All-American is a series that looks at beloved, longstanding North Texas eateries and examines their histories while exploring how the food has changed — for the good or bad — over the years.
The flat-top crackles. Four beef patties go down, snapping and hissing like records, and a powder coat of salt and pepper falls on the pink side. The cooks flip, then smash the burgers into the hot griddle. Juices run out, hissing. Then chicken breast slides onto the griddle, where it’ll sear for a while.
From the counter, it’s busy and it’s hot at J.G.'s Old Fashioned Hamburgers. Cher Bacon, who grew up behind the register, whips around and calls an order of onion rings. The phone rings over and over in the humid air. The joint’s been open for a few minutes on this weekday morning, but the line’s already starting to build up. There’s a minor backup at the condiment bar.
“It’s ridiculous,” Bacon, daughter of owner Morris Bagheri, says to a customer. They’re talking about the traffic in the parking lot — it’s been crowded this morning in the little strip mall in Lake Highlands. The customer orders a cheeseburger, and more patties go down on the hot griddle.
Extravagance is nonexistent at J.G.’s. It’s so not elaborate that you’ll find a request for any flourish feels awkward. There are no local sodas, and chili is 75 cents extra. The “special chicken sandwich” is a salted and peppered chicken breast on a bun with honey mustard, lettuce and tomato.
Who else in the universe is offering a full condiment buffet? Under wood panels, there are plastic tongs to pluck red onions, white onions, mustard, tomato, pickle discs and shredded lettuce. It’s a relic from the colonial era of burger joints. Yes, some restaurants have pickle bars or homemade sauces in squeeze bottles on an end table. But what family spot has a complete toppings bar? It’s like running into an LP of your favorite childhood band in your dad’s garage — you gaze into it with the mystery and wonder of the ark of the covenant. Sometimes the true spirit of an "old-fashioned" restaurant is the discovery that it could care less about the rules of a restaurant.
Face glowing gold, you swipe yellow mustard with a spatula onto a squishy bun. Mayo is nearby, and it’s not housemade mayonnaise but Hellmann’s at J.G.’s, OK? This is a burger for the person who’s sick of the minutiae of burgers. Tired of everything? Head to J.G.’s. The only showy option on the chalkboard menu is a “American Kobe” burger — as noted by the paper sign that’s been taped up on each corner — for less than 8 bucks.
Bagheri is working to get an American flag planted outside the patio. Bagheri has run things at J.G.'s for 33 years without missing a beat. He moved to Texas in the '70s from Iran and picked up a master’s in theology.
“I mean, it’s truly a family business,” Bacon says. “My summer breaks were always here."
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A salad or two has found its way onto the chalk menu, maybe a turkey burger here and there, but that’s all that’s changed since 1985. Bacon conveys that business at J.G.’s is “holding steady.” There are corporate regulars, and there are kids coming in who are the kids of the first kids who came into the restaurant.
No matter how you feel about J.G.’s burgers — mine was juice-free but seasoned nicely — it’s a place that’ll leave you starry-eyed with admiration. In a strip mall that’s loaded with healthier alternatives, J.G.’s holds steady, offering milkshakes that are spun to order and french fries smothered in hot orange cheddar and chili.
The Beef Eater will land you three 100-percent Angus patties, each dusted in seasoning, for $7.15. It’s fast, hot and just fine. The Special Chicken rings a bell inside your head that will make you crave it for days after you have it, and the housemade honey mustard is lemonade yellow. You’ll find “old fashioned” in the names of several sandwich spots in Dallas. Few know what it really means.
J.G.'s Old Fashioned Hamburgers, 12101 Greenville Ave.