Every once in a while a friend finds themselves outside of the cozy confines of St. Louis and on the trail of a burger that the parishioners of the Church of Burger (juicy, salty, and exquisitely charred be thy name) need to know about. My friend Matthew Ward (a gentleman of the finest order, collector of diverse tallents and interests - and most importantly - purveyor of tasty adult beverages for StewedSTL) recently found himself back in his home state of Texas, digging into one of the finest burgers in the Lone Star State. He reports:
I was recently visiting a friend in Dallas, when our discussion turned to plans for Sunday brunch. His first suggestion was a cozy, long-lived neighborhood wine bar/bistro nearby (in the hip Lower Greenville area): the Grape. And—oh yeah, he mentioned—they have the best burger in Texas.
Texas Montly, the self-proclaimed “national magazine of Texas” covers life, politics, and culture in the state. While there’s much to recommend the publication, particularly if you are a current or former Texan (and I do fall in the latter group), the magazine’s always meant one thing to me:
The magazine is famous for its yearly list of the top 50 barbecue joints in Texas. Texas is a (self-evidently) a big state, and it’s a state that takes the cuisine of barbecue seriously, so Texas Monthly’s list represents the crème de la crème of the state’s unique barbecue heritage.
Thus it was that when Texas Monthly in 2009 decided to establish a definitive list of the best of another Texas favorite, the hamburger (paywalled; sorry), I took notice—burgers being, if not at the top of my list of favorite foods, certainly in my personal top five.
But that was several years ago, and, although if you had asked me what the best burger in Texas was, I would have probably remembered that it belonged to a Dallas bistro, the subject hadn’t crossed my mind in some time. Having been reminded of this, I quickly made my preference for a visit to the Grape known, texted Andrew to let him know the opportunity I had before me to honor the Church of Burger, and set my heart on the #1 burger in Texas.
It was quickly established that, given the lack of parking in the neighborhood, a half-mile walk on a warm Texas September afternoon was the most effective way to reach our destination. I had twisted my ankle a few days prior due to a literal misstep, but for the best burger in Texas, I decided it was worth my while to man up.
As I mentioned, the Grape is cozy. There’s probably not much need to dwell on the place, but I’ll mention that I ordered a glass of Côtes du Rhône (in retrospect, something big and Californian might have been a better fit), and quickly claimed my burger. I’ll also note that I was very impressed with service at the Grape, which was friendly and efficient. My needs were generally anticipated and met with no effort on my part. The staff didn’t have the creepy, ninja-like manner of some high-end restaurants, but it was the kind of service that’s so good that you only realize it in retrospect.
The burger in question is the Grape’s “Classic Cheeseburger”. At the time of the publication of Texas Monthly’s list, the burger was only available as part of the restaurant’s Sunday brunch menu; thanks to the media attention, it’s now also available for Sunday and Monday dinner, and listed prominently as “‘Best Burger in Texas’ —Texas Monthly”, with the “classic cheeseburger” designation listed in smaller type below.
The burger arrived partially open-faced. Here are the burger’s constituent elements, starting from the bottom:
- the lower portion of the burger’s pain au lait bun
- house dijonnaise
- 10 oz., house-ground chuck-eye
- Vermont white cheddar
- house-cured peppered bacon
- the upper portion of the bun, askew
Salad stuff was piled to the side:
This is the Church of Burger, not the Church of Fries, but the accompanying fries bear mention: I thought they were pretty much perfect. They were clearly fresh cut, in a size that gave the perfect balance of golden crisp fried outside and warm, soft potato inside. The outside was fried to a wonderful crisp (perhaps double-fried?). So far, so good.
I grabbed the lettuce and tomato and assembled the burger (eschewing the onion as a matter of personal taste), noting that the lower portion of the bun already seemed soaked with burger runoff and dijonaise. I gave the whole assembly a squeeze to compact it to the point that I could take a good first bite, and laid into the thing.
The best thing about the burger was its juiciness. The meat was clearly high quality, with a good, natural beefiness, but it was by no means lean. Between that, the natural juiciness of the perfect medium rare to which the burger was cooked (just as I requested), the dijonaise, and the extra fat of the melted cheddar, I was thankful for the availability of a stout, cloth napkin. In St. Louis terms, I found it somewhere between the classy restraint of the Five burger, and the joyful, fatty hedonism of the Home Wine Kitchen cheeseburger.
Most of the rest of the elements played second fiddle to that wonderful juiciness. The bun (at least the top part) was firm enough to stand up to the mass of burger, but not crusty, and had a pleasant sweetness. The dijonnaise mainly offered texture; I didn’t notice much mustardy sharpness. The bacon and cheese added some needed saltiness, the tomato a burst of acidity, and the perfectly-sized lettuce leaves a freshness that cut through the fat. The pickles, though, managed to stand out, adding useful elements of sweet, sour, and horse radish sharpness.
I had some complaints, though. In particular, the beef struck me as under-seasoned, though the toppings helped somewhat to compensate for that. The bacon got a little lost in the larger burger context; I think a thicker cut would be beneficial. I found the tomato particularly disappointing: it was mealy and bland. Perhaps the end of Lemley’s tomato season is approaching; perhaps the Grape sources their tomatoes differently these days. Given the generally high esteem the tomatoes are held in, I’m inclined to write the tomato off as bad luck.
Those quibbles aside, I give the burger high marks over all, primarily on the merits of its lovely juiciness, due in no small part to a judicious combination of sauce, cheese, and beef. And credit to some of the toppings, like the lettuce and pickles, that also helped the burger stand out.
Texas is a pretty damned big state, and, judging from the rest of Texas Monthly’s list, there’s no shortage of good burgers. I think it’s clear that, just as St. Louis has a number of worthy contenders for the title of “Best Burger”, declaring a single best burger in the state of Texas is going to be fraught with controversy. I’ll give TM credit, then, for avoiding the temptation to pick a burger that pulls crazy stunts, and choosing what ended up being a straight-forward, great all-around burger. Certainly the Grape’s burger is good enough to be an asset to any city, but even if it were transplanted to, say, St. Louis, I don’t think it would be unambiguously the best burger in town.
Which is to say: I suspect there probably exists a burger in Texas that’s better than this one, and I suspect there are a fair number that are comparable. But if you’re in Dallas on a Sunday or Monday and want some juicy, beefy goodness, I don’t think you’d regret stopping by the Grape and savoring their classic cheeseburger. I could certainly go for one right now.
Growing up, I was quite the picky eater, and my burger preferences developed from that—usually, my standard burger consists of ketchup, pickles, cheese, beef, and bun, eschewing things that I historically didn’t like, such as lettuce, fresh tomato, mustard, mayo, and onion. I’ve come a long way since, and though I’ve come around on just about every one of those fixins (excepting onion, of which I still have a profoundly strong and, seemingly permanent, distaste), I maintain a preference for my standard burger order (with some variation). But when presented with a burger of this pedigree, well, I take it pretty much as it comes. ↩
Well, there’s only one burger on the menu, so that’s probably over-specific. ↩
Seems like so many good burgers are available during only limited times at nice restaurants. There’s an argument to be made for keeping special burgers special, but I say liberate the burger from the confines of schedule! Let the people eat! ↩
As you can see, the burger’s menu entry isn’t particularly detailed, and fact-checking is beyond the purview of this piece, so some of this info is cribbed from Texas Monthly’s writeup, which is, hopefully, still accurate. ↩