Dallas: A Revolution Worth Fighting For at Liberty Burger
5211 Forest Lane, Dallas TX 75244 (map); 972-239-2100; givemelibertyburger.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Superb beef blend and wide array of toppings suggests great promise at this new startup
Want Fries with That? Putting the 'string' in shoestring, they're delicious only when hot. Sweet potato fries a better option
Price: Wild West burger, $7; bison cheeseburger, $9; skinny fries, $2; sweet potato fries, $2.50; soft drinks, $2
Notes: Brand new restaurant, owned by a famous Dallas food family. Bizarre seating/ordering system. Takeout available.
"Give me Liberty Burger or let me starve," screams the tagline to this recently-opened North Dallas neighborhood spot. While I wouldn't go that far, my first visit would see me modify the motto to, "Give me Liberty Burger ahead of 90 percent of the other offerings in the area, but I also hope it improves a bit so that it can really live up to its potential." (Granted, that's not quite as snappy and might not fit on the flyers.) Still, here we find a burger place that could, with a few changes, be counted among the city's best.
Liberty Burger is owned by the Street siblings, Mariel, Gene Jr., and Dace, children of local favorite restauranteur Gene Street. His operations range from the French-Texas upscale III Forks to family-style Good Eats; given such a wide range, a griddled-to-order custom burger place seems like a natural step. Taking up corner space in a strip mall just off Inwood, it's a fine location, a stone's throw from both leafy North Dallas and the ever-crowded Tollway area. As such it was no surprise to see the restaurant packed with all age groups at 5 p.m. on a Friday.
Those braving the crowds will find a welcome addition to the Dallas burger scene—albeit one that needs a bit of work to join the top five. Since Liberty Burger is fairly new—about three months old—the problems can be put down to teething; as soon as they're fixed, the Streets are onto yet another winner.
One such issue is the ordering and seating system. We're all familiar with order-at-counter, food-brought-to-you restaurants, and that's how Liberty advertises itself. But upon entering you're immediately accosted by a harassed server, who asks for your party size, points out your table, and then gives you your number before moving you on. You're then thrown, in a scene reminiscent of the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic The Running Man, towards the register, giving you no time to study the beautiful electronic menu boards on the wall. If you didn't research what you wanted online before coming, you'll be face-to-face with an expectant cashier before you know it, completely unsure of what you want and by now far away from those menus. I went for the Wild West burger almost by default.
Needless to say this first encounter with Liberty Burger wasn't so much one of freedom and joy as of stress and frustration. But having ordered and sat down, the sight of fine-looking burgers making their way to the dining room was more than welcome. The buns, advertised as custom-made, looked perfect in both their white and wheat forms, and all contained within was similarly beautiful. It was slightly worrying to see our burgers emerge only to be carried back to the kitchen, but on their second journey through the restaurant the server spied our number and we were served.
First impressions of the burger were mixed. Prior to the autopsy shot both my Wild West burger and my wife's bison cheeseburger were things of beauty. But cutting into them, we found the temperatures reversed; my order of medium was in fact well done, and hers the exact opposite. Resisting the temptation to send them back—mindful of the fact that she had work in an hour and Dallas traffic isn't to be trifled with—we dug in.
Here's where things got a lot better. So delicious was my patty I didn't especially care that it was overcooked. Despite the shades of gray on the inside it remained pleasantly juicy—a near half-pound of a great beef mix will do that. Painted on the wall is the proud boast of a custom blend from a "steakhouse purveyor," consisting of chuck, brisket, and tenderloin. And what a combo that proved to be. With reference to Kenji's blend guide, there's a grassy, gamey hit from the brisket, lean, balanced flavor from the chuck, and an understated but still very much present beefiness from the tenderloin. A perfect blend.
Liberty's custom bun was slightly on the brioche-y side for my tastes, but it's sure to please those looking for something beyond the industrial white bun used almost everywhere else.
The patty stood up well to most of the toppings, too. My Wild West was topped with a sensible amount of cheddar and bacon, along with a few pieces of onion and a thin spreading of barbecue sauce. These worked together to complement rather than overpower the excellent beef. The only problem was the pickles, which were so thickly cut that in the end I had to remove them and eat them alone.
The bison burger, with cheese and mustard, was surprisingly moist and tasty for such a lean meat, and although it's pricey—understandable, given its locally-reared, all-natural provenance—I'd recommend it as a slightly healthier but still delicious burger option.
The sweet potato fries were fine examples of the genre, even if the helping was a bit miserly for $2.50. Yet the biggest let-down of all were the shoestring fries, which despite their thin cut weren't even especially crispy. It was a chore to gather enough of the floppy cuttings to dip in the fine house-made chipotle ketchup and—worse yet—the fries were already were half-cold when served.
But despite the overcooked patty and the disappointing potato products, I'm left waiting and wanting to return to Liberty Burger. It's far from perfect at this point but, like freedom itself, it's worth the struggle. With such popularity already it's set to be a neighborhood hit long into the future, and as time goes on it can hopefully iron out the kinks. Then it will truly be a force to be reckoned with. But for now, give me Liberty Burger and give me it often.
About the author: Ewan Macdonald is a soccer writer who will probably die with a hamburger in his mouth. Born in Scotland, he was lured to the Dallas area by cheap beef and a love of 100 degree evenings with 60% relative humidity.