DFW Burger Battle: The Final 2

Next week

We reveal the Burger Battle champion of 2013

Posted 7:54pm on Wednesday, Aug. 07, 2013

Want a video peek behind the scenes during the judging of the Final Four? (Plus a cameo from Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price!) Click here for the video! | Plus: Who made it to the Final 2 in the Readers’ Bracket? Click here to find out, and to vote for the people’s champ. For a look back at how each burger made its way to the Final 2, click here.

Five weeks and nearly 100 burgers after we took our first bite, the Final Two have been chosen. But it was hardly a smooth ride.

These two patty palaces stood up to all the scrutiny a 32-burger battle can bear, and round after round, they swatted away the competition with confident creations and a greasy spatula.

In one Final Four matchup, two fine young burger turks — Hopdoddy and Rodeo Goat — locked horns in an epic struggle. Their flavor combinations were exquisite and their burgers beautifully constructed.

The judges were torn. Ripped straight down the middle, actually. But in the end it came down to the smallest of margins — and a stale cornchip.

In the other Final Four fight, Chop House reminded us why it nearly won the 2011 Burger Battle with the finesse of a burger that had been to the dance before. But this wasn’t Johnny B’s first rodeo, either, and the Southlake independent proudly carried the flag for all the great flat-patty burgers that couldn’t make it this far.

It won’t be long now before our judges crown the 2013 champion.

Our readers have been busy, too, eating and debating burgers and rallying support for their favorites. Tom’s, the little burger diner that could in Arlington, gave Fred’s Texas Cafe all it could handle. And another Fort Worth icon, Kincaid’s, summoned all 60-plus years of its good will and great burgering to do battle with Jakes, the Dallas mini-chain. The results may surprise you.

From the old favorites to the new kids on the block, DFW’s burgers have never tasted so good.

Click here for a gobble-icious roundup of our favorite turkey burgers in DFW. Plus: our guest judge, Denise Harris, weighs in.

Rodeo Goat vs. Hopdoddy

Hopdoddy and Rodeo Goat have hardly performed like rookies in our Burger Battle. From first bite to last, they have been the two most self-assured, consistent and flat-out flavorful burgers in this competition. Their Final Four showdown had all the makings of a juicy final.

Hopdoddy, the Austin import located in Dallas’ Preston Center, came flying out of the gate with its Magic Shroom burger. The hormone-free Angus beef was thick and juicy, cooked with just enough pink; the basil pesto was Kelly green and fresh, seducing you with its brightness and flavor. The mushrooms were also en pointe: juicy, well-marinaded and almost meaty tasting. The baked-in-house bun was pillowy but sturdy enough and the goat cheese was heavenly, even if we yearned for a smidge more. In a word, the Magic Shroom was hypnotic. So was the Llano Poblano. The roasted chiles cast a spell of smokiness over the luscious beef and creamy pepper jack cheese, with the apple-smoked bacon adding a nice salty chew. The bun was almost too fresh, absorbing a bit too much of the pepper’s moisture, but taken together with the Magic Shroom, Hopdoddy began with a powerful one-two opening wallop.

But as our judges made their way through Hopdoddy’s adventurous menu, a few cracks began to appear. The El Diablo was devilishly hot, as advertised, but the habanero and serrano chiles, along with the pepper jack cheese, salsa roja and chipotle mayo, overwhelmed any sense of the patty (and the caramelized onions). Sampled separately, the beef was well-seasoned and juicy, but the burger’s firepower proved too much — not to mention the near-bun breach suffered two-thirds of the way through. By contrast, Rodeo Goat’s Hot Bastard was the picture of consistency, balancing scorching heat with beefy burger flavor. Rodeo Goat’s buns stayed intact throughout, and its crisp lettuce and thick-cut tomato provided a nice, cooling counterpoint to the searing toppings and robust cheese. In this firefight, Rodeo Goat, the funky Fort Worth burger lab, edged Hopdoddy.

In a head-to-head battle of BBQ burgers, Hopdoddy’s Goodnight, with Tillamook cheddar, hickory barbecue sauce, caramelized onions, jalapeños and housemade sassy sauce seemed solid but unspectacular when compared with Rodeo Goat’s Cowboy Murrin, which delivered a richer, meatier bite, even if it became a forkburger after the judges began sharing it around.

But in this seesaw battle, Rodeo Goat’s Nanny Goat was no match for Hopdoddy’s Magic Shroom. A mound of herb goat cheese buried all the other flavors in the Nanny Goat, in particular the garlic herb mayo. Both places serve a Terlingua burger, topped with chili and corn chips — their odes to Frito pie — but Hopdoddy’s got a point reduction for a stale corn chip in what would have otherwise been an even matchup.

Indeed, the entire matchup between Hopdoddy and Rodeo Goat felt like a dead heat. Both places are cut from the same burger cloth — they grind their own meat, make in-house sauces, use unbelievably fresh ingredients and bring a chef’s ingenuity to their creations without ever forsaking the true nature of a burger. They both have elevated this competition throughout. And during deliberations, which lasted several days, we considered throwing off the shackles of the bracket format and advancing Hopdoddy and Rodeo Goat both into a three-headed burger finale.

But we take our burgers and our brackets very seriously at DFW.com, so we looked harder, went over all our tasting notes and voted again and again until one point separated the two. Sad as it would be to bid farewell to one of the best burgers we’ve tasted in three Battles, we knew another of our favorites, the Caca Oaxaca, a curveball of a burger with a beef and chorizo blend, fried egg and avocado, would live to grill another day.

Winner: Rodeo Goat

Johnny B’s vs. Chop House

Johnny B’s, tucked away in a Southlake shopping center, is the sort of place you grab a burger before, say, a high school football game. The walls of the place fairly sag with all the sports memorabilia hanging thereupon, and the menu is as straightforward as it gets. Single, double and triple cheeseburgers with a few extras you can add — bacon, jalapeños, chili. But nothing sun-dried or covered in brie.

But where things start to get interesting at this proud burger grill is on the top and bottom of every Johnny B’s burger: a sweet, slightly squarish, sourdough-ish bun cradles their seared flat patties, a mouthful of molten American cheese dripping beautifully from between the beef and bun. Signature Thousand Island dressing is the only other thing you might call a flourish. Johnny B’s advanced this far on precision on the grill and near flawless flat-patty execution.

Chop House, on the other hand, has delivered a different burger experience nearly every time we set foot inside the expanding Arlington restaurant. Chef Kenny Mills’s signature Chop House Burger has had flashes of brilliance, and it has had shaky days where it squeaked by on its beef-brisket pedigree.

The Final Four, though, brought a reversal of roles somewhat. Our Johnny B’s burgers — mostly double cheeseburgers with bacon and jalapeños — were unremarkable. The patties didn’t glisten with a gorgeous coating of grill grease as they had in the Elite Eight round, tomatoes were paler, too. And the jalapenos were piled too high in the middle of the burger, failing to bring the heat with each bite. A heavier hand than usual with the Thousand Island dressing gave the already sweet bun a cloying flavor. The cheese was melted beautifully, and we liked the salty flavor of the patties, but Johnny B’s seemed strangely vulnerable. The Dragon burger (so named for Southlake’s high school football team) packed more punch with its triple-decker burger loaded with jalapeños and tangy chili. But the consistency that Johnny B’s had shown in the early rounds just wasn’t there.

Chop House also took us on a roller coaster ride. Two separate signature Chop House burgers arrived to our table at opposite ends of the enjoyment spectrum. One was cooked to medium perfection, with the bacon crisped nicely, the steak sauce portioned out perfectly and the smoked cheddar melted like a dream. The other was cooked well done, much to our judges’ dismay, with sauce-to-patty ratios all out of whack. It was, in miniature, a perfect example of how Chop House can be brilliant and frustrating all in the same visit.

Other burgers we tried included the Hot Sicilian, which tops the beef patty with Parmesan, mozzarella and provolone cheeses, as well as pepperoni, ham, bacon, an herb dressing, lettuce and tomato, and the 10 Pepper burger, which boasts a plethora of peppers along with pepper-jack cheese and Tabasco mayo. The Hot Sicilian was a surprisingly good combination of flavors, and the toppings were fresh. The 10 Pepper burger surprisingly skimped on the heat but was average overall.

Shaky performances from both of these burger titans threw our judges a bit during deliberations. Do we reward occasional excellence or give the nod to the more solid but less spectacular competitor? The debate lasted a while, but in the end there was nearly a consensus: Chop House had been more satisfying, just often enough, to merit a return trip to the finals.

Winner: Chop House

Here’s a peek behind the scenes into the Final Four judging:

And a look at the magic in Hopdoddy's Magic Shroom Burger.

Check out a quick video that gives you a look at how they make the Dragon Burger at Johnny B’s.

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