There’s not much of a view at Haystack. The beer and burger joint is nudged into a strip mall overlooking a typical Dallas parking lot partially fenced off, its asphalt blanketed by a layer of dust from construction. Just above the strip mall, a tower of Turtle Creek condominiums blocks the sky with humdrum browns, where more construction is happening via a tiny crane on the roof. That’s fine; it’s all fine: There is a chicken-fried burger at this locally owned joint, and the sandwich carries you away like a hawk with a pigeon in its talons.
It’s a sandwich that embraces the flavor profile of some hidden-gem diner — one that’s open 24 hours and allows smoking after a meal — simple and conceived long before humans would worry about the health effects of a chicken-fried gravy burger. It’s the best chicken-fried sandwich that you’ll find in a strip mall that also features a cryotherapy studio.
When the sandwich arrives, everything else fades from your vision. Goodbye, modern farmhouse restaurant design. It’s like a sodium magic spell has been cast: My vision zooms into the whirling center of the cloud-white gravy, shards of bacon dancing, sandwich-entranced for a brief time. Is everything OK? The salty gravy, mixing with the aroma of fried onions from the side of onion rings emitted another magic aroma, the wafting perfume of a nondescript city’s carnival with roasted peanut oil.
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The focus of the sandwich is on the deeply fried middle: Steam and salty juices and a good beef patty are sealed inside the crunchy walls of the sturdy breading. The patty holds up neatly to getting cut in half. Steam pours out, piping-hot as a good chicken-fried steak might be. A few spots have attempted to execute a fried burger in the past. Some work, but most don’t. Some are deep fried into oblivion, steaming a burger until it’s the texture and color of a dress shoe. Haystack's has a thoughtful simplicity and a potent saltiness.
There’s an armored crust that’s ready to shatter at the right time — when you bite in. The gravy, thick and creamy, has good smoke from the bacon and a cool breeze from jalapeños. That’s all that tops the fried burger, and that’s all it needs. There are no microgreens, and there’s no local tomato.
Cold beer is a good side option. Onion rings are a better idea. The chicken-fried burger is unconcerned with the state of your health — it’s just an under-$10 sandwich that cast a salty spell.
Haystack Burgers & Barley, 3838 Oak Lawn Ave. (Oak Lawn) and 100 S. Central, Richardson