February 29, 2016
No single burger speaks for the mad scientist’s lab that is Big Ass Burger Night at Swift’s Attic. Each week’s a snowflake. A meaty, greasy, cheesy baller of a snowflake. On Monday nights at 9, chef Zack Northcutt and crew churn out just 18 of these one-off creations for $10 each. People show up as early as 6 p.m. to reserve one, creating the kind of hurry-up-and-wait that Austinites like so much (See Franklin, Hopdoddy and Ramen Tastu-ya).
Northcutt sketches out the Big Ass Burger each week and posts it on Facebook like an exploded diagram or a sci-fi storyboard. One week it was “Enter the Monkey” with sister restaurant Wu Chow, featuring char siu pork and a Beijing duck patty. When Bowie died, the “Ziggy Stardust” honored him with a lightning bolt English muffin, a pink peppercorn chicken patty and glitter fries. “Eight Crazy Nights” marked Hanukkah with pastrami, brisket and kugel on a challah bun with potato latkes. The sketches are a practiced blend of artful whimsy and architectural practicality, and you can bet I’ll buy the “52 Big Ass Burgers Recipe Flipbook” if it ever hits bookstores.
The Big Ass entry for this report was “Breakfast for Dinner,” with a cinnamon roll bun, fried egg, hollandaise, a sausage patty, cheese and both Canadian and regular bacons on a bed of hashbrowns. The sturdy rings of maple-frosted pastry from new pastry chef Derrick Flynn coiled like barrel staves around an outsized spicy pork sausage patty with big herbal spice, crowned with an egg whose golden crown had just started to gel. Swift’s Attic bacon is an event in itself, with fat and smoke and lean in shaggy balance. The sauce and cheese acted like bonding agents. A perfectly crafted forkful — one that included a bite of gilded hashbrown — was one of the best bites of this series so far, and one that reignited my enthusiasm for the dozens more unions of meat and bread to come.
The fun part of Breakfast for Dinner was getting $3 pints of Founder’s Breakfast Stout and Clown Shoes Clementine wheat beer. Coffee and orange juice for breakfast? Makes sense. Monday’s $3 pints — they pour some of the most eclectic craft beers in town at Swift’s — take some of the sting out of waiting a few hours for the burger to show up. But it’s still the kind of butt-numbing novelty and artificial shortage that makes good theater for everybody but the actor. Grab a burger and take a bow anyway, because at just $10, there’s no better Monday night burger ticket in town.
Bowling Alley Burger: For last year’s 500 Tacos series, I profiled Swift’s pig-tail puffy tacos. They’re not on the menu anymore. But the low-slung Bowling Alley Burger I reviewed in the same story’s still available at lunch and brunch — if you’d rather do without the theater — and these words still hold true: “Swift’s Bowling Alley Burger transports the messy Thousand Island and grilled onion burger of Middle America to this urbane setting with fine, knobby beef, melted fontina cheese and a house-baked brioche bun toasted on the outside and soft as a buttered roll inside. Served with crispy handcut fries for $11.” Go ahead and add a fried egg.
On the side: Besides the respectable handcut fries, Swift’s Attic specializes in small-plate snacks like Devils on Horseback with sweet figs and candied bacon ($6) or “Squid Fries,” with breaded calamari stacked like Jenga blocks ($12).