The chicken-fried burger at Chicken Scratch is $12 with French fries tossed with a sweet, spicy dust.EXPAND
The chicken-fried burger at Chicken Scratch is $12 with French fries tossed with a sweet, spicy dust.
Nick Rallo

Where's the Beef? At Chicken Scratch, It's in the Chicken-Fried Cheeseburger.

For chef Jeff Biehler, there was a simple reason for adding a burger to a poultry-themed menu: Customers asked for a dish that wasn’t entirely bird, and the kitchen listened. Oak Cliff/West Dallas food playground Chicken Scratch has been focusing on hulking, patio-style, fried chicken and biscuit sandwiches since January 2012, and a revamp of its menu several months ago paved the way for a beef option. All it takes is one look at Biehler’s chicken-fried burger to locate a more understated inspiration: the unrequited love of a diner cheeseburger.

Biehler grew up in Chickasha, Oklahoma, where he fell head-over-heels in love with a burger at J & W Grill. Its onion burger is good ol' beef, smashed hard into a crown of onions on a smoking-hot griddle. If you’ve had a crushed burger like this, then you know the marvel of the crusty beef caramelized and fused into seared onions. The onions become one with the beef, and you become one with onion-beef. It's the circle of life, and it moves us.

“It’s the best burger in the world,” Biehler says. “I think people in Dallas try to fancy burgers up too much. It’s too big or there’s an egg on it. Take your egg off my burger; that’s for breakfast.”

While a yolk-runny egg on a burger usually results in pupil dilation for this burger writer, it’s a hard point to counter. Dallas has seen a steep rise of sometimes disturbingly overcomplicated cheeseburgers in the past two years. Some are razor sharp and delicious despite the cost. Others struggle so hard to be social media shareable that they lose their soulsin the process. The best burgers are portable beef sandwiches, executed with the wisdom that the best food on the planet can come from the road shack you swing your car into on a whim during a long road trip. Chicken Scratch's challenge was that the restaurant clearly focuses on fried bird, so the idea of an old-fashioned grilled burger wasn’t an option.

Instead, what drops in front of you is an Angus beef patty jailed in a brittle cloud of chicken-fried batter. It’s a crackling encasement, salty and easy to fracture with a quick press of the finger. It’s made of the same buttermilk batter used on the chicken. Really, it’s a humble little chicken-fried steak with a slice of anyone-can-buy-it American cheese, chopped onions, chopped lettuce, pickle slices and, most important, a healthy wash of yellow mustard. The bun takes a car-wash-like spin through a butter roller.

“It took a lot of experimenting,” Biehler says, and it's easy to imagine. Ascertaining the doneness on a burger jailed inside breading isn’t easy. (On my recent visit, my burger was well done.) “We’re a fried chicken place. We don’t have a grill," he says. "So we had to get creative.”

Despite a well-done cook, the thin crust cracked like bacon but was sturdy enough to encase the Angus beef’s beautiful juices. Mustard and pickles fracture the rich saltiness of the burger and American cheese. The chopped onions make everything taste like a roadside cheeseburger you’d order on a long drive across the Breadbasket in the '50s. It tastes like food made long before there were celebrity chefs, and that’s kinda the point.

Chicken Scratch, 2303 Pittman St.

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