The gastropub is being read its last rites. The upscale bar-food concept, the one constantly rolled out by restaurant groups, grows as stale as a breadstick in this long renaissance age of the nostalgia burger. We’re no longer in the golden age of the American cheeseburger — we’re in a food romanticism period. Use of American cheese is as commonplace at bars as a haystack in a Monet. The new sandwiches of Dallas bars, the best ones, as it turns out, are replicas of older ones.
It’s a damn good thing. In these turbulent times, when the news of the day goes down like a shot of Armor All, the last thing our bars should do is tweezer our food. The neighborhood bar, otherwise known as Our Holy Church of Introverted Drinking, is a bright light at the end of a dank tunnel.
We need our neighborhood bars to stay whole in the heavy winds. They need to hold fast and true to the ground. We need patty melts, as unhealthy as it gets, as gluten-full as it gets, and cold beer. Here's where you'll find the best patty melts in Dallas.
1914 Commerce St. (Downtown)
Time it right, and you will hear the freshly ground beef patty hiss-sizzle on the griddle as the sun rises. The patty melts sear as early as 7 a.m. at The Statler, which is an achingly beautiful time to switch the train tracks on a night of drinking. Gruyere cheese fuses to the patty. Caramelized onions intertwine with bacon jam. The seeded rye is steam-fluffy under a layer of toasted crust. Chef Graham Dodds' lesser-known dark magic spell is to brush mayonnaise over his bread in place of butter. Mayonnaise, it turns out, is the best butter. “We don’t really tell anyone that,” he says with a laugh. “It just crusts up and gets this beautiful color to it.” Mustard fries right into the patty, and as breakfast arrives on nearby tables, you’re eating one of Dallas’ best morning sandwiches.
Goodfriend Beer and Burger House
1154 Peavy Road (East Dallas)
The bar menu needed a spit-shine. The portions were enormous, and on sandwich was making new chef David Peña’s eye twitch with rage — a naked chicken sandwich with jalapeño cream cheese? So he went back to the timeless classic: smashing ground chuck and brisket burgers into a flat grill. He walked out of the kitchen doors with a golden-as-new patty melt. Molten pimento cheese, with serrano peppers like flickers of briny fire, drips over the beef patties. He brushes the challah bread with salted, clarified garlic butter. It tastes like a sandwich made pre-Food Network.
1111 N. Beckley Ave. (Oak Cliff)
Heavy machinery or vehicles cannot, under any circumstances, be operated after ordering the patty melt at Jonathon’s. Here’s what owner and chef Jonathon Erdeljac did to ruin you: He caramelized onions in brown sugar, salt and "chill spice.” Salt, pepper and Worcestershire sear into the beef. He adds stretchy, melty Swiss and provolone cheese, sautéed-until-tender mushrooms, buttery onions and the spread that adds a garlicky dimension. It’s the size of Pluto. Rich, golden-brown sauce rivers run from the onions. The patties come medium rare, each blush-red center giving way to a seared crust. This is exactly what a patty melt should be. It’s supposed to start the clock on a winter hibernation. You should see visions of cascading butter and cheese and tender beef. Find a bed or a flat surface: You're going down.
1839 N. Henderson Ave. (Knox/Henderson)
It’s a weekday evening at Louie’s. The parking lot is crowded as soon as the front doors open, and the dining room is dotted with pepperoni pizzas. Pizza and beer are fine, but a patty melt — an order of the Don — is a drop-dead simple icon in a city burdened with myriad burgers. Guy Fieri described Louie’s patty melt as “mondo juicy,” which is not wrong. Neither are the crispy bacon and mellowed-out jalapeños, which always work when saddled against the grilled 81-percent Angus beef, 19-percent beef fat patty. It comes with store-bought wavy chips. It’s a perfect bar experience.
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Braindead Brewing Pub
2625 Main St. (Deep Ellum)
The patty melt at Parlor on Commerce was a quiet icon: sourdough mopped with butter and bronzed, several slices of American cheese, salt and pepper, seasoned beef (medium rare) and onions simmered in butter. Then, the Parlor on Commerce left us. “Everyone that works at Braindead, except me, had definitely had the Parlor patty melt,” Braindead chef Taylor McCreary says. “So I just started making them.”
To nail the look, he unearthed old photos of the Parlor’s patty melt on Yelp. Braindead's sandwich arrives iron-hot. Rubber duck yellow cheese melts over the the charred patties. The beef's sear gives way with a crunch, unleashing a smoky, steamy center. Like the Parlor’s sandwich, pepper speckles the cheese and the meat. Braindead's is a Rembrandt replica. It found the soul of the original, and it's as good as it ever was.