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Thursday, February 29, 2024 — Houston, TX

Burger Joint serves familiar fare with mixed results

By Walden Pemantle     10/24/16 7:28pm

When the Burger Joint opened last November, few people would have said Houston needed another burger joint. The market already saturated with the delicious patties coming from low-key shacks like Bubba’s and Moontower Inn, owners Shawn Bermudez and Matthew Pak faced a definite challenge in carving out a niche for their new restaurant. The location didn’t help either. Located at 2703 Montrose, the Burger Joint is practically across the street from the Hay Merchant, another extremely popular fast-casual restaurant known for its burgers. Yet, since the beginning, the Burger Joint has risen to the challenge by offering consistently well-made burgers and enough interesting variations and side dishes to distinguish itself, if only slightly, from the rest of the burger-flipping pack around Houston.

The Burger Joint’s decor seems eerily similar to the style of other casual Houston restaurants: a bar with a chalkboard menu, an outdoor deck filled with flat-screens, and old-timey fonts virtually everywhere to give the place a ‘50s vibe. Luckily, the menu deviates from the norm a bit more, offering a number of “bowls” (essentially burger salads) and special sides like homemade chili. The best sides tend to build on each other. The simpler options like the potato salad and mac and cheese both taste overly sweet and boring, but the bacon-parm and chili queso fries both expand on the traditional hand-cut fries deliciously without adding too many extra toppings.

The burgers, if anything, have the opposite problem. The simpler options like the mushroom burger are incredibly good. Piled with fresh mushrooms, smoked gouda, lettuce and garlic-herb mayo, the burger lets the mushrooms shine, enhanced rather than smothered by the herbs and cheese. At the other end of the Burger Joint’s spectrum is the Smoke House. The burger is served with coleslaw, pulled pork, a fried egg, mayo and mac and cheese. To say it’s overwhelming is an understatement. As a big guy who could barely eat half of it, I marvel that they offer it (or any other burger) with a double patty. Beyond being overwhelming, barbecue pulled pork masks all of the other flavors. The coleslaw and egg especially are unnoticeable meshed between such heavy toppings as pork and mac and cheese. There are some instances, however, where the busier burgers shine. The kimchi burger, with caramelized kimchi, cheddar and garlic mayo, is among the Burger Joint’s best. The sweetness of the normally pungent kimchi is a great match for the garlic mayo and balances perfectly with the sharp cheddar.

The other entree options are generally overshadowed in quality by the burgers. The hot dogs are all tasty, but aside from the foot-long “big frank,” aren’t quite filling enough as a main course. While the salad greens in the bowls are refreshingly crisp, the bowls feel like an afterthought added for those who got lost looking for health food and stumbled into a burger joint. For those looking for something a bit less unhealthy, however, the grilled chicken sandwich is a nice alternative. Served with the standard lettuce, tomato, onions and pickles, the sandwich has a satisfying blend of textures and is just as good as some of the much heavier burgers.

The biggest advantage that the Burger Joint has over its competitors is its shakes. The peanut butter shake, an early favorite among patrons, is likely the best, with just enough saltiness and added bits of peanuts to keep the shake satisfying and not too heavy. The Burger Joint also offers 20-some beers on tap at any given time. The selection covers a range of familiar beers including pours from St. Arnold’s, Shiner, Buffalo Bayou, 8th Wonder and Karbach. Though the beer selection may seem uninventive, the beers it offers are popular for a reason, and most guests won’t have a hard time finding a great pairing for the burger.

In some ways, the beer list, filled with recognizable Houstonian favorites, is emblematic of the Burger Joint as a whole. It’s not as creative as it could be, and there are definite elements of pandering towards its Houston audience. I understand everything is bigger in Texas, but the kitchen might seriously want to rethink piling pork, pasta, eggs and beef all on the same sandwich. In all though, the Burger Joint’s food consistently hits the spot among Montrose diners and makes a strong case for “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

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