I've been in the DallasFort Worth area the last few days to attend the Pillsbury Bake-Off. The contest itself ended by lunchtime Monday, so I arranged to meet Bill Addison, the talented food writer and restaurant critic at the Dallas Morning News, for another foray into Fort Worth. I had no idea until I got down there that Fort Worth had so much more interesting real food than Dallas. Addison wouldn't come right out and say it, but I think even he would agree with that sentiment.
Anyway, I tried to visit Kincaid's on Sunday evening but arrived too late. So Bill and I made it our first stop on Monday. Kincaid's is about as celebrated a burger place as there is in America. It's lauded in George Motz's terrific new book, and you can find it on many best or top ten burger lists—lists that cover not just Texas but the whole country.
That's why I was so shocked about what we found.
The place, as you can see, looks great. It's an old grocery store run by a family of butchers. Bill and I sidled up to the ordering counter, and I immediately noticed something that set off my burger alarm. On the griddle there were a couple rows of what seemed to be par-grilled burgers. Par-grilling burgers is one of the most lethal forms of burgercide. Want to kill the joy of eating a burger? Par-grill it—mission accomplished.
I asked the woman at the register if they would be willing to make our burgers from scratch. "No problem," she said, calling over one of the grill men and asking them for two jumbo burgers made fresh. Bill and I were patting ourselves on the back for coming up with what we thought was a surefire solution to the par-grilling problem. We ordered sides of onion rings, fried okra, and banana pudding.
Ten minutes later the counterwoman called my name. We brought the two white bags of food to one of the picnic tables at Kincaid's (you can also eat standing up, if you'd rather). One look at our unwrapped burgers and I knew we were in trouble. It was a big, thick, hockey puck of a burger with no signs of moisture (or life) anywhere. Bill took a bite of his, I took a bite of mine, and we looked at each other in amazement and disappointment. We were eating burgers in the legendary Kincaid's that were OK but nothing more, and the only reason I would even call them OK is that they were topped with bacon and cheese.
Maybe we just hit Kincaid's on a bad day. Before writing it off completely, I'd have to visit again, of course, the next time I come through DallasFort Worth. But there is some talk of Kincaid's having to close this original location because of some real estate deal.
Our next burger stop was Dutch's, a burger concept started by noted Texas chef Grady Spears. I'm always a little skeptical of chef-driven burger concepts because the chefs are rarely, if ever, there after the opening period. Spears uses organically fed, humanely raised beef in his burger, but the result was a burger only slightly better than Kincaid's. The sliders were better, but as my man Adam Kuban says, sliders are almost always better. The chili cheese fries were excellent, and if I went back, I would have an order of sliders and the chili cheese fries.
Bill and I also went to Angelo's, another legendary Fort Worth eating institution, and I had some life-changing brisket after a couple of ordering missteps, but this post is about DallasFort Worth burgers, so I'll write about my Angelo's experience in a bit on Serious Eats.
Bill dropped me off back at the hotel, and, hard as it may be to believe, I ended up going to Fearing's, the hot new restaurant in Dallas opened by seminal Texas chef Dean Fearing in the Ritz-Carlton. Fearing immediately starts chatting up my dining partner, a big-time online food editor. He's telling us about where he gets his buffalo and his shrimp tacos and his duck tamales. I tell him about my Kincaid's experience. He says they make a kick-ass burger at Fearing's.
Fire one up if you please.
Five minutes later, he puts down a gorgeous fancy-pants burger made from house-ground beef that is 80 percent meat and 20 percent fat. If it wasn't for the too-thick roll, this would be a spot-on, perfect, fancy-pants Texas burger. It was juicy, beefy, not too big, and perfectly cooked.
The moral of the story: If you want a kick-ass burger in DallasFort Worth, you have to go to the Ritz-Carlton. Go figure.