All-American is a series that looks at beloved, longstanding North Texas eateries and examines their histories while exploring how the food has changed — for the good or bad — over the years.
It’s quiet at Goff’s after lunch. Except for the hiss of the charcoal grill and the fry oil, which seethes with viscous bubbles the second the fries touch the surface, there’s a merciful and relaxed feeling in the nearly 70-year-old burger joint. A customer hurries up to the register to grab his paper sack of food, which he had clearly spotted before it was called out. He smiles.
“It’s good to have you back,” he says. He seems to say it to the restaurant's walls more than the server.
The business-as-usual feeling at Goff’s is a relief — it’s nearly a year and a half after a fire gutted the restaurant. On Aug. 12, 2016, coal-black smoke roiled from the corner of Hillcrest. A day later, the end of the block was a blackened heap. It was an upsetting sight. Shards of the restaurant were plucked away, removed in heavy pieces until it was nothing but bones.
A year and some change later, owner Jim Francis hunted for a location.
“The only time we thought 'should we do this?' is when it got hard to find a good location,” he says. “Staying [in] the same vicinity was essential.” Also vital: Finding a space where parking isn't a hell circle spelled out by Dante Alighieri.
Around two weeks ago, Goff’s reopened in the space that formerly hosted the printing services storefront Alphagraphics. There are — deep sigh of relief — actual parking spots. To resurrect the burger restaurant that got its start in 1950 (by Abe and Bernice Gough), Francis had some work to do. The red brick charcoal grill, the hickory sauce, the cauldron of chili — and his old crew of employees — has been restored. How many burger joints that solely charcoal-flame grill their burgers are left in this city?
Goff’s didn’t have a broiler before. They’ve got one now. There’s a salamander to char the edges of the cheese fries, too.
“They’re better,” Francis says with a slight laugh. He’d just finished an order of cheese-cloaked fries to start the day.
What else is going on at Goff's?
“We’ve got a really good salad,” Francis says in a way that implies that the age of Instagram and trendy food hashtags are a tiny, distant world seen through a telescope.
The burgers, of course, are just as you remember: A #14, the "Old Fashion," is their flame-singed Angus patty (mine arrives very well done), nested on a thick pile of shredded cheese and a few pickle discs for $4.75. Cubes of white onion and yellow mustard will rocket you back to the time before dropping artisan cheese on a beef burger was ever considered. Nostalgia for burgers done like they used to is built into Goff's simplicity. It's the sole reason why Jim Francis purchased the Gough's franchise:
“I grew up eating these burgers,” he says.
Which is the point: Goff's is a hot meal more than it's a good burger. In fact, Dallas might consider giving Goff’s a pass on any snarky Yelp reviews it can muster. For a while, at least, let's admire what kind of burger joint this is: simple, hot and fast. It's the kind of burger place that doesn't normally come back after leaving us.
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Most owners — Francis bought Goff’s in 2004 — might take advantage of the reboot to add some flashy new items. For example, an owner tapped into trends might offer a hot dog sculpted in the shape of Iron Man or create fries soaked in Scorpion pepper oil (the first person to eat all the fries wins a t-shirt: "I Didn't Goff After Goff's Fries Challenge," Maybe? Just a thought).
When I ask if Francis considered incorporating items that are trending these days, he answers in one word:
Goff's, 3032 Mockingbird Lane