Ah, the American burger. Ever flexible, the burger is perhaps one of the few entrees that has graced both the menus of the most humble fast food restaurants as well as some of the highest regarded fine dining establishments in the world. For better or worse, it is also is a pillar of our proud American culture.I am proud to be an American, if for no other reason, because we can boast of being the birthplace (according to Wikipedia, in 1900 by a Louis Lassen) of the noble burger. Therefore, I took personal offense when I visited Bernie's Burger Bus and inserted their product in my mouth.
Although Bernie's Burger Bus does have food truck roots, the bus has been replaced by two brick-and-mortar locations throughout the Greater Houston area since 2014. Bernie's Burger Bus also plans to open another restaurant in the Heights to join the one in Katy and the original sit-down establishment in Bellaire. The latter was the location I went to, and I was impressed with the family-friendly and playful interior. The kitchen is disguised in the form of a school bus, harking back to the former food truck days of the establishment. There are also both outdoor and indoor seating areas and a bar for those of age. The service is not too bad; although I went with a large party, food came in a reasonable amount of time, and the servers were friendly and helpful in explaining the menu. The menu also reflects the playful nature of the establishment, with all of its products nicknamed after things one might remember from elementary or high school. For example, their standard burger is nicknamed "The Principal" while their spicier burger topped with pepper jack cheese, a chipotle aioli and a spicy guacamole is called the "Fire Drill." How novel.
I opted for the "Study Hall," perhaps because it was the weekend before my first midterm, but more likely because it featured one of my favorite ingredients: pork belly. I am a huge fan of adding "unconventional" components to put a twist on the classic burger as it can be a great way of elevating it to new heights and exploring new culinary possibilities. And I have to say, the pork belly was done beautifully. It was flavorful, it was tender, it just melted in my mouth. I would gladly order a larger piece as a full-on entree if it were an option. At this point, you may be thinking, hold on, is there a typo in the title of this review? This person is telling me to get off the bandwagon while he is praising the interior and falling in love with this pork belly.
Reader, there is no typo. While the execution of the pork belly was undoubtedly excellent, the rest of the burger was, well, underwhelming. First of all, the bun was too chewy. The doughy nature of the bun clashed with the tender braised pork belly and lacked an even sear. The burger patty itself was committing more sins than Rasputin: It was horrendously under-seasoned and fairly overcooked. For a dining establishment centered around burgers, the process of cooking the patty should be perfected, yet mine was far beyond well done. However, this could be the fault of the "not too bad" servers, who, although were friendly and knew the menu well, failed to ask any of our party how we would like our burger cooked. If this were the case though, I would expect any sit-down burger establishment to err on the side of searing the patty to a medium. On top of this, the fries were nothing to rave about, and the condiments were average, with the exception of the ketchup which I quite liked. I would also say that the "famous" tipsy onions are worth trying out, but be warned, for they can be a bit too boozy for some.
And now we come to price. I ended up paying around $13 for my "Study Hall," which was an averagely priced burger on their menu. This may not seem too bad for a gourmet burger, but the serving size, is worthy of a, well, smaller price range. Admittedly, I did indulge myself in some Cheez-Its after returning to my apartment.
So, would I go back? Only if someone else was paying for me. And if I cared about that other person a lot. And if they have snacks back at their place. Otherwise, no.