On the surface, Chelsea Corner is a bar that you know well: mini parking lot, lustrous design, pizzas, a patio that straddles outside and in, flat-screens above the bar. There's a brilliant innovation in the men’s restroom: a metal grate below the urinal that leads to a steel drain. We can discuss offline about why this is an immensely helpful offering (#peeshoes). Like the urinal grate, when you look closer at Chelsea Corner, you’ll find that the bar is working hard to be many things for us: casual and upscale, historic and modern, po’boys and pizzas.
The rebooted spot, resurrecting the original bar from 1974 with the same name in the same location, is really trying to cover its bases. With the burgers, it's trying two techniques and succeeding with only one.
There are four burgers; two are flame-grilled and two are cooked on the griddle. This is a rare bar trait these days as many chefs prefer the flat-top to the flames of the grill. Every patty is all a blend of ground short rib, brisket and chuck.
On a thick, hot day, I’m watching as Chelsea Corner’s server pours my Topo Chico in a Riedel wine glass with a lime wedge because this is Highland Park. Even the Topo Chico is hoping to be both fancy and casual at Chelsea Corner. The Roadhouse, two thin patties griddled with double cheese, caramelized onions and tomato, and the Hickory Burger, a flame-kissed patty with barbecue sauce and onion rings, are on their way.
This time, the flame grill won. Both burgers are served, on trend, over cutting boards with sauce dippers and are around 10 bucks. The double-thin patties of the Road House, heavy with cheese and buttery with onions, are overcooked and near rubbery. The only seasoning noticeable is melted cheese, which is usually one of life’s greatest things. This time, papery iceberg lettuce and tomato blanch the salt and pepper from everything.
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The Hickory Burger is the juicy winner, featuring an onion ring that could shatter if you hit the table with your fist. The flames char the patty so precisely, in a way so reminiscent of a Texas summer, you’ll be transported to base-side seats at the Rangers' stadium. I think “Cotton-Eyed Joe” might have started playing sometime after the first bite. The barbecue sauce is sweet but restrained — spread lightly over the grilled patty and under the cheese — not sopping, and smoked cheddar lives happily with grilled juices.
Most burger experts will tell you the cast-iron or the flat-top is the best technique for a burger, thanks to the Maillard reaction. It’s true: There’s no flame that matches the joy of a griddle-crusted burger, a gradient of blackened sear to crimson juices. Chelsea Corner is trying to nail both.
I get it. Today's trend leans towards fast-food homages and diner-y, roadhouse-y cheeseburgers. Still, I'd argue that Chelsea Corner should stick to a clear path: the grill fire.
Chelsea Corner, 4830 McKinney Ave.