March 7, 2014
How do our hometown patties match up against the influx of trendy national chains?
Science has proven that Austin is known primarily for two types of food: barbecue and Tex-Mex, forever and ever, amen. Of course, what science doesn't know is that we've also been quietly enjoying a diverse complement of burgers from venerated purveyors for generations now, from the legendary variations at Hut's Downtown to the delightfully greasy UT-area stalwarts at Dirty Martin's, Players, and Burger Tex to the fancier, spendier burgers at Contigo, Hopfields, and ALC Steaks. In addition to the sentimental favorites, Austin has also hatched a handful of local chains – think the nostalgic mom-and-pop duo of Fran's and Dan's, the greasy delights of Hill- Bert's, the grass-fed goodness of Wholly Cow, and the fresh simplicity of Mighty Fine Burgers, Fries & Shakes. Most notably, P. Terry's has distinguished itself through its dedication to fast-food counter-programming in the form of responsibly sourced meats, hand-cut fries, and locally sourced produce. Simply put, Austinites are not without options when it comes to hometown burgers.
It's not just beef we're pressing between slabs of bread (or wrapping in lettuce leaves for the grain-free folks). You name it, we'll eat it in burger form, from Ahi tuna to buffalo, poultry to pork belly, and lamb to kangaroo (seriously – check out Wild Bubba's Wild Game Grill in Elroy). And we haven't even touched on the veggie-burger genre! (See sidebar.)
Despite this embarrassment of bun-clad riches, more and more iconic fast-casual national burger chains with cultish followings – namely, In-N-Out, Smashburger, and Shake Shack – are entering the Austin market with a vengeance. With that in mind, we figured that it's time to take a look at the local burger landscape. As more and more national chains vie for Austinites' burger dollars, how do local operations stay relevant? Sure, Smashburger and Five Guys have belly-busting sandwiches accompanied by deeply satisfying fries, but can they compete with the half-pound classic and side of crinkle-cuts from Mighty Fine? Folks have been flocking to In-N- Out for the double-double "animal style" (two mustard-fried patties with pickles and grilled onions), swathed in special sauce and wrapped in Bible-verse-emblazoned paper, but can they hold up to the Longhorn Special (a double-meat patty with special sauce) from Top Notch, a much-loved family-owned joint that boasts a cameo in Richard Linklater's Austin roman à clef, Dazed and Confused? What follows is a collection of Chronicle food writers' favorite local burgers, which we argue are reflective of Austin's diverse collective palate and keep-it-marginally-weird ethos. – Melanie Haupt
Everything's Bigger in Texas
Monday nights, otherwise known as Big Ass Burger Night at popular Downtown bistro Swift's Attic(315 Congress, www.swiftsattic.com), get guests in the competitive spirit, as only 12 burgers are made. There is a new manifestation of huge and delicious every week. Guests can consult Swift's Facebook page on Mondays to see what form that night's Big Ass might take; one recent night was Italian-themed, with arrabbiata sauce, roasted peppers, onions, mushrooms. As always, Swift's keeps it creative. – Gracie Salem Italian sausage, and crimini