Dude Food: Country Burger

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Country Burger
401 S. Hampton Rd.

Dude Factor: 3, or Buckethead, on a scale of 1 (Axl Rose) to 10 (Slash)

Last night in choosing a place to eat, I decided to stick to my New Year's resolution. Fortunately, my resolution is to eat more bacon-cheeseburgers, which is a pretty easy promise to keep.

At least, I thought it would be--until the silent, surly fry cook at Country Burger handed me one of the worst hamburgers I've ever had.

I really wanted to like the place, too. It's a place where they hire fry cooks, not chefs. It's funky and endearingly run-down, as if it were preserved in a time capsule immediately following the death of Selena. The Queen of Tejano's memory is honored with dozens of photos, magazine covers and paintings all over the place.

It's cheap, too: my bacon-chee with fries and large drink plus my son's corn-dog meal added up to a mere $10 and change.

And the nostalgia from seeing all those old arcade machines like Mortal Kombat and Lethal Enforcers, and the Dirty Harry, Lethal Weapon 3 and Guns N' Roses pinball games could bring a tear to any man's eye...although another emotion crept in moments later. Anger at being an arcade rip-off victim arose when I watched a teenager feed the G-N-R machine a quarter without receiving a credit. Employees watched, disinterested, as she tried to push the quarter in with a straw, then a plastic knife. Later, I'd discover that one of the Mortal Kombat joysticks was broken, allowing my character only to back away from my son's attacks.

In retrospect, I should have taken the "House Recipe" generic ketchup and the lack of maintenance to the machines (complete with "No Refunds on Game Money" sign) as a bad omen.

Things started out promising. I liked the foolproof system they used: they simply wrote the order on a paper bag, which was passed from the prep station to the grill to the fryer until the food was assembled and put in the same bag. And the fries--frozen, of course, with the deep freezer conveniently located next to the deep fryer--came in a generous Styrofoam cup.

Environment? C'mon--this is Texas.

But one bite and it was clear that cheap ingredients didn't stop at ketchup. My sandwich consisted of few thin and soggy strips of bacon, nasty yellow American cheese and flavorless beef that somehow managed to be both greasy and dry. Topping it off was a tomato slice sporting a dime-sized rotten, moldy spot.

I like the occasional food-related surprise, but that was pushing it.

"Oh, sorry," said the counter girl, and came back with a fresh replacement on a sheet of wax paper.

Look, I can deal with the occasional lapse in quality control. I'm not going to make a stink and threaten to call the health board over something like that. But it would take more than a half-assed apology and a new sliver of tomato to prevent most customers from vowing never to return. Comping the meal would have been ideal. Hell, I'd have settled for a free dessert.

The ice-cream counter sported more than a dozen flavors, and promised hand-dipped milkshakes. Yet, when I asked for a cookies-n-cream shake--did I mention my other resolution, the one about shakes?--the counter-girl not only didn't offer one on the house to make up for the inadvertent dose of penicillin, she said they only do chocolate, vanilla and strawberry shakes.

"What?!!" I said. "You've got the flavor I want, and you've got the blender. Why can't you make it?"

She just shrugged.

This is a place that serves moldy food. And instead of fixing or turning off quarter-stealing arcade games, they simply tape up a sign that essentially says "We're keeping your money." That's all you need to know about their attitude towards customers. After all that, I don't know why the counter girl's last bit of laziness infuriated me so much. It certainly shouldn't have been a surprise.

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