Burger Friday: French burger at Squable in the Heights
They’re already talking about the raclette cheeseburger at Squable, the brand-new project from chef Justin Yu and barkeep Bobby Heugel. By “they,” I mean the dedicated burger Borg with whom I communicate on all matters burger.
One of these lost souls messaged me a photo of Squable’s raclette burger on Tuesday evening. I gaped at its majestic aura, at the sploosh of pale Alpine cheese cascading down its flanks, at the hunks of cornichon pickle hulking in the ooze. I had to have it.
So the very next night I arrived early, just a half hour after 5 p.m. opening, to claim a seat at the bar in what used to be the Southern Goods space on 19th Street in the Heights. I suspected there’d be a crowd, because the buzz around Squable’s opening has been furious.
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That’s not just because the names of Yu and Heugel are attached, but also because of two formidable talents running the kitchen: chef Mark Clayton, once a stalwart at Oxheart; and baker extraordinaire Drew Gimma, who opened Common Bond with its founder, Roy Shvartzapel.
They’ve collaborated on a European-inflected menu on which the house breads have some starring roles. Is their burger worth fighting for? I say yes.
PRICE: $17 for the French Cheeseburger with fries; $15 for a glass of Domaine Chignard Fleurie, for a pre-tax total of $32. (Order the burger with a $5 beer, and you’ll get out for 10 bucks less.)
ORDERING: Full service at the shiny L-shaped counter or at a table in the dining room. (There’s no service on the adjoining patio just yet; that space is in progress.)
ARCHITECTURE: No salad stuff. On a toasted, house-baked pain de mie bun, made sturdier with durum wheat flour, goes a thick beef patty and a shallow sea of melted, thinned-out raclette cheese, with a rubble of roughly chopped cornichons strewn higgledy-piggledy. That’s it.
QUALITY: Awe-inspiring, from the expansive flavor of the pasture-raised Augustus Ranch beef patty, to the exceptional crumb and burnished top of the bun, which stands up to its task while retaining its delicacy.
The default cooking mode is medium rare, and to my mind, that’s perfectly done here: rosy within and — by some griddle magic — seared to a crunch on the edges.
There’s something elemental about the way the salty, slight funk of the runny cheese and the sharp, sour “ping” of the cornichons combines with beef and bread for a single, ecstatic bite. I’ve seen raclette burgers advertised on sidewalk blackboards outside cafes in France and Belgium, and I always thought that sounded like a great idea.
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OOZE RATING: Splendid. Meat juices seep out to rim the melted cheese, a lovely sight indeed.
LETTER GRADE: A plus.
VALUE: Fair, considering the high quality of the indgredients.
BONUS POINTS: Although I was dubious about the pale fries, they turned out to be crisp enough and good, even when they cooled to room temperature. And the aioli served with them was stupendous, with a tart bite and the texture of thick satin.
Also worth mentioning: the presence of a deep, velvety cru Beaujolais by the glass, the dreamy 2016 Domaine Chignard “Les Moriers” Fleurie. It might be my ideal burger wine. Just saying.
LOCAL COLOR: If you want to rub elbows with the city’s most motivated food-and-wine enthusiasts, here’s your chance. They’re all here right now in this handsome understated room, with its serious bar and serious sound system. It already feels a bit like Nancy’s-Hustle-goes-to-the-Heights. And that’s a compliment.
By the way, pronounce the restaurant’s name “squabble,” like the dust-up.
Alison Cook is the Chronicle’s James Beard Award-winning restaurant critic. Follow her on Twitter, and keep up with Houston’s latest dining and drinking news and reviews by subscribing to our free Flavor newsletter.