There’s a moment of surprise when you enter the Mockingbird Diner. The ceilings are sky-high and vaulted. There are no winding hallways; it’s an open-concept floor surrounded by clean, sharp white walls. Up high on the south wall is a long, thin rectangle of a window.
This new restaurant — from the people who brought us Maple & Motor and Good 2 Go Taco — is a diner church. The countertop is polished black, the lights smooth, sleek cylinders. It looks what would happen if Chip and Joanna Gaines fixed up the church from There Will Be Blood. It’s unsuspicious, a world outside pretension. And the cheeseburger is all heart. It’s an instant contender for the best under-$10 sandwich in the city.
Jack Perkins, co-owner of Maple & Motor, holds out two fists.
“OK, so two balls,” he says, his hands mimicking the double-quarter-pounder beef balls that drop on the griddle. “They go on the grill, and then we press them.”
This will make meat-lovers' eyes light up. Every time good, fatty ground beef is smashed into the flat grill, sear-crusting the surface, an angel get its wings.
When it’s time to flip, patty one gets a golden blanket of cheese, and patty two drops on top. Chef Jeana Johnson, of Good 2 Go Taco fame, and Perkins use cheddar cheese as a flare gun to know when the temperature is right. The cheese melts at the exact time the bottom burger’s ready. The result is a crackable crust walling in a rich network of juices.
The Mockingburger, as this double with special sauce is known, will drop you to your knees in meat prayer. “Down to the River to Pray” should play as the sandwich is slowly, spiritually walked to your table from the open kitchen. Once you take a bite, those meat juices flow like the birds-eye view of a landscape cut with streams.
Like many of the burgers popping up around town, it was inspired by the pre-celebrity chef world Perkins grew up in. It's a love letter to a diner cheeseburger.
“When I was kid, it was always two burgers,” he says, remembering the double-double at Kip’s Big Boy (the Northwest Highway diner was demolished in 2005). Like a good ol' Big Boy burger, Perkins and Johnson’s instant classic is topped with Thousand Island dressing that's made in house with Duke’s mayonnaise, ketchup, chopped pickle relish and onion, and a small blast of mustard. It's amped up with a brioche bun that's top-loaded with sesame seeds. It’s like a scoop of cloud.
Those beef juices aren’t the result of nostalgia-fueled magic. They surge from smart execution and a grind that’s 27 percent fat, 73 percent beef, just like the burgers at Maple & Motor.
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“You can’t cook a burger that’s fat enough to be juicy over a flame," Perkins says.
Looking out the front windows, Southwest’s ocean-blue plane whisks downward, ready to land. The diner is close enough to Love Field to grab a layover bite or just watch the planes come and go.
“You know how I like to describe the burger?” my server asks with a smile. “It’s if the Big Mac was real.”
Mockingbird Diner, 3130 W. Mockingbird Lane