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[Photographs: Kat Robinson]

Hunka Pie

7706 Cantrell Road, Little Rock AR 72227 (map); 501-612-4754, hunkapie.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order:Each burger has its own personality and a third a pound of meat with appropriate accompaniments on fantastic Boulevard Bread Company buns.
Want Fries with That? Delicious hand-cut beauties, but you'll want the family recipe beer-battered onion rings instead.
Price: Hunka Burger, $4.50; w/two patties, $6.50; Bombay Burger or Asian Turkey Burger, $5.50; fries, $1.75; onion rings, $2.25

Some of the best pies in the South are found at barbecue joints. Turns out, some of the best burgers in Arkansas are found at a pie shop.

Chris Monroe's fledgling Hunka Pie moved from Argenta's Galaxy Furniture Store to the former location of The Hop on Cantrell Road in Little Rock a few months ago. The first order of business was changing the menu to best utilize the new locale, a former drive-in burger joint that had operated there for decades. Chris did it with what came naturally: burgers and onion rings. But he didn't just throw a few burgers on the menu willy-nilly. He put some thought into it, deciding if he was going to do burgers he was going to do them right.

He started with the bun, eschewing the traditional with-or-without-sesame-seed commercial classic for custom made shiny and soft yellow buns from locally owned and operated Boulevard Bread Company. He went with a 80/20 beef-to-fat ratio, local produce when he could get it, and a simple selection of burger choices, all of which he whips up himself on the restaurant's flat griddle.

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The Hunka Burger is a third pound patty on said bun with your choice of cheese (American, Provolone, cheddar, pepper jack, or Swiss). Because of the softness of the bun it's a two-fister, but it's mighty fine. American or cheddar are equally apt for the patty, which is Worcestershire-sauce seasoned with notes of garlic and onion. The burgers are cooked medium well but are extraordinarily juicy—you'll need a napkin for this. The beef flavor is amplified by that Worcestershire sauce but not overwhelmed, and the onion notes compliment the buttery bun nicely. I prefer it decked out with traditional vegetation (Chris asks you what you want on that burger when you order it). The lettuce is iceberg and Chris tends to throw on nice wide slices of tomato—if he's found large ones, you'll get a slice that's the size of the bun. The pickles are typical ridgy hamburger dills that work okay.

This burger in itself is one of the top burgers in the state, let alone the city. On its own it's worthy of high praise. But the variations Chris offers cannot be ignored.

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I'm fond of the Indian-inspired Bombay Burger. It's served on the same bun as the Hunka Burger, but that's where the similarities end. Chris seasons the burger with a lovely but not overpowering garam masala blend, heavy on the cumin with a good strong note of green cardamom and fenugreek—think of a fine kofte kebab in burger form. Dip it in the accompanying cilantro-yogurt sauce and you have something entirely different from the Hunka Burger. It's served on a bed of French fried onions, the sort that go on top of a green bean casserole—the sort that I usually consider worthless. However, this application has finally redeemed the little crispy bits, providing a nice contrasting flavor and a good deal of crunch to the composition. The field greens are somewhat inconsequential.

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I would be remiss in not mentioning a third burger on the menu, yet another departure from burger-dom: the Asian Turkey Burger, a turkey patty flavored with soy and what tastes like hoisin sauce. The patty's flavor is great in itself, but even better topped with the Thai-inspired cabbage-and-carrot slaw. The slaw has a nice tangy pickle flavor that balances well against the peanut sauce condiment.

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I cannot overlook the onion rings. While the fries are great (hand-cut, skin-on, yellowish-brown, crispy, soft-middled goodies), the onion rings made from a family recipe are stellar. They're beer battered but not cakey, with lots of salt and pepper. They're a deep golden brown and the onion is completely translucent, thick cut, and very sweet.

All these good words, and I haven't even touched on the remarkable pies. Well, this is the hamburger review; you're just going to have to go and try one of the 30 amazing pie varieties yourself when you go.

About the author: Kat Robinson is a writer and storyteller out of Little Rock, AR who writes the Arkansas Times' Eat Arkansas blog and who explores Arkansas and the American South looking for great stories, interesting people and the next great meal.

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