all that goes on top of them, transcends nearly anything we’ve encountered. Read on.
Denise Harris was at Whataburger after work the other day, along with her 16-year-old son. One of the staffers asked her how she was doing.
Her son whispered: “How often do you come here?”
“This is my pre-dinner burger,” she told him.
“You’ve been eating before dinner?”
“It’s just the burger — not the combo.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“I get snacky after work, just like you get snacky after school,” she said in defense of her pre-dinner ritual.
“I really do think I have two stomachs,” says Harris, who’s a marketing coordinator for Meals on Wheels of Tarrant County … and a competitive eater of sorts. (Some were church contests, one of which required her to eat a plate of spaghetti with her hands tied behind her back. She was the only female, and she won. “Klassy, I know.” And there is the Best Maid St. Patrick’s Day pickle-eating contest, in which she placed second the past two years. “I’m sure the marriage proposals will come flooding in.”)
But let’s move on to burgers. Denise does — a minimum of three times a week, she says. “I’ve always considered the burger the staple in the American diet. It encompasses everything — you have your meat, your bread, your vegetables.”
“I went to Fuel [Bar and Grille] yesterday. It’s a biker burger bar off of Belknap [Street in Fort Worth]. They have a burger that, instead of using buns, they use grilled cheese sandwiches. It’s pretty good.”
Other full-bellied options on her burger-eating résumé:
• Doughnut burger (which has been offered at Mixed Up Burgers and Twisted Root): “I thought it was going to be kind of gross, because I don’t really like glazed doughnuts, but it was actually pretty good.”
• Fried eggs: “When I heard about putting a fried egg on a burger, I thought: ‘Oh, gross.’ But I actually had it for the first time by mistake. [She didn’t see it on the menu description at Red Robin.] And I thought: This is genius. This takes the stigma out of eating a burger at 9 o’clock in the morning; it has eggs in it and bacon. … I guess it’s the extra layer of fat that coats your tongue that makes everything taste good, because now I want a fried egg on everything I order. I want it on my enchiladas, I want it on my chili, brisket …”
Denise pauses. Perhaps unnecessarily, she adds: “I eat like a trucker.”
Denise doesn’t cook, but she knows food from having grown up in the industry; her parents owned restaurants in San Antonio.
She has been in North Texas for about 22 years, and recalls her first memorable burger as a girl. It came from a San Antonio restaurant called Chris Madrid’s. “The burger was huge,” she says. “This was before the big 3- or 4-pound-burger craze hit. I just remember the cheese and toppings coming off the burger a good 6 inches, and they would serve it on a tray, not a plate. It was just such a huge treat. I remember always wanting to try something different on a burger, not just a regular cheeseburger.”
Here’s a bit more from the burger gospel according to Denise:
Name three of your favorite burgers in DFW: “Mixed Up Burgers [in Grand Prairie]. It was amazing, it’s the Amsterdam of burger places — meats and everything you could ever want in a burger, all mixed together. No limitations. Their hamburger there is really, really good. I do like Fred’s; I like their atmosphere and their environment, and their staff is always friendly and eccentric. Their burgers and their fries are good. It’s a regular.
“And for fast food, my typical, pre-dinner Whataburger; it’s a Texas icon. I wouldn’t put it up there with the world’s best hamburger, because anything you can wait in line in your car for shouldn’t be compared to something that takes time, that’s been ground and prepared for you right when you order.”
Ideal burger: “Bacon, cheddar cheese, jalapeños, fried egg, and of course lettuce and tomato. The third-pound patty is the Goldilocks burger. It’s just enough meat to be just right.”
Mustard, mayo or ketchup? “Definitely mustard. Never ketchup. Ketchup belongs on fries, and if it touches the burger should be wiped off within 5 seconds, if not then destroyed.”
What ruins a burger? “I hate an onion bun. And barbecue sauce. It’s the kitchen’s version of Wite-Out. If they have put barbecue sauce on a burger, they must have made a mistake and want to cover it up.”
How does your burger love intersect with your Meals on Wheels job? “Obviously the cornerstone of our program is nutrition and food. So while my idea of a good burger doesn’t always focus on a nutritious option, I see the importance of food. And how food memories can bring someone back to the their childhood years, regardless of how old they are, and how people feel love when they have a prepared meal from someone.”
Editor’s note: There’s a burger in the Meals on Wheels rotation every three months. It’s got cheese on it, but for obvious reasons, it’s lower in sodium and fat than your average burger. Denise augments hers with hot sauce.