Chain Reaction: Old-Fashioned Burgers With A Salty Twist At Burger House
6913 Hillcrest Avenue, Dallas TX 75205 (map); 214-361-0370; six other locations in Texas listed at burgerhouse.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
The Schtick: A North Dallas favorite that's branched out across the Lone Star State. Been around for 60 years and counting.
The Burger: A thin American classic with plenty of seasoning and aggressive flavor. Toppings leave much to be desired.
Want Fries with That? If you like the cumin-infused seasoning salt, you'll love these
Setting: Varies by location. The original is a concrete-floored piece of history with ancient picnic tables; others are plastic drive-thrus.
Prices: Hamburger, $2.79; double cheeseburger, $4.69; fries, $1.69; bowl of chili, $3.25; hot dog, $2.89
Notes: Open until 9 p.m. Vast menu includes hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, malts, and above all, chili. Other locations throughout DFW offer drive-thru.
"Famous since 1951 for our seasoned salt," proclaims the monolithic menu board at the Burger House, and they ain't lying. Also known as "Jack's", this mini-chain is renowned in Dallas and beyond for its highly-seasoned burgers and fries, so prized locally that "Burger House breath" is a well-known phenomenon around the Park Cities.
That locals risk halitosis to eat here isn't surprising: burger joints are notoriously tribal affairs, which every neighborhood somehow being home to the world's best. Living as I do pretty far from leafy North Dallas, I came to Burger House with an open mind. I left sated, satisfied, and with cumin/garlic breath that would stun a dog at twenty paces.
Burger House makes no pretensions towards the gourmet. This is old-school fast food, started—as were so many short-order places around the nation—by a Greek immigrant named Prometheus "Jack" Koustoubardis, whose generous hand with the seasoning continues to this day. Frozen patties are griddled up well-done, alongside onions if you wish, seasoned, and thrown in a commercial bun. As is standard for Dallas, mustard is the only default sauce, although others are available by special request. Then there are the usual toppings of lettuce, tomato, and pickle, along with your grilled or raw onions. Nothing special there, although at $2.79 for a single burger, it's something of an inflation-buster.
Being a tremendous glutton, I of course went for the double cheeseburger. This was a wise choice because the burgers are large in diameter only, lacking any height. There are complaints online that Burger House only cooks well-done: this presumably is because they use frozen patties and don't grind in-house, but even if they did, there just isn't the depth here to go medium. As it stands the patties are unfashionable in every sense: thin patties these days are generally well-crusted, but these aren't.
However, the flavor works. The seasoning salt makes a huge difference, picking up the slack from the rather anonymous beef, and is a salty foil for the sweet, tangy yellow mustard. Again, it's not going to win any prizes for haute cuisine or even creativity, but this humble-looking burger is very tasty for the price.
That said, next time I'd just have them leave off the tomato and pickles. The tomato was so pale it looked like a photo negative, and tasted exactly as you'd expect, while the pickles simply added nothing to the experience.
As for the frozen fries, it comes down to this: do you like the seasoning salt? Do you like it poured on like grit on a Canadian driveway? Do you yearn for cumin, for garlic, for black pepper, for a dose of sodium chloride that would make your doctor slap some sense into you? If you answered yes to the above, you'll love these fries. If you didn't, you will hate them. Because let it be known that nobody in the history of cooking has ever seasoned a fry so excessively as have Jack and his successors. I mean, they are just coated in the stuff.
I discovered later that many people ask for fries "light on seasoning", and I can well believe it, because although my time-ravaged taste buds fairly danced to the beat of the fry spice, by the end of the tray it was getting a bit too much.
The one mistake I made was ordering the chili. It comes in one size only and is absolutely covered in shredded cheese (another Greek diner legacy, perhaps) and diced white onion, with enough saltines crackers on the side to provision a voyage to the New World. It was no better or worse than any of the canned red you'll find in any home or diner in the Lone Star State, and while it may work well as a topping, a bowl of it wasn't a welcome addition to the meal.
I'll never call Burger House the best burger in Dallas, but it's a unique slice of history that, every once in a while, will satisfy a craving. Just make sure to bring a breath mint.
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.