I was going to write a funny column about how so many eateries have all of a sudden added parmesan truffle fries to their menus. I planned on snarking it up about how the fried spuds are the new Brussels sprouts, which was the new pork belly, which was the new fancy mac ’n’ cheese, which was the new cupcake, which was the new bacon, and so on. That riff was going to be a hilarious segue into my insightful visits to the best purveyors of the faddish side –– and a legitimate excuse to expense trips to Capital Grille, Chop House Burger, and Hopdoddy Burger Bar (2300 W 7th St, 817-270-2337).
As I started this crawl through copycat kitchens, I stalled at Hopdoddy and never actually made it to the others. I became taken with the place in a way I haven’t been enamored since my middle school crush asked me on a date to Six Flags. (While I was in middle school, too, of course.)
The new West 7th burger bar, situated near the fancy Tom Thumb –– you know, the one with the wine bar so you can sip cabernet while you sort through the discounted baked goods –– is among the latest wave of foreign-born eateries to plant their flag on the 817’s soil. The Austin chain is one those newfangled socially responsible places. You know, like all new restaurants! (I’m not advocating for a menu that specializes in animal cruelty, canned goods, and hormone-injected veggies, but I’m starting to feel responsibility fatigue.)
You can probably guess the menu-bragging word-soup conjured by Hopdoddy’s market department: “fresh,” “locally sourced,” “wholesome,” “quality,” “heart.” The website’s description of the company’s ethos reads like a hippie playing Mad Libs.
By all rights, I should hate or at the very least deeply resent this focus-grouped abomination, right? I’m Chow, Baby –– the people’s champion, the little guy’s food critic. But damn if I didn’t obsess over that place in the same way I stalked my middle school crush long after graduation. (Do you have any idea how many magazines I went through to leave you those notes, Jessie?)
The atmosphere is pleasant, even cheery, though everything about it screams “chain,” like the washed-out brick walls, “modern restaurant” light fixtures that hang down over the wood-toned bar, designer sodas on the serve-yourself drink fountain, and the vast array of choices on the condiment bar. Still, the overall effect was warm and comfortable, if predictable.
The service was outstanding. A server greeted my guest and me at the door to point out a table for us as we stood and waited to order at the counter. Fresh tomatoes in boxes lined both sides of the queue, just in case you didn’t know that the kitchen uses fresh, handpicked produce grown in a private garden irrigated by happy tears from just-engaged couples and Publishers Clearing House winners.
I’m not easily impressed by burgers, but Hopdoddy’s were awfully tasty. It all starts with the bun. Did you know the kitchen bakes those buns fresh every morning? (Yes, you did.) The glistening egg buns absorbed the juices of the hormone-free, antibiotic-free, hand-cut, succulent Angus beef patty. On my Goodnight/Good Cause burger ($8.25), the gooey Tillamook cheddar cheese cooled the piquant mélange of caramelized onions, jalapeños, hickory barbecue sauce, and the kitchen’s signature Sassy sauce. And $1 of my purchase went to a local charity, because of course it did. My guest’s El Diablo burger ($8.25) was fiery and came together in a single impression that bypassed analytical thinking and went directly to raw, thumping want.
The tumbleweed of parmesean truffle fries ($6.95), served in a paper bag and accompanied by a truffle aioli, preceded our burgers. They could have used more salt.