P. Terry's Burger Stand
3303 North Lamar Boulevard, Austin TX (map); 512-473-2217, pterrys.com, 7 locations in Austin
The Schtick: Burger joint with a 1950s vibe serving fast-food made with high quality ingredients
The Burger: Fresh take on fast-food burgers made with traditional toppings and flavorful patties. Don't forget to add pickles and onions!
Want Fries with That? Skin-on, thin-cut fries made with fresh potatoes; don't pass them up!
Setting: There is a dining area, but the drive-thru seems more popular
Price: Cheeseburger, $2.25; jalapeños, +20¢; chicken burger, $3.80; veggie burger, $3.80; milkshake, $2; fries, $1.55; cheeseburger combo (w/fries and drink), $5.20
The line snaking out of the drive-thru and into the the road indicates that P. Terry's Burger Stand in Austin is quite popular. The chain is also growing rapidly—their seventh and largest location just opened, and there are plans to open at least four more in the next few years. P. Terry's specializes in burgers made with all natural, vegetarian-fed, hormone- and antibiotic-free angus beef. They also offer several options for those avoiding red meat.
There's a whole nostalgic vibe going on P. Terry's. It capitalizes on the mid-century retro look that's popular right now, particularly in Austin. But is P. Terry's all style and no substance? I went through the drive-thru to check it out.
P. Terry's North Lamar location is incredibly busy during evening rush hour, but the drive-thru line was surprisingly short at 7:30 in the evening. The parking lot, however, was packed with cars while people dined inside.
After unwrapping the cheeseburger ($2.25) I was immediately disappointed that I forgot to add onions and P. Terry's crunchy crinkle cut pickles. These toppings are complimentary, but you have to remember to ask for them. They were perhaps overzealous with the lettuce—the large pieces made the burger a bit messy and difficult to handle. P. Terry's special sauce, basically just a mild Russian dressing, melted pleasantly into the the Land O'Lakes American cheese. The cheese was not at all plasticy and was clearly a step above your regular fast-food slices.
At three ounces, the burger patty itself was predictably thin and small—exactly what you'd expect from a fast-food joint—but the meat had a hearty beef flavor and was seasoned perfectly. Cooked on a griddle, the browned exterior had that old-fashioned flat top flavor while the interior had just a subtle touch of a color—an impressive feat for a burger of this thinness. (Confession: I'm particularly partial to small sandwich-like burgers.) P. Terry's doesn't give a choice for doneness. I wouldn't call this medium well burger juicy, but the meat wasn't dry by any means.
I also commend P. Terry's for their bread-to-burger ratio. The pillowy bun was browned on the griddle to impart that buttery flavor that transports you back to a small-town diner. It was the perfect size for this patty.
P. Terry's also takes their fries quite seriously. Unlike fries in general, I consider theirs worth eating. They start with fresh potatoes that are cut on the premises. The thinly sliced fries still have the skins clinging to them, and they're fried until just slightly crisp on the outside and soft in the middle. They're dusted with just the right amount of salt. Eat them quickly, though, because they get a little soggy after ten minutes out of the fryer.
The chicken burger ($3.80) arrived with the same fixings as the cheeseburger, but it was smothered in melted Swiss cheese. Made with freshly ground chicken, it wasn't as dense as the beef burger. It was flavored heavily with black pepper, but the rich cheese somewhat obscured the flavor. All and all, the chicken burger was texturally appealing but a bit bland. I might have preferred it with American cheese instead.
The chain makes their own veggie burgers ($3.80) with brown rice, mushrooms, black beans, oats, onions, cheese, and fresh parsley. It was heavy on the brown rice, and the texture was a little dense and gluey. The strongest flavors came from the onion and parsley. The veggie burger is ultimately a great option for a vegetarian craving fast food, but meat eaters shouldn't pass up the burger for it.
It's near impossible to go through the P. Terry's drive-thru and resist the milk shakes ($2). They've recently expanded their offerings beyond vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. I chose caramel, one of the newest flavors. Sometimes the caramel is completely stirred into the vanilla shake, but this time it dripped down the sides of the cup, making for a dramatic presentation. P. Terry's shakes are almost too thick to drink straight from the drive-thru window, but it became easier to drink as it melted. The shake had a strong but not overwhelming vanilla flavor, and the caramel was the real deal instead of just flavored syrup.
P. Terry's has the ability to evoke warm childhood memories of afternoons at McDonald's without shaming you for eating fast-food as an adult. By using real ingredients and cooking methods, they've created a more mature riff on the fast-food formula. A car full of people with different eating restrictions can all find something to eat here. That said, P. Terry's is ultimately focused on the burger, so that remains the best thing on the menu.
About the author: Meredith Bethune is a writer, blogger, and sausage and bacon maker. She is currently living in Austin and learning about the wonders of barbecue and chicken-fried steak. Follow her on Twitter (@MeredithBethune).