Knowing chances were good that Snuffer's would once again garner the Reader's Choice award for best hamburger in this very newspaper, I thought I'd go check it out again. It's been years (as many as Chips has been open) since I'd eaten at Snuffer's. To give you an idea how long, I still get lost in the rabbit warren of rooms they keep adding. (Didn't you used to enter from the alley?)
And there were other surprises. Snuffer's was, in that long-ago time, a collegiate beer-drinkers' hangout; I thought of it as an extension of SMU, where you took Undergraduate Beer 101. So it was somewhat of a shock to see all the high chairs in there on a weeknight. Don't these people know that EZ's, specifically designed for families, is just across the street? I guess some people just don't know when to let go, when to move on to the next phase of their life, when they've passed the course. Or is the pull of the strawberry daiquiri so strong it breaks the stroller barrier?
The primary taste memory of Snuffer dining in the old days is saline. As I recall, the burger and fries were incredibly salty, the better to increase those happy hour tabs, I suppose. So salty that you had Lawrence of Arabia dreams that kept you getting up for water half the night.
The secret is, salt makes fat taste better. So we tried the turkey burger instead this time. The whole point of a turkey burger is less fat, so it must require less salt and, sure enough, it wasn't salty, but then, it didn't have any other flavors, either. Plus, it was sort of rubbery, probably also because it didn't have enough fat in it.
The chicken breast sandwich, which we also tried, is the only viable low-fat burger alternative. Snuffer's version is good, the breast flattened out to patty-thinness, topped burger-style with lettuce, pickle, and tomato, the dressing on the side. The fries seemed less salty than in the old days, and the "onion fries," so called because they are not rings, but thick onion strips, were crisp-battered and mild. A club sandwich was fine-- thin slices of turkey, thin slices of bacon, flattened lettuce, in enough layers to make a mouthful.
Of course there's a Caesar salad; where isn't there a Caesar salad? Did you really think this one would be any good? Better than you might guess: nice big cold bowl, fresh torn romaine, creamy dressing, not really garlicky enough for a Caesar, but that's such a common deficiency I hardly dare mention it. Probably most people don't even expect garlic in their Caesar salads, because all they've ever eaten are the ersatz mass-market Caesars. (This salad was served with a knife as well as a fork, which is a thoughtful touch, because though the leaves should be torn large, it's nice to trim them down yourselves if you think they'll brush your ears as they enter your mouth.)
Our helpful (young) waitress seemed as used to tending to the needs of the high chairs as to the rest of us--she also brought a stack of extra napkins with the cheese fries, and generally, service was fast and friendly.
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So the crowd was older (and younger) than I remembered. Of course, I was there at dinnertime. It's surely a different crowd at one in the morning, and Snuffer's is open every day till 2 a.m. This is a typical barfly menu, good for soaking up an evening's beer. Well, at 1 in the morning, this might be the best burger.
--Mary Brown Malouf
Snuffer's, 3526 Greenville Ave., 826-6850. Open daily 11 a.m.- 2 a.m.
Chicken sandwich $4.95
Potato fries $1.45
Cheddar fries $3.95