On a Sunday afternoon, Elm Street is clogged by cars. It’s just after 1 p.m., and the horns blast and the brake lights stutter. Sidewalks are flowing with people. Inside Shoals Sound & Service is an alleviating quiet. The bartender walks to the end of the counter, fiddles with the house record player. A bassy pop and crackle sounds come through the speakers. A vinyl LP wheels, and the griddle lights up with seething hisses. The soothing sound is part of what has made Shoals’ tall bar chairs the best retreat from Dallas' downtown traffic.
The other part? It’s the respite that happens when perfect street food drops in front of you, bordered by wax paper in a red plastic basket. There’s an exhalation that comes from deep down in your lungs when fast, delicious food breaks the fussy rules of a tablecloth restaurant. The street burgers, a duo of flat-top charred beef patties accented with raw white onion, pickle and American cheese, are a life-saving recess from the hustle. It’s also the best version of fast-food single cheeseburgers you can find. They’ll make you smile — you won’t be able to stop the McDonald’s memories. They’ll fill you up, and you’ll get them in minutes from the hot grill.
Chef Nathan Edwards took over the kitchen at Shoals only a few weeks ago. They are consistently firing up the kind of hot and salty street food you’d find in a blazing Brazil summer. The cheeseburgers, one for under 10 bucks and two for $14, are darkened by a hard sear. The beef is chopped, near pulverized into the griddle — they break it into pieces like a good Sloppy Joe — which encrusts warming paprika and spices into the meat.
Each sandwich is surrounded by melted, eerily yellow cheese, then topped with white onion and pickle. Yellow mustard acts like heat lightning tearing through the horizon of rich, salty beef and cheese. After a bite, I'm instantly awash with memories of back-to-back orders of the two single cheeseburger combo at McDonald’s. Is it fair to be reminded immediately of drive-thru fast food?
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“Absolutely,” Edwards says. “We’re really trying to stick to street food.”
Another sigh of relief stirs. There’s no need to panic; it’s supposed to happen. I gobble them down in minutes.
Both burgers sit on a bed of thin, crispy fries dusted bright red by paprika. Crumbles of the seared hamburger have tumbled into the fries, along with a few white onion slivers. Grab a fork, and you’ve accidentally invented Sloppy Joe fries. It’s the right kind of comfort. It’s fast food for adults (or anyone, really), inspired by being a kid at the drive-thru.
Shoals, 2614 Elm St. (Deep Ellum)