My left arm is still tingling as I write this story.
As long as there has been fire, man has enjoyed the scent of cooked meat sizzling hard on an open flame. Be it the brontosaurus or the grazing heifer, there simply is nothing more satisfying than a burger.
Perhaps it is the infirm economy that has the various burger chains jockeying for position. In recent months, we have seen a major influx of chains such as 5 Guys and Mooya Burger dotting the low-end culinary scene as they attempt to etch more market share, flipping arm loads of burgers for eager customers.
The In-N-Out rumors fly as displaced Californians pine for a taste of home in the comforting burger of their youth. Will Dallas ever see an In-N-Out location?
In-N-Out is a privately-owned by the Snyder family who state that "there are no plans to take the company public" and "expansion beyond southwest Utah would require freezing the meat and, from a management's view, would damage the brand". So we may not see the coveted Southern California restaurant in Texas. But we won't have a Redwood Forest or a Golden Gate Bridge either, and why would we want to? This is Texas--we have our own landmarks and our own burger culture.
That said, I took a mini-burger tour today--and one for the team. My health insurance at the Observer hasn't kicked in yet. And I ate a lot of burgers.
We all have our favorites, but I had to eliminate many because Toque to Toque is about the mano y mano challenge. Two inimitable forces thrown together in a survival of the fittest battle. Some of the ones I like but eliminated include Jake's, Angry Dog and Kincaids. Another day perhaps.
Today's contenders are 5 Guys Burgers and Fries, and a South Dallas landmark Wingfields Breakfast and Burgers. I wanted to pit a chain that is getting a lot of attention to a long- time local hangout.
I went to the 5 Guys location at the Galleria, the local home of Tiffany's and Gucci, and teeming with high-tone examples of Dallas women. You will find 5 Guys hidden below on the lower level by the ice rink. Every time I have approached the entrance, 5 Guys is packed full of burger eaters hunched over mounds of fries and double-stacked burgers.
The basis for 5 Guys is sound. Every burger is made with two one-third pound fresh-formed beef patties. There are a plethora of toppings that can be added at no additional charge. Jalapenos, mushrooms and onions are all part of the deal if you desire. A single burger can be had, but you must presumably be a child to consider this option. The small order of hand-cut fries can easily feed three people, and are served piping hot with a slight crispness to them. Certainly delicious on any potato scale.
What makes a great burger includes a fresh beef patty that is plump and well seasoned. A solid bun to hold the burger in place is certainly a requirement. And additional fresh ingredients, including lettuce, tomato and a few slices of good pickle are a must. I personally like mustard, never ketchup and don't even think about serving me warm mayonnaise.
5 Guys has a decent beef patty, and does not endure the heavy searing that extracts all the coveted juices, leaving a burger dry on the inside, and a greasy on the outside. However, the bun is 5 Guys Achilles Heal. A standard off-the-shelf generic bun that does not hold well in the foil wrapper and continues to steam the bun once bagged, leaving a gummy wet burger. Not the best scenario.
From the Galleria, I head straight south on the Tollway to 35 and South Beckley, where you will find wedged between a car lot and a mechanic's garage, Wingfield's in all its burger glory. I spoke to Mr. Wingfield briefly, who has owned the restaurant since 1986, but was interrupted by the manager of the car lot next door, who threatened to call the cops on the clients parked in his lot. Wingfield said it would be a pretty good idea. The cars are parked three deep on the small lot at three in the afternoon.
The method for ordering a burger at Wingfield's is to mosey into the counter area in the front where, if they had seats, there would be room for three people. Today there were nine. And many more waiting for their orders in their cars outside. I paid for a burger and fries and waited in my car. It takes about 15 minutes to get your order, but you can call ahead.
When my order was called I opened the burger on the counter for all to see and was met with gasps of delight. I took a few snapshots of the burger before devouring, and a kind gentleman behind me said, "are you going to look at it or eat the son of a bitch."
I grabbed the burger and ran to the car.
The burger weighed in at nearly two pounds with all the red onions and fresh tomato. The patty was a monster. As I bit in, I could taste that it was hand-molded and not packed tightly. It had a faint bacon taste that made me smile. The bun was over-sized, but nothing incredible. It was utilitarian. The bun held the burger like a warm handshake; firm with some authority.
The fries were stock crinkle cut, but had the flavor of bacon due to the fact that Wingfield's deep fries their bacon for breakfast, and the residual bacony goodness is imparted into the fries.
And the guy that called me an SOB? He ordered a double. I wish him well as he visits his cardiologist.
Win to Wingfield's for making me smile all the way back up the Tollway and home. I will not eat again for a few days.