For the past couple of weeks, Burger Battle judges have been snarfing their way through round one, trying out a collective 32 burgers across Tarrant, Johnson and Parker counties. All that gut-busting led to one upset, a couple of close calls for perennial contenders, a couple of matchups that will live on in our memories, and some under-the-radar joints earning new fans — win or lose — among the judges.
Speaking of judges: This is our official call for a guest judge in our Final Four round. If you’re the type of person who keeps a spreadsheet of the burgers you’ve eaten, or owns a collection of burger T-shirts, or decides to do all the Burger Battle matchups on your own — all traits of former guest judges — we want to hear from you.
A word of warning: This means going to two burger places with several Burger Battle judges within a couple of hours — twice. But you’ll get free burgers, and your name and photo in the paper. Sorry, we won’t be giving you a gym membership to work all that off.
Send your entries to email@example.com, with the subject line “BurgerJudge.” Tell us why you want to be a judge in 50 words or less (we know, we use more words than that). Include your name, a daytime phone number and your address. Deadline for entries is 5 p.m. Sept. 22.
Eligible guest testers may not be affiliated with any burger joint. You will be vetted. If we find that you do have such an association, in addition to having your entry rejected, as in years past, you will be reported to Mayor McCheese. And we know you have better taste than that.
Speaking of good taste, every week, readers can cast votes for your favorite burger. The results of the readers’ poll will be reflected on the bracket, along with the judges’ picks. At the end, we’ll crown two “best burger” victors: the Burger Battle winner and the Readers’ Choice winner.
So start your engines, eat some burgers and take notes — then cast your vote! Voting ends at 4 p.m. Sept. 20.
Go here to cast your vote.
(1) Dutch’s vs. (8) Best Burger Barn
A steady hand helped Dutch’s win the 2015 Burger Battle, but the defending champ isn’t afraid of rolling out something new. That’s the Juan’s Chorizo Burger, which was a strong opening-round entry. The coarsely assembled, half-pound patty combination of classic Mexican pork sausage and ground beef had a splendid smoky/spicy flavor that was balanced well with toppings of lettuce strips, grilled onions, tomato slices and ghost-pepper cheese. Dutch’s sweet bun added to the variety in each bite. Tasty from first mouthful to the last nibble. Definitely the kind of burger you’d recommend to others.
Best Burger Barn, a Burger Battle newcome from Egan, a small Johnson County community, served up the Fat Lady: a more than 1/3-pound burger made for hearty meat lovers, served on grilled Texas toast. The thick and juicy cooked-medium patty was topped with cheddar cheese, Wright’s thick-sliced bacon, onions, pickles, and Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce. Mayo was spread on the toast, too. The patty had good flavor, but the bacon was a bit too dominant. Perhaps the two-patty Fat Man ($7.25) can hold its own with the bacon? The crunchy toast added nice texture to the experience.
Best Burger Barn is worth the drive south of Burleson to the Interstate 35W exit 30 (if you don’t want to drive that far, there’s also a location in Burleson. But it’s also worth the sometimes TCU-congested battle on University Drive (especially congested on home-game days) to reach Dutch’s. Bravo to Dutch’s new burger!
Dutch’s, 3009 S. University Drive, Fort Worth, www.dutchshamburgers.com; Best Burger Barn, 5108 Conveyor Drive, Egan; also 856 E. Renfro St., Burleson, and 2750 S. Preston Road, Celina; bestburgerbarn.com
(2) Fuego Burger vs. (7) BurgerFi
Salsa Fuego left Fort Worth proper shortly after making the finals of our 2015 Burger Battle, but its famous Fuego Burger lives on in a Rendon gas station that’s so informal you have to buy your soda at the convenience store next door. And make sure you do — you’ll need something to wash down the massive half-pounder ($8.84), redolent with green chiles and roasted jalapeño mayonnaise. But the most distinctive aspect to the burger is its crispy halo of melted cheddar and jack cheeses, which ooze out of the bun in ridiculous splendor. The burger is stabbed with a knife through the top bun, as if to say: I dare you to eat this unaided.
We didn’t, opting to half and then quarter the big boy — perhaps its undoing. Diced chiles began spilling out and the inch-thick patty, juicy and piping hot, came asunder from the doughy, Hawaiian-style bun. An uneven slather of the jalapeño mayo did little to anchor the meat. You have little choice but to use your fingers to fold up pieces of the cheese, which reminds one of what happens when you shred Parmesan and then bake it in the oven. If anything, the surplus of dairy threatened to upstage this above-par burger.
Meanwhile, in north Arlington, the first Tarrant location of Florida-based BurgerFi aims to gain fandom — near the shadow of AT&T Stadium, no less. While the burger franchise had a location in Garland for a time, it’s been absent from DFW for a while — all the better to reacquaint oneself with its supposed showstopper of a burger, The CEO. A blend of Wagyu and brisket meat, the two skinny patties are stacked inside a “BurgerFi”-branded bun. Where was the “homemade” candied bacon-tomato jam, we wondered? Buried between the two patties, underneath the mess of melted Swiss cheese. The truffle aioli was AWOL.
In the end, BurgerFi’s entry — attractive, formulaic, tasty and a touch pedestrian — could not undo the impressive Fuego Burger. While the latter was not without fault —it was served too hot to handle and needed more salt — its sheer audacity, to paraphrase former President Obama, gave us hope (for the next round, that is).
Winner: Fuego Burger
(3) Chop House Burgers vs. (6). Hookers Grill
Just looking at the menu, this matchup shouldn’t have even been close. Chop House Burgers in Arlington has made a name for itself with its beef patties mixed with brisket, pulled pork or other ingredients, while Hookers Grill is a newcomer to the Fort Worth burger scene and doesn’t have a menu full of different burger choices.
This is why we judge more than just a menu.
The signature burger at Chop House Burgers is tough to beat. Slow-roated brisket mixed in with the beef forms a burger with excellent flavor. The patty is topped with a nice slice of melted sharp cheddar that holds a couple of slices of thick-cut applewood smoked bacon perfectly in place. The burgers are cooked medium-well, but on this day it seemed more on the well-done side. That didn’t take away from the juiciness.
That proved to be a problem, though, because bun failure occurred right around the halfway point of eating the burger. The flavor, however, had our judge diving in with his fingers to finish every last bite.
Hookers Grill may not have a burger mixed with brisket or sharp cheddar, but the onions cooked on the grill and pressed into the Hereford beef give the patty a flavor that is hard to beat. Hookers provides a great classic burger that fits nicely with the brick-lined streets of the nearby Stockyards. A simple burger topped with American cheese and standard toppings, but on this trip the lettuce — which isn’t leafy, but isn’t quite shredded — had a strange texture that was kind of jarring.
The Hookers burger is a worthy contender in our burger-rich area, but in the end the combination of the thick-cut bacon, sharp cheddar and brisket-infused patty of the Chop House burger proved too much for the newcomer.
Winner: Chop House Burgers
(4) Twisted Root vs. (5). Swiss Pastry Shop
Swiss Pastry Shop may be known to many as a deluxe bakery, but it also stands out as a down-home, friendly restaurant beloved by many.
And in recent years, it’s become known for its burgers, so much so that it’s the only place in Burger Battle that isn’t a burger joint above all else.
The nondescript building in a strip center on West Vickery even has a separate burger menu and offers a wide range of options, including the whopping sumo burger with two half-pound patties.
We decided to go with the traditional Farm-to-Market burger, which includes a half-pound Texas Akaushi beef patty along with tomatoes, red onions, lettuce and bread-and-butter pickles. We added pepper jack cheese, which melted perfectly onto the medium-grilled patty and provided a succulent complement to the other ingredients.
It didn’t seem like the lightly toasted sesame-seed buns would hold up under the weight of the packed burger, but they managed to do so down to the last bite.
The burger burst with flavors, including the delightfully seasoned and slightly charred patty, which would have served as a sufficient meal on its own. The old Fort Worth standby is definitely on top of its game.
Although UT Arlington hasn’t fielded a football team since 1985, you can still find an excellent game-day atmosphere just northeast of campus at the Twisted Root Burger Co. on Abram Street, one of the Tarrant County outposts of the Dallas-based chain.
Oh, and some excellent burgers as well.
This funky, tailgate-themed hangout includes a Winnebago bar. Glass garage doors were swung open when we dropped by on a recent Saturday for open-air, covered seating.
The extensive menu, which includes more exotic fare such as the Kevin Bacon (a bacon-blue cheese burger) didn’t offer a traditional-style burger. So we went with the build-your-own option to try to match what we enjoyed at Swiss Pastry Shop.
The half-pound burger came with tomatoes and onions, and we added the pepper jack cheese and tacked on the pickles from the freebie condiment section.
The burger did not disappoint; it was tasty and the ingredients were fresh. It just didn’t pack the same “wow” factor as Swiss Pastry Shop did. We ordered the patty cooked medium, but it seemed to be a tad dry and closer to medium-well. And it wasn’t seasoned quite as well as the competition.
Winner: Swiss Pastry Shop
Swiss Pastry Shop, 3936 W. Vickery Blvd., Fort Worth, www.swisspastryonline.com; Twisted Root Burger Co., multiple locations (judging done at 310 E. Abram St., No. 100, Arlington, http://www.twistedrootburgerco.com
(1) Rodeo Goat vs. (8) Shake Shack
On paper, especially to Fort Worth burger fans who haven’t drifted over to Dallas to try New York-based Shake Shack, this probably looked like a blowout win for Rodeo Goat, the 2013 Burger Battle champion. But Shake Shack’s blood is as blue as any burger program in the Mustard Region.
Shake Shack’s double Shack Burger went toe-to-toe with Rodeo Goat’s Royale with cheese and this was a real first-round test. The two burgers are perfect combatants; neither boasts fancy toppings, making this a tried-and-true beef-and-cheese battle.
Shake Shack’s burger is juicy and cooked just past medium, with a good sear and just enough seasoning that the beef by itself isn’t bland. If you order a single, you might say it’s on the thin side of the patty spectrum. You can tell the cheese was once a slice, but now it oozes through the cracks and crevices of the patties, so no bite gets left behind.
The burger, modest in size compared with some Burgle Battle entrants, overloads the bottom bun on sight, but the bun held up throughout the thrashing we gave it. No breach, no sogginess — though we’ll admit, we scarfed it down quickly based on taste alone. This burger is everything In-N-Out disciples told us we were in for upon its arrival — those liars.
It stood up next to Rodeo Goat’s Royale and did itself proud. The Royale is by far the simplest burger on Rodeo Goat’s menu, which dares to dream out loud and dance like no one is watching.
You probably never go to Rodeo Goat for a “simple” burger, but the Royale might just be the best on the list: a perfectly plump medium-cooked patty that is at once juicy and just the slightest bit crumbly.
A bun so softly kissed by the griddle’s heat that it’s not exactly toasted, but heartwarming. That American cheese that releases you from the apprehension of knowing that American cheese isn’t really cheese at all.
That bacon that tastes just like breakfast.
When you’re eating Shake Shack, you’re pretty sure it would hold its own against any and all comers, be they fast or gourmet. You’re looking for it to upset the favorite. But then you take a bite out of Rodeo Goat’s Royale with cheese and it’s back to reality.
Winner: Rodeo Goat
Rodeo Goat, 2836 Bledsoe St., Fort Worth (also 1926 Market Center Blvd. in Dallas), www.rodeogoat.com; Shake Shack, 2500 N. Pearl St., Dallas (also 7401 Windrose Ave., Plano), www.shakeshack.com
(2) Kincaid’s vs. (7) Clown Burger
The sign at Clown Burger sums up this matchup: “The burger you get today will taste exactly like the burger you would have ate in 1959.”
That’s not completely true at either Clown Burger or Kincaid’s, but it’s close. Both legendary burger grills represent retro nostalgia — the Clown used to be a Haltom City drive-in, Kincaid’s a Fort Worth butcher-shop-grocery-and-grill.
But both menus have more burger choices now. So rather than wallow in the past, we matched the Clown’s loaded Kitchen Sink burger against Kincaid’s piled-high Cowtown burger.
It was closer than it should have been. The Clown Burger is a classic thin-patty burger, and the Kitchen Sink is a double bacon-cheeseburger with jalapeños, chili and grilled onions, all hiding in a happy little ball of cheese.
Everything about the Kitchen Sink works except the chili. It’s a drippy, slightly sweet chili sauce like you’d find on a Coney, but it wasn’t the right match at all for the jalapeños, and it soaked the flimsy commercial bun.
The Cowtown burger is Kincaid’s nod to newer burgers. It came with one thick, crumbly fresh hand-packed half-pound beef patty, plus cheese, grilled jalapeños and grilled onion strings.
The beef, shredded lettuce and tomato measured up to Kincaid’s past, and the soft, mushy bun still managed to contain this big burger.
But hiding underneath was an oozing slather of — mayo? Really?
What this burger needs is mustard, bacon and a dollop of Kincaid’s thicker chili. It wasn’t Kincaid’s best burger, but that melt-in-your-mouth beef gave it the edge.
Kincaid’s Hamburgers (multiple locations; judging took place at 4901 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth), www.kincaidshamburgers.com; Clown Burger, 5020 Stanley Keller Road at Haltom Road, Haltom City, @ClowbBurger on Facebook
(3) Tom’s Burgers & Grill vs. (6) J’s Casa Burger
Two local favorites, with different forms of nostalgic touches: Tom’s is in a diner setting (in fact, a former Denny’s diner) in Arlington, all sleek chrome outside, comfort inside; J’s Casa Burger in River Oaks has no indoor seating, so sit on the patio — or on your car hood — and have a pop with your dinner in an ultra-casual settings.
J’s gets rave reviews for its Mexican burger, and for good reason. The burger comes with creamy avocados, bacon, grilled jalapeños, grilled onions, white cheese, shredded lettuce, tomato and a verde sauce. Pro tip: there is some heat to this burger, so you might want to cool off with a shake. The buns are made locally at a bakery down the street and grilled to buttery perfection. It almost looked angelic, as the butter glistened. The patty was cooked well-done but still had plenty of flavor and juice.
At Tom’s Burgers and Grill, its burger of the month is a Hatch chile burger. It’s served with hot or mild Hatch peppers, half- or 1/3 -pound patty, pepper jack cheese, avocado, chipotle mayo, lettuce and tomato. We chose the 1/3 -pound, hot option, but the heat wasn’t overwhelming. The cheese was incredibly creamy and the bun held up nicely to all those toppings and the juicy patty. Tom’s patty, cooked a perfect medium and striped with grill marks, gave it the edge of over J’s, but this was a close matchup.
Winner: Tom’s Burgers & Grill
(4) Love Shack vs. (5) Ted E’s Kitchen
Once a force on the Fort Worth burger scene, Tim Love’s Love Shack now lives an almost-quiet existence in the Fort Worth Stockyards, along with locations at DFW Airport and in Knoxville, Tennessee. But we will forever love the Dirty Love Burger, a bacon-cheeseburger topped with a fried quail egg and dressed with “Love Sauce.”
So when we started this matchup at Ted E’s Kitchen, a former north Fort Worth joint that went away but now is back in bigger digs in Bedford, we decided to throw down a gauntlet with its Egg Topper, yet another bacon-cheeseburger topped with a fried egg, although this one comes from a chicken.
And what a duel it was — the kind that had us going point by point to see who won.
First, the patties: Both Love Shack and Ted E’s lean toward the thin side, with Ted E’s serving up a 6-ouncer that sometimes risks getting lost inside the large, sweet-sourdough buns. Not this time: The patty came cooked medium as requested, with seasoning that helped it stand out among all the ingredients. Love Shack’s patty, a 50/50 tenderloin-brisket blend, did not impress us as much as it has in the past but this was still a pretty good hunk of meat. So call the patties a draw.
The buns, too: Good at both places, Love Shack’s maybe a little more buttery/toasty, Ted E’s bigger without losing whole-burger balance. Both nearly suffered breaches, especially with Ted E’s practice of putting its vegetables under the patty, which led to the tomatoes making the thinner bottom bun soggy.
The bacon: A little more noticeable at Love Shack, but chewier than at Ted E’s.
The vegetables: Decent tomatoes, forgettable lettuce on both sides. The Dirty Love Burger comes with pickles, which were good when tried individually but not really noticeable on the whole sandwich. The Love Sauce, however, made its presence known much more than the special sauce at Ted E’s did.
Which might have given Love Shack the edge, except for one thing: The egg. At Ted E’s, the burger came to the table with some yolk dripping out, adding an extra bit of taste and oozy texture; although the egg was runny, it didn’t make the burger a yellow mess.
Meanwhile, at Love Shack, we really had to look for the egg, and while a quail egg is going to be smaller than a chicken egg, this one wasn’t just puny, it was hard-cooked and practically embedded in the top bun. Seriously, we found it stuck to the bun. We still love the Dirty Love Burger — but not unconditionally.
So — is this the egg battle or the Burger Battle? It’s the latter — but the Burger Battle is not just the patty battle. With apologies and respect to purists, it’s about how the components work together. And in this case, the components at Ted E’s came together just a little bit better than they did at Love Shack. So consider it an upset — but it was buzzer-beater close. Or maybe egg-beater close.
Winner: Ted E’s Kitchen
Love Shack: 110 E. Exchange Ave., Fort Worth, http://loveburgershackfortworth.com; Ted E’s Kitchen, 2208 Central Drive, Bedford, www.tedeskitchen.com
(1) Charley’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers vs (8) Jobo’s Hamburger Grill
It was Aristotle who first said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” We never thought about that quote regarding burgers before. But after eating the burgers at Charley’s and Jobo’s, we now understand what Aristotle meant, and can contemplate how Aristotle could also be wrong.
Charley’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers is a longtime local favorite and won our readers’ bracket in 2011, so expectations were high. And the “Great Burger” didn’t disappoint. This burger has lots of parts: Swiss and American cheese, two meat patties, bacon and Canadian bacon. The tomato was bright red, the lettuce was green, the patty also topped with chopped onions and pickle slices. All these parts are somehow contained in a toasted bun half-wrapped in paper.
The only problem we could see before taking a bite is how all these parts could stay together as a whole — but the burger stayed together. The patties themselves were juicy, even though they were cooked well-done (we asked for medium). They were also not seasoned as much as we normally like, but the Canadian bacon between the patties did add some flavor. Everything else was perfection, including the bun and perfectly melted cheese.
So now we come to the philosophical part: Was the burger better than the sum of its parts? It was indeed a great burger. The ratio of meat to the other ingredients was perfect, not letting any one of the many ingredients overpower the others.
Jobo’s Hamburger Grill in Lake Worth is new to the bracket but has been slinging burgers for 10 years. After asking for a burger recommendation, we tried one of the best sellers, the half-pound mushroom and Swiss burger. The “parts” on this burger included sauteed mushrooms, Swiss cheese, grilled onions and a half-pound meat patty. The patty was the star here; it was seasoned well, juicy and big. If you are a burger patty connoisseur, this place is for you. The grilled onions and sauteed mushrooms were tasty and had the appropriate char and texture.
Where it started to go wrong: There wasn’t enough Swiss cheese for a burger this size, and what cheese there was wasn’t melted enough. The tomato was mushy and an off-color orange; the lettuce was OK, but not quite up to burger bracket standards (as you may be able to tell, we are picky). The biggest problem: the bun was extremely dry, like it had been sitting out a day. This is one of those burgers that is almost there, with an awesome patty, mushrooms, and onions. But as a burger being greater than the sum of its parts? Aristotle would have had a philosophical conundrum on his hands.
Charley’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers, 4616 Granbury Road, @CharleysOldFashionedHamburgers on Facebook; Jobo’s Hamburger Grill, 6548 Lake Worth Blvd., Suite 200, Jobo’s Hamburger Grill on Facebook
(2) Nicky D’s vs. (7) Good Food Co.
Good Food Co., an upstart on Fort Worth’s Race Street, has been lauded for its hand-formed all-beef patties, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions and a grilled bun, with no “special sauces.” Nicky D’s, a bucolic burger shack in Crowley, has a larger menu and broader backstory: It’s a Burger Battle veteran, impressing judges of yesteryear with its half-pound marvels, like (big) gems found on the shores of the Chisholm Trail Parkway.
The bacon cheeseburgers beckoned at both, with Nicky D’s offering a wealth of American cheese (two slices, overlapping, with one slightly more melted than the other) over crispy, fatty slips of buttery bacon. Shredded lettuce, tomato and chopped onions garnished it. With an uneven yet likable texture, the half-pound patty was cooked medium, with the smallest tinge of pink inside. It was well-spiced, with just enough salt to flavor yet not overwhelm — that’s why the bacon’s there — and it virtually melted on the tongue. A welcome, brilliant contrast was the crunchy bun, pillowy but buttered within an inch of its life. The result meant the bun held the patty and condiments in place, with nary an ingredient escaping. That would have been blasphemous.
Good Food’s version registered a thick-ish half-inch patty, the requisite veggies below and a couple of slices of crispy bacon cresting on top. The bun — white, straightforward and not unlike one that rhymes with Mrs. Laird’s — had a burnished look that connoted interaction with the griddle. The meat, alas, was not of the heralded sort. Rubbery and unattractive in color, its highlight was a char on its crust. The stellar fries, dredged in salt and pepper, unfortunately, could not right the wrongs of this burger.
Winner: Nicky D’s
Nicky D’s, 1605 Farm Road 1187, Crowley, www.nickydscrowley.com; Good Food Co., 2919 Race St., Fort Worth, @GoodFoodCom on Facebook
(4). Hopdoddy Burger Bar vs. (6) Shep’s Place
Welcome, Hopdoddy Fort Worth, to your very first Burger Battle. We know you just opened a few weeks ago and you might have some kinks to work out. We realize we’re throwing you on the front lines quickly. But you come to Fort Worth baring teeth and gourmet burgers and plenty of attitude. Into the line of fire you go.
Austin-bred Hopdoddy, of course, isn’t new to our battles — the Preston Center store in Dallas has fared well in the past. But, ah, the Fort Worth location — recently opened in the Left Bank development on West Seventh Street — is still very much fresh meat. How would it do against Weatherford’s beloved Shep’s Place?
Our first bite into Hopdoddy’s signature Goodnight burger quickly answered that question: pretty, pretty good. For all its hype, Hopdoddy’s burgers can be hit and miss — there’s a reason it has never clinched a burger battle trophy — but this one was near-perfect, statuesque in presentation and delicious from bite one to the final swallow.
Every element was impressive, from the fresh-baked buns to the colorful veggies that looked and tasted like they’d just been plucked from a garden, to the dueling sauces: a sweet barbecue sauce and the zippy “sassy sauce,” a mix of mayo and horseradish. The Angus patty was seasoned beautifully, too, with a mix of salt, pepper, brown sugar, garlic powder and other ingredients. One complaint: It was cooked medium-well, not medium-rare, as we had requested.
Thirty minutes to the west, Shep’s Place — opened two years ago, in the heat of our 2015 Burger Battle — delivered what looked to be a strong contender: the Presbaugh, a burger topped with, in addition to fresh veggies and jalapeños, a thick slice of cream cheese. Shep’s, you officially learned the shortcut to our hearts. We loved how the cheese tempered the heat of the jalapeños but not their flavor. Good buns, too, soft and fluffy and sweet like Dutch’s.
The burger’s downfall was the patty itself, cooked an absolute perfect medium-rare but devoid of flavor — no seasoning, no beefy richness, nothing that made it stand out. We caught Shep’s, unfortunately, on an off day.
As a result, Hopdoddy takes round one. But lest this hip newcomer think it can out-burger Fort Worth’s meatier contenders, we offer it this warning: There will be blood.
Hopdoddy Burger Bar, 2300 W. Seventh St. Suite 140, Fort Worth (locations also in Dallas and Addison), www.hopdoddy.com; Shep’s Place, 816 S. Main St., Weatherford, Shepsplacewford on Facebook
(4) M&O Station Grill vs. (5). Hollywood Burger
What looked like a close matchup didn’t turn out that way, with M&O Station Grill turning in one of its best performances in a Burger Battle.
When you go to Hollywood (or Saginaw), you want to see the Superstar. Hollywood offers Korean-style kimchi and bulgogi burgers, but the signature is the Superstar, topped with grilled onions, mushrooms and jalapeños with your choice of toppings from the Fuddrucker-esque serving station. But that means we get a good look at the veggies, and the pale tomatoes were not star quality. Hollywood’s toppings were adequate — strips of bacon laid crossways over an enticing cheesy ball of grilled onions, mushrooms and jalapeños — and the beef patty was nicely seasoned but otherwise lacked flavor. The mass-market bun was dry.
M&O Station Grill’s Bleu Cow burger proved the former “readers’ favorite” is very much a player in this year’s tougher battle. Crumbled blue cheese and bacon were rolled into a ball of loose ground beef, and the result was a hand-packed burger with an impressive sear around the edge, bursting with cheese-and-bacon flavor. The smoky bacon tasted hotel-grade, and the crinkle-cut pickles were a step up from typical dill chips. Tomatoes were big, juicy and red, and it all came piled high on a thick, buttery, picture-perfect toasted bun with just a slight dab of the mustard-ketchup-pickle house sauce. M&O serves four other “stuffed” burgers. How many rounds are there?
Winner: M&O Station Grill
M&O Station Grill, 200 Carroll St., Fort Worth, www.bestburgerfortworth.com; Hollywood Burger (judging took place at 1200 S. Blue Mound Road, Saginaw; locations also in north Fort Worth, Westlake and Richardson, http://hollywoodburgertexas.com
(1) Fred’s Texas Cafe vs. (8). K-Pop Burger
This looked to be a good ol’ fashioned new kid vs. old pro bloodbath — the kind of wrestling match we live for during the DFW Burger Battle. And it did not disappoint.
K-Pop Burger, a relatively new Korean-inspired burger joint in far north Fort Worth, is one of the more adventurous contenders we’ve seen in a while. The menu features more than a dozen burgers, piled high with toppings such as kimchi, fried eggs and even hash browns.
Wanting a good match for Fred’s red-hot Diablo, we went with K-Pop’s fire-breathing AOA burger, topped with grilled jalapeños, pepper jack cheese and housemade jalapeño ranch. This was a fantastic burger, and we’re not just saying that because we were stuck in traffic on I-35W for an hour and were absolutely starving and would have eaten anything with jalapeño ranch on it.
A good burger always lies within the meat, and this half-pounder was cooked medium-rare, as requested, and exuded plenty of juice and personality. There was a fair amount of heat from the peppers but it didn’t overpower. Veggies were good and fresh, except for the colorless tomato slices, and we dug the soft egg buns from Dallas’ Signature Bakery. But the buns’ exteriors were a bit too greasy and didn’t offer much of a support system for the burger’s innards. Two bites in, the buns came crumblin’ down. But otherwise, a great burger. K-Pop wasn’t making this easy for Fred’s.
Those who claim that iconic burger joint Fred’s has lost a step shoulda been sitting in our judge’s lap when the Diablo arrived, confident and self-assured, a raging inferno to K-Pop’s little ol’ flick of the Bic. It only takes a bite or two for the Diablo to work its spicy, sinister magic.
Somewhere in the mix of the chipotle chiles, the beer-infused chipotle brown butter, the melted Swiss, the lick of yellow mustard, the way-fresh veggies and the rich flavor of the medium-rare-cooked meat, we came to a conclusion: This was not only the burger that won our very first Burger Battle, it’s the reason why we even have a Burger Battle. Because, some days, this burger just can’t be topped.
Fred’s Texas Cafe (judging took place at original location, 915 Currie St., Fort Worth; locations also on Bluebonnet Circle near TCU and in far north Fort Worth), fredstexascafe.com; K-Pop Burger, 12404 Timberland Blvd. Suite 208, Fort Worth, @kpopburgerforthworth (sic) on Facebook
(2) Tommy’s Burgers and Brews vs. (7) Liberty Burger
This match-up pitted Fort Worth mainstay Tommy’s vs. the first Fort Worth location of a Dallas-based upstart. But in a way, the Tommy’s is also new — Tommy’s Burgers & Brews, near Ridgmar Mall, where the friendly staff pointed us to a customer favorite, the bacon-cheddar burger.
We chose the 1/3 -pound option (you can also get a half-pounder, but we’re eating a lot of burgers these days. The patty is made from Nolan Ryan beef, and although the meat is cooked well-done, the flavors would make the beloved pitcher proud. The bacon is cooked lightly crispy and comes with the classic lettuce, tomato and pickles. It’s understandably a favorite, but it’s nothing fancy.
Liberty, located in a massive north Fort Worth shopping center, does get fancy (and after being stuck in an I-35W traffic jam, we wanted to be rewarded for that drive). We went with the Nooner, which has a patty topped with American cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, ham, hash browns, a fried egg and ketchup. Ketchup? Insert eye roll. We skipped on that part. And yes, we said “hash browns” — they are shredded and dehydrated, almost like potato chips. The ham — oh, yeah, we said that, too — is a thinly sliced single piece that adds a layer of fat and flavor. The fried egg is topped with salt and pepper and oozes at first bite. The odds were against Liberty after that traffic jam, but turned out that this burger was worth the drive.
Winner: Liberty Burger
Tommy’s Burgers & Brews: 1736 Mall Circle, Fort Worth (Tommy’s locations also on Camp Bowie Boulevard and Forest Park Boulevard in Fort Worth); www.tommyshamburgergrill.net; Liberty Burger, 8917 N. Fwy Service Road E., No. 119, Fort Worth, http://givemelibertyburger.com
(3) Johnny B’s vs. (6) Navajo Burger
This one was simple.
One of these places seasoned its burger patties on our visit, and one of these places didn’t.
Public Service Burger Announcement: Season your patties, people!
Navajo Burger’s namesake dish has won a lot of acclaim in Fort Worth, and deservedly so. The Navajo is a hulking thing to take on. Big beef, big bacon, so much melted cheese and countless onions that aren’t so much grilled as they are warmed.
There’s so much to work with, so much going on with this burger that could make it great, but the tasteless hunk of meat, cooked one full step past medium into gray burger oblivion, and the jalapeños out of a jar made this burger come up short.
Though we’re not all fans of the sweet sourdough buns Johnny B’s employs, or Thousand Island dressing on a burger, or thin patties, one thing and one thing only carried Johnny B’s double cheeseburger past Navajo Burger.
The Southlake burger bastion seasoned its beef and seared it good. It was juicy, with crisp and refreshing veggies, and we’re not going to lie: Though we’re on the fence about that sweet sourdough bun, on this visit, it tasted like it added something.
Winner: Johnny B’s
Johnny B’s Burgers & Shakes
2704 E. Southlake Blvd., www.johnnybsburgersshakes.com; Navajo Burger, 7028 Navajo Trail, Fort Worth, no website or official Facebook page
(4) Bronson Rock vs. (5) Burger Bar
Bronson Rock was the first place any judge visited in Burger Battle 2017, and things got off to a great start with the first bite of the Bronson burger, an 8-ounce beef patty topped with two slices of cheddar and two slices of bacon. During previous Burger Battles, we’ve found that patties requested medium are usually cooked through, without a trace of pink, but the Bronson patty was about as pink as you could get without going full-scale medium-rare, and it burst with beefy flavor, then slowly revealed a light pepperiness to its seasoning.
The cheese looked a little congealed but was rich and sharp tasting. The bacon was crisp except for, in a nice touch, some fatty, salty bits at the tips. All the vegetables were bright and fresh, with leaf lettuce that didn’t look like an afterthought, thick-cut pickle slices and a juicy tomato slice, yet the lightly toasted, delicately buttered bun held up to the moistness of the patty and the tomato. The one thing we didn’t really notice was the smokey BBQ sauce described on the menu, but everything else was so good, we really didn’t mind.
A little over an hour later — Burger Battle can sometimes mean long drives — we arrived at Cleburne’s tiny Burger Bar wondering how it could compete. Describing this place as “tiny” really doesn’t do the trick — no matter how many times friends tell you about how small the place is, you only get the idea when you walk in and realize that you’ve been in bigger walk-in closets. It’s not just that the kitchen is right in front of you — you’re practically in the kitchen, watching frozen patties and just-pulled-from-the-package bacon hit the flat-top grill, where miracles occur.
The medium patty was, once again, perfect; the cheese gooey and melty; the bun toasted but not dry with a thin layer of mustard that had noticeable flavor but didn’t overwhelm everything else. In a battle this close, it comes down to nitpicks, and Bronson Rock’s bacon was just a little more crisp and its lettuce a little more special. But every time a Burger Battle judge visits Burger Bar, the place makes a new fan. If you don’t live in Cleburne, it’s worth the road trip. Just be prepared to sit outside.
Winner: Bronson Rock
Bronson Rock, 250 S. Main St. (U.S. 377), Keller, http://bronsonrocktx.com; Burger Bar, 100 N. Anglin St., Cleburne, @burgerbar49 on Facebook