Being a DFW.com burger judge isn’t all about gorging on great burgers and running up the company credit card. There are tough choices to be made, and regrets to live with.
We love the NCAA-style bracket format of our Burger Battle, but we also admit that sometimes it means two extraordinary burgers will face each other in an early round matchup, such as Rodeo Goat vs. Off-Site Kitchen in Round 2. And we will have to wistfully say farewell to one of them. Which is why, at the end of a long and illustrious burger battle, we offer our odes to the burgers that got away.
Off-Site Kitchen’s ‘Do It Murph-Style’ burger
You never forget your first bite. It was an unseasonably cool July afternoon, and I bellied up to one of several wooden picnic tables outside the deliberately ramshackle Off-Site Kitchen. In front of me sat the “Do It Murph-Style” burger, the first — but far from last — meaty creation I’d enjoy during this year’s Burger Battle. I wasn’t really prepared for what I tasted: perfectly grilled meat (a quarter pound of Angus chuck roll and shoulder, ground on-site), a thin layer of melted American cheese, a smear of “secret sauce,” and roasted jalapeño and smoked bacon relish. It was, in a word, dazzling.
Although I try to limit my intake to just half a burger during tournament play, I couldn’t help myself. I devoured the “Murph-Style” burger, practically licking my fingers clean. Restaurateur Nick Badovinus, who opened OSK in early 2012, will soon be relocating OSK to the burgeoning Trinity Groves development west of downtown Dallas. But no matter, I will follow Off-Site wherever it goes, for one more shot at that unforgettable delicacy, the “Murph-Style” burger. 2226 Irving Blvd., Dallas. offsitekitchen.net
Bronson Rock Burgers & Beer
From the moment this Keller spot opened in 2012, I thought it was a contender for Burger Battle ’13. Granted, I was partly seduced by its funky atmosphere, with its biker kitsch and classic macho-movie photos. And I’m a sucker for a place that gets its name from a semi-obscure pop-culture reference (“Bronson Rock” is biker slang for any unconventional tool used to repair a motorcycle, taken from an episode of the 1969 series Then Came Bronson in which the hero uses a rock). But none of that counts in the Burger Battle, where Bronson Rock had a shot in the play-in round. And it served up a more-than-solid Bronson burger with its kicky grilled jalapeños and grilled onions.
It would have beaten several of the early-round burgers I had — but it was quickly toppled by Burger Xtreme, which served a loaded burger I had to begrudgingly admit was better. But it was close — it all came down to underperforming bacon, usually a Bronson Rock strength. Were it not for that, Bronson would have roared ahead in the competition. 250 S. Main St., Keller. bronsonrocktx.com
Goodfriend’s Fungus Among Us
I wasn’t in a very joyful place when we first met. The traffic that night — more maddening than usual — had dragged me down into a very dark place. And when I got to Goodfriend Beer House and Burger Garden, it was jam-packed. The hostess said it might be a 20-minute wait. Blood pressure rose, tears welled up. But she quickly found a spot for me to settle, and while I waited for you to show up, I quietly spied on the crowd — a mix of hipsters and plain ol’ burger lovers, washing down their patties and waffle fries with some good-looking craft brew. Then you arrived at my table, looking unremarkable, with your unmelted Emmental cheese, and your lack of architectural interest.
Ambivalent, I took a bite, and you smacked me right out of my malaise. Your plump patty intoxicated, with a smoky grilled flavor and peppery seasoning, all mingling inside this pink, juicy marvel. A few of your edges were finished with a delectable, crispy sear. The forest mushrooms burst with a savory marinade, and your bun was sweet, sturdy and grilled. My tastebuds were too busy doing the cha-cha to even notice I hadn’t even added one condiment. I was in burger nirvana, and that smoky grilled flavor still lingers as one of the happiest sense memories of my burger-lovin’ life.
You sailed through the first round, and the second, but faltered in Round 3, when your cousin, the Pepper Bomb, over-delivered the heat against the 10 Pepper burger at Chop House. It’s sad when friends don’t get along. But you and me, Goodfriend? I’ve already picked out our matching BFF tattoos. 1154 Peavy Road, Dallas. goodfrienddallas.com
Johnny B’s double cheeseburger
We’ve only met once, but I’ll never forget you, double cheeseburger with bacon from Johnny B’s in Southlake. You were the little engine that could. In fact, you’re the little engine that has defeated burger joints that try to encroach on your suburban territory time and again.
Maybe it’s because I’m from a small Texas town myself, but I was optimistic that this one could go all the way. While the flashy Dragon Burger, with three patties, chili and jalapeños, adds the pizazz a burger champion needs, the no-frills double cheeseburger — with a sweet bun, plump patties and crisp bacon — was the foundation every Texan looks for in a great burger. With the might of a Carroll Dragon running back, it plowed its way past Pappas Burger, Burger Xtreme and TCU favorite Dutch’s to earn a spot in the Final Four. Sadly, it was there that it fell; my fellow judges favored Chop House over my new love, Johnny B’s.
So, while I had to bid it a fond farewell in the competition, Johnny B’s won a spot in this Texan’s burger-lovin’ heart. 2704 E. Southlake Blvd., Southlake. www.johnnybsburgers.com
LA Burger’s LA or K-Town Burger
If there was a dark horse in the Burger Battle, it was LA Burger, a highly regarded Irving transplant from the Los Angeles Korean food-truck scene. LA Burger has every food trend going its way: Asian-Mexican fusion, teriyaki sauce, a huge helping of kim chee (instead of pickles) and a giant fried egg on top.
The slogan is “Discover the Los Angeles Food Scene,” and with one bite I was swept away to Sunset Boulevard and the legendary Kogi BBQ truck. The teriyaki sauce made the burger different from any other burger in the contest, and the kim chee replaced both the lettuce and pickles on the big, sweet Hawaiian-style bun. This burger seemed like one that might go all the way. But it went up against Dutch’s in the first round, spotlighting the LA Burger’s only grave flaw: not enough beef.
All the sauces, pickled toppings and runny yolks couldn’t make up for the fact that the beef itself was a near-afterthought. So instead of carrying food truck culture deep into the finals, LA Burger went home early. Like In-N-Out, Five Guys, Mooyah and many other new burger grills, it needs a sign: “Order a Double. Trust Us.” 10045 N. MacArthur Blvd., Irving, and 1017 E. Trinity Mills Road, Carrollton. www.la-burger.com
Hopdoddy’s Magic Shroom burger
On my list of must-have toppings, pesto, goat cheese and cremini mushrooms wouldn’t make the top five. So how all three ended up on a burger I’ve been daydreaming about is a wonder, really — the handiwork of Hopdoddy’s team of illusionists.
Standing in line at the Austin-based gourmet burger shop in Dallas’ Preston Center, I was skeptical. The staff was a bit too cheerful, the bright signs a bit too proud of the fresh-ground, hormone-free beef and made-in-house egg buns. But the ultimate proof was in the bite. And that was where the Magic Shroom — with creamy Texas goat cheese, meaty cremini, oyster and shitake mushrooms, and basil pesto — exerted its hallucinatory powers. The harmonious combination of flavors was the perfect accent to the juicy medium-rare patty, transforming the Shroom from a burger I wasn’t even sure I’d like into one I truly love. 6030 Luther Lane, #100, Dallas, hopdoddy.com