Burgers are big business in North Texas.
Beyond our homegrown institutions like Kincaid’s, Twisted Root or Goff’s, the past five years have seen a flame-grilled incursion of considerable scale, as national chains ( In-N-Out, Five Guys, et al.) and local restaurants such as The Grape offer upscale riffs on the humble hamburger, and outfits based elsewhere in the state, such as Austin’s Hopdoddy or Houston’s Beck’s Prime, have poured into the DFW area like so much secret sauce.
Add another newcomer to the ever-lengthening list of burger specialists: Grub Burger Bar, a College Station export that opened its first North Texas location on Dallas’ Greenville Avenue in November.
Like many of the recent arrivals, Grub Burger Bar puts an emphasis on fresh food served quickly, with a few interesting twists (booze-spiked milkshakes, anyone?) to distinguish it from the rest of the patty-peddling pack. (“Grub” has a dual meaning — in addition to slang for food, it’s an acronym meant to sum up the chain’s business philosophies: “good people,” “real food,” “unique vibe” and “big flavors.”)
With those guiding principles in mind, Grub positions itself as a sleek, fast-casual joint with an extensive, occasionally surprising menu, and, of course, tasty burgers.
Grub was conceived in 2012 by partners Jimmy Loup and Tom Kenney, who cut their teeth working for Outback Steakhouse, and is expanding rapidly across the South. Apart from existing Grub Burger Bars in College Station and Houston, a new Grub just opened in Atlanta, and locations are planned for Lafayette, La., and, in the Northeast, Philadelphia before year’s end.
Cool without being overly pretentious, Grub doesn’t establish a “unique” vibe so much as a comfortable one. Blond wood abounds, contrasting nicely with cement floors, a handful of flat-screen televisions, exterior glass walls and jet-black tiles, allowing the just-hip-enough soundtrack — Coldplay, Led Zeppelin, Maroon 5 — to subtly underscore your meal.
The burgers — a mixture of certified Angus chuck and brisket, ground fresh daily in-house; the fluffy yet substantial buns are baked from scratch every hour — are inventive without being insane. Indeed, the craziest concoction here might be the scorching ghost burger, a $7 wonder topped with pepper jack cheese, ghost chile sauce and grilled jalapeños that, for just a buck more, is served with an ice cream chaser.
On a recent visit, my wife and I kept to the more traditional offerings, for the most part. I sampled the basic front porch burger ($6), a medium-well patty topped with lettuce, tomato, mayo and mustard (you can add a slice of Cheddar cheese for 75 cents). The meat is juicy and flavorful and well-seasoned. The bun holds up well, offering terrific flavor without collapsing into mush in the final few bites.
My wife found the Lockhart legend burger ($7.75) — dressed with Cheddar, applewood-smoked bacon, a house-made Dr Pepper barbecue sauce, hand-battered onion rings and dill pickles — to be extremely satisfying. Its myriad components remained intact from first bite to last. (If you’d rather skip the chuck/brisket blend, Grub has you covered: turkey, tuna, chickpea and salmon burgers are also on the menu, ranging in price from $7.75 to $9.50.)
The menu is split among burgers, salads, sides and “snacks,” which, if you’re seated at the bar, could easily make for a meal full of small plates, burgers, salads and sides.
We tried a basket of the bucket list chicken bites ($6.50), a fistful of lightly breaded nuggets served, on this visit anyway, with a pair of sauces (one sweet, one spicy).
The crawfish pistolettes ($6.50) were an unexpected delight — evoking a gumbo sandwich, the dish serves scratch-made etouffee wrapped in a French bread roll and baked. It’s served with Mississippi comeback sauce, a kicky, tangy condiment that adds real depth of flavor to an already enjoyable appetizer.
Alongside our burgers, we enjoyed a couple of Grub’s “spiked milkshakes” — my bourbon and caramel shake ($6.50), which contains exactly what its name promises, was sublime, a perfect mix of alcohol and sugar, topped with whipped cream and frighteningly easy to drink fast. The mint-chocolate chip shake ($6.50) packs a punch in its own right, thanks to vodka, coffee liqueur, creme de menthe, chocolate and Andes mints stirred in. (The more sober-minded can get virgin milkshakes in a variety of flavors for $4.50.)
With so many burgers vying for your stomach’s attention, it’s getting the details just right — something Grub Burger Bar does with every bite — that separates the contenders from the pretenders.