Stackhouse sits on a knoll above the concrete expanse that is the intersection of Gaston Avenue, Malcolm X Boulevard and Fair Park Link, in East Dallas. With a pine-green exterior, large windows and a roof-top deck with views of the Dallas skyline, it's a quaint little place for burger-eating.
This is the house that Randall Kienast built, or at least renovated. The developer took a break from residential building to team up with his buddy Ben Spies, who wanted to get into burgers when he wasn't dominating the MotoGP circuit. (Spies rides really fast motorcycles.) They purchased the structure near Baylor Hospital this spring, with building plans in their hands and glossy burger buns in their eyes.
Inside Stackhouse, a small five-seat bar sits in the back, assaulted with a cold blast of air each time the nearby door opens. It opens often. (As the large, circular sign out front states, parking is in the rear.) No matter. There is plenty of seating elsewhere in the dining room of dark woods, light walls and chalkboard menus. Simply leave your order at the counter, grab your allotted table marker and find yourself a seat.
French fries $2
Onion rings $2.95
Sip on wine from an approachable wine list or beer from a menu that boasts a handful of taps and bottles. But don't get too excited about the booze, though; this is not a gastropub or wine bar. It's a burger house, a place where you happen to be able to find a decent beer or glass of wine while you wait for a warm hunk of meat on a glistening, buttery bun.
The 6-ounce patties might be small for a devoted burgermeister, but you can always order a double. The resulting beef tower required deliberate compression by my dining companion during one visit. I watched as fat and juices squeezed from the meat, saturating the soft, yellow roll. She had to cut her double in half. She had to use five napkins to finish. She nearly lost the battle. And then she won.
The fries are good — as they must be in any respectable burger house. Chef James Rose cuts them on site before double frying them. The pommes come out soft, brown like dried tobacco and rich with oil.
The sweet-potato fries are sturdy bootlaces of bright orange. The strands come from a food distributor (Ben E. Keith), one of the few things Stackhouse doesn't make in-house.
That includes the potato chips and dip: large, thin slices of potatoes fried to a crisp and served with a French onion dip that's the consistency of soft, wet clay, augmented with scallions and yellow onions. If you could buy this in the store, addiction would be imminent.
Salads are generously portioned, crunchy and fresh, and a few sides shine, but the rest of the menu pales in comparison to the burgers, which Kienast claims outsell the other items at the Stackhouse three-to-one.
Mac and cheese are two separate ingredients that never become one; the sauce in which large penne pasta swims is lifeless and thin. Tilt that baby aluminum pie pan, which is capped in a crust of melted cheddar and breadcrumbs, and you can watch the "cheese" pour like heavy cream.
Onion rings are a bit of a misnomer, too. Rose thinly shaves the bulbs into a tangled gossamer of onion wisps. They taste great, simultaneously sweet and savory, but they're not really rings, and they're hard to pick up and eat. If the Stackhouse used these as a burger topping with steak sauce, bacon and cheddar cheese, the gods of bovinity would weep greasy tears of joy.
Seven sandwiches and a single hot dog also grace the menu, bearing simple names that tell you exactly what you'll get. Grilled chicken, grilled portobello, grilled cheese and grilled fish; a Cuban, an Italian and the Dagwood, a ham and turkey club of sorts. All come on heavily buttered and well-toasted bread. Note, though, that the Cuban is not a true Cuban. It's missing roasted pork.
The chili is a rich and hearty bowl of meat. Ground beef and chunks of tender, stringy sirloin mingle in the earthy burgundy stew that's served with a pile of tortilla chips for dipping. Those onion strands would make a killer topping here, too.
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But you're here for those burgers, aren't you?
They're inviting, if a little inconsistent. On one visit the patties were a little dry. On another they left a puddle of greasy juice-carnage on a paper-lined plate. On one visit the beef was crusted in a dark brown sear. On another it was lifeless and needed a little salt. But a burger ordered pink was always pink and juicy. And a burger ordered not pink was always a dull and lifeless gray. So order accordingly, grab a beer and sit back and wait for your meal.
There are many burger houses, but Stackhouse is a literal house filled with burgers, and that's the vibe it achieves. Kienast's renovation makes for a space that feels a little like home. It's East Dallas' answer to Jonathon's in Oak Cliff, comfortable and quaint. There's a little more lingering and drinking here, too — though it's not quite a pub.
"It's like a starter bar," a waitress told me one visit, when I asked if people hang out and drink in the evenings. To enable that start, Stackhouse sells an iced pail filled with five Pabst Blue Ribbon cans for $10. Perfect for a table of guys priming the pump before a night out, but I also saw an older couple chat quietly at a bar table and work their way through a bucket. I liked them for that. I liked Stackhouse, too.