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I couldn’t help but feel guilty as I sat in the massive dining room of Chop House Burgers (2230 Park Row Dr., 817-459-3700). I was gripping one of the strip mall eatery’s admittedly delicious namesake burgers like it was a stress ball, staring sheepishly at a majestic sculpture of a cow mounted near the place’s entrance. It was like seeing a “before” picture of the animal that had to die for me to stuff my face.

And it didn’t end with just the sculpture. There were photos and paintings on the walls that made the creatures look like whimsical pets rather than the empty-headed meatbags I’ve always taken them for. I felt as if I was being confronted by my victim.

Why do restaurants do that? I remember being struck by the same sense of self-reproach at Cattlemen’s Steakhouse (2458 N. Main St., 817-624-3945), where the walls are decorated exclusively with almost life-sized pictures of long-dead prize-winning cattle, peering at you accusingly like ghosts who have been forced to watch generations of their lineage devoured by fanny-packed tourists. Angelo’s BBQ (2533 White Settlement Rd., 817-332-0357) practically has the heads of cows on pikes, as though the owners are warning other animals.

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My feelings of unease were assuaged the moment I took my first bite. The Chop House Burger ($8.45) is one of the most creative around. Its ample patty is a mix of ground beef and slow-roasted brisket, and a generous portion of zesty steak sauce really brought out the smoky flavor of the barbecue. The sandwich also had a goodly slab of apple-wood bacon, which would usually cause me to roll my eyes at yet another gratuitous use of culinary duct tape. But this was one of the precious few examples of bacon complementing the flavor of a burger instead of just making the whole thing taste like salty swine. The dynamic burger was a kaleidoscope of smoke, greases, zest, and salt.

My guest’s chilaquiles burger ($9) was a spicy, adventurous amalgam of a chorizo patty, fried corn tortillas, pico de gallo, Cojita cheese, cilantro, and a gooey over-easy egg. Had there been a mural of chickens, I would have felt doubly guilty about enjoying it so much.

The sides were also good, though they lacked the imagination of our burger selections. The enormous hand-cut onion rings ($2 for a side) were coated with a crispy batter and seasoned with just the right amount of salt, like the fried pickles ($3.95), which were helped out by the accompanying ranch dipping sauce. The only misfire was the serving of limp, lukewarm fries ($2 for a side).

I knew I’d like the place when my guest and I walked in on a recent weeknight and were greeted by a downright peppy woman working the walk-up counter. She was training someone, but I had a feeling she was always chipper and eager to please. On her recommendation we tried the rich, fresh-tasting pumpkin pie.

Luckily, the place didn’t have any pumpkins displayed in the open, or I might have just given up and switched to a diet of exclusively tofu and water.

 

Contact Chow, Baby at chowbaby@fwweekly.com

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