It was nearly 60 years ago when his grandfather established the family ranch. Chef Nathan Tate grew up on the farm, about 40 minutes outside Dallas in Rockwall County, and jetted after college. His brother Evan Tate runs the farm these days, and you can sample the flavors of the farm a couple of ways: Book a wedding, and for some extra dough, they’ll wheel in a mobile bar made out of a two-horse trailer. The other way is to grab a half-pound cheeseburger, right now, at Hillside Tavern.
The Hillside bar is open again, and one addition — for patio service or takeout — is chef Tate’s beef grind, pattied up by hand and griddled until it’s charred, from his own family’s cattle. Tate has always wanted to source from his childhood home.
“It just made sense to offer a product that I knew exactly where it came from, how it was raised and had a price without wild swings,” he says.
Those swings have, indeed, been dizzying: Beef costs have ticked upward since the pandemic carved through the country, and barbecue joints all over Texas are feeling the pains. Texas Monthly reported that pitmaster Aaron Franklin, the person who comes to Texans' minds anytime brisket is mentioned, is “struggling just to break even.”
At Hillside, their hostess sits at the stand out front with the ever-present baby blue mask wrapped around her ears. The takeout order is already there, and it’s handed over as quick as an envelope handed to Ray Liotta in a Scorcese film. Inside the Styrofoam is one of Dallas’ best new bacon cheeseburgers.
It’s a brawny half-pounder, a seared table thumper with the weight and thickness of a coffee table book. Tate’s beef is rosy-centered and coated in a salty-sweet seasoning. Juices glimmer over the cap of sear. Smoked cheddar wraps itself over the patty. And it gets tomato, chopped onion, pickles and two stupendous planks of bacon. You’ll taste pepper and beef and smoke.
It took time for Hillside Tavern to figure out what to do next. Late in March, quarantine kits were available from a some of the restaurants in their network — Rapscallion offered brined chickens, butter and eggs, and Veritas Wine Room had themed baskets — and then they vanished.
“It was a confusing period,” partner Brooks Anderson says. “We’re just trying to figure out how to get going.”
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Soon they plan on giving curbside kits another go — almost ready-meal stuff, like burger kits with customizable sides.
“You won’t have to buy 40 slices of cheese,” Anderson says.
These are the days of the “pivot,” and owners and chefs are honing their to-go skills. Tate’s learned which vegetables to separate from what proteins and factored in the extra cooking time your food gets as it travels. In the most troublesome times, maybe you just need a hamburger from home — even if it’s not your home.
Hillside Tavern is open for takeout and patio seating, 6465 E. Mockingbird Lane, Suite 386 (Hillside).