No wooden chairs broke over my back after eating this burger. No bottles shattered cleanly over the peak of my skull and nobody was thrown, like a raging wrestler, through a tabletop. Hickory, neatly tucked under the towering tollway and Texas 121, is dark and quiet. Flat-screens flash at low volume in the corners. I’m there as it opens on a blazing hot Sunday, and the hostess greats me and asks me for my name before I'm seated, like I’ve walked into an L.A. agent's office. The place has the big wooden barn doors and smart woody feature walls you’d expect from a Texas comfort food joint.
The beer comes in a frigid glass, which is never bad. There are a number of burgers on the menu. I had been leaning towards the 44 Farms version with a sunny side up egg, pepper crusted bacon, and scallion-hollandaise, but my kind server recommends the Texas Roadhouse Burger. The Roadhouse burger is 10 bucks and comes with smoked cheddar, caramelized onions and “griddled Texas toast.” She says the caramelized onions are smashed right into the patty, which also doesn’t suck.
What do you think of when you hear “Roadhouse Burger” on “griddled Texas Toast”? I am immediately round-housed with images of: faces slammed on wooden tables; Patrick Swayze’s '80s hair; a bottle breaking over the back of my head as I try to take a sip of beer; a guy being thrown across the screen windmilling his arms; a big, messy burger, buttery onions and juices falling everywhere, on thick, puffy toast.
But all is quiet. The burger comes in a discrete metal picknicky thing, on a big slice of paper, and it's not the wild kick to the balls I was expecting. A small tumbleweed of pickled onions and a blistered, but very ripe jalapeño rests next to the sandwich. Can toast be Texas-ed just by calling it Texas toast? When does regular toast become Texas toast? If another state's toast is toasted in Texas, does it become Texas toast? This really doesn't seem like Texas toast. It's just toast.
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Two cheddar slices hammock the burger. I toss a couple of the pickled onions on top before the first bite. That simple, smoky and creamy cheese jolted my senses.
So, this burger is somewhere in between patty melt and grilled cheese. The flavors are big, simple and no-frills across the board: salt and smoke. The meat is juicy, but cooked well beyond the medium rare I’d requested. Always a bummer. It didn’t need condiments (the jalapeño was so raw it ignited my hair), but those pickled onions are essential to cut through that supernaturally creamy cheddar.
The whole thing could use a punch-up. It could use an extra brawl’s worth of Road Houseness. To paraphrase the movie: I thought it’d be bigger. I ate it all, of course, including the crunchy ends of the kind-of Texas Toast. All that said: With its dimmed lights and barn doors, it's hard to argue that Hickory’s not a great spot for a burger and a glacially cold beer.