Denise Harris showed up on Day 1 of our Final Four tasting odyssey wearing a hamburger T-shirt and a smile. Small in stature but big in appetite, she knew she was in for two afternoons of amazing flavors. She proved to be a discerning and enthusiastic guest taster who was integral in picking the Final Two burgers.
Here are some of her tasting notes on the Final Four burger joints:
Hopdoddy: At first approach, it looks to be a modern burger place flowing with a line of hungry burger snobs. Could the burgers at the end of this line possibly be good enough to wait in 100-plus-degree weather for? Turns out these burgers aren’t just hype and bun. I ordered the bartender-recommended El Diablo, and it was an explosion of flavors. My taste buds were like, “Hey, stomach. There’s a party over here!” Hopdoddy’s rep must be getting around, too. We spotted Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, and after a warm Hey-there-how-are-you, she informed us that this was her second visit to Hopdoddy, and she was working her way around the menu. But she quickly added that she’s a Rodeo Goat fan, too.
Rodeo Goat: One look at the menu, and I want them all (to be read in the voice of Violet from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory). I settle on the Hot Bastard, because, as they say, you are what you eat. At first look, I thought the burger wasn’t going to be hot enough. But the intensity of flavors was like a burger fireworks show. Sharing was no longer an option. It’s not just good. It’s dy-no-mite! (Yes, sometimes my burger voice goes all J.J. Evans too.) The thick-cut tomato was so fresh it should have been slapped, and the burger was a great balance of greasy griddle-loving and fresh, well-selected toppings.
Chop House Burgers: This Arlington burger mecca offers a smorgasbord menu, leaving no palate without options. Staying with the you-are-what-you-eat theme, I’d like to be an honorary attractive Italian, and decided on the Hot Sicilian. And I’m glad I did. It’s a burger you should try at least once. The tasty New York-influenced combination left me thinking that Arlington is not only better at baseball, but burgers too. It was a packed burger — with Parmesan, provolone, pepperoni, ham, bacon, mozzarella, herb dressing, lettuce and tomato — but well balanced in flavor. The patty, while not as juicy as I has hoping for, was good. The perfectly toasted bun held up to the challenge of holding it all together. If you think the all-beef patty, pepperoni, ham and bacon might be too much, just fuggedaboutit.
Johnny B’s: They’re not trying to re-create the burger wheel here, with their old-fashioned approach to burgers. But it is no surprise that burger purists love them. My double chili-cheeseburger came tightly swaddled in a sweet sourdough bun and slathered in house-made Thousand Island sauce (a bit too sweet for my tastes). The thin and perfectly grilled patties didn’t crumble under the pressure of the piled-high burger. The chili was a nice touch to counteract the sweetness of the bun and the dressing. I wouldn’t suggest the burgers for a first date. Unless you find your date covered in burger love juice a turn-on. In which case, go for the Dragonburger and you will be hearing wedding bells in no time.