Yesterday I wrote that scorecards aren't any fun for restaurant critics. They can be useful in certain applications, though, like comparing many versions of the same thing over time. Judges at food competitions use them. And it was a scorecard designed by Texas Monthly that forever changed dining at The Grape, the subject of my review this week.
Brian Luscher thought it was just another curious customer that beckoned him to the front of the house during the summer of 2009. While most diners come, eat their meal and go, others like a little extra attention from the kitchen. They like socializing with chefs. But Brad Perkins sat at the bar and introduced himself as a contributor to Texas Monthly. He he was looking for the best burger in the state, he said, and he was armed with a scorecard.
Perkins pulled out the printed form, with sections for meat, bun, toppings and other extras. Each category had attributes he could circle, a numerical value he could assign, and a place for extra notes. The top of the form had a small box marked "office use only." This is the box that compiled all the information into a single two-digit score.
Before Texas Monthly anointed The Grape's burger, the restaurant's Sunday morning brunch service would see enthusiastic but manageable business. The weekend after the story ran, though, Luscher turned 280 covers, almost three times the regular turn out. Two hundred of those orders were for burgers. He had to send staff out for extra bacon and ground meat multiple times.
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Two years later, not much has changed. My first introduction to The Grape was on a hot August Sunday, early in the afternoon. My party showed up at 1:30, and were ushered to the back dining area, a quiet wing that made me feel left out from the louder, more boisterous happenings of the main dining room. Sure enough, table after table was filled with burgers, four-tops going four for four.
A young girl made use of a knife in an attempt to make the sandwich more manageable, but the cause was lost. Even cut in half her tiny hands were no match. You could see her gears turning. She couldn't even bite into the thing without tipping her head to the side and attempting a different angle of attack.
I order a ton of burgers, not only because I love them, but because I think they're a pretty solid indicator of a kitchen's attention to detail. Burgers are modest. And a kitchen staff that spends as much time on a humble hunk of ground meat as they do on a fancy plate of seared fish likely has its shit together.
The Grape's burger is juicy, with a well seared crust, and topped with high-quality ingredients, including a thick slice of cheddar and bacon Luscher has the patience to cure in-house. It skirts the line in terms of size, big without being obnoxiously so (unless you're 9). It's a shame it's only available Sunday for brunch and Monday nights, but it's necessary: The sandwich's demand would turn the bistro into a hamburger stand. It's that good. Go eat it.