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Burger Friday: Rodeo Goat in EaDo

December 7, 2018

I freely admit I wasn’t expecting to like Rodeo Goat. Those DFW origins, for one thing; the EaDo location in the heart of young-bro drinking land, for another. Scanning through the baroque burger list, I found myself sniffing, “Huh, stunt burgers.”

The fact that the owners had gone out of their way to name their burgers after local celebs and phenoms did not warm my cold little heart, either.

Well. Some pleasant surprises awaited me in this big industrial space, with its shiny chrome diner stools and its taxidermied goat head, now adorned with a Santa hat for the season. Come along to the newly important corner of Dallas and St. Emanuel, where the Indianola/Vinnie’s/Miss Carousel complex is settling in right across the street, and see what I found.

PRICE: $9.50 for the 281-330-8004 burger; $3 for hand-cut fries; $6 for a vanilla bean shake, for a pre-tax-and-tip total of $18.50.

ORDERING: It’s full table service, so find a seat at the counter, one of the inside tables, or one of the tables on the big tarp-covered outdoor patio.

ARCHITECTURE: On a butter grilled potato bun goes a half-inch ground beef patty, a layer of garlic-roasted cremini mushrooms, a melty crown of gruyere and lengths of pickled red onion poking out every which way, like some mini-legged magenta crab is hiding under the shiny top bun. Under that top bun lurks a brown swoosh of soy caramel glaze. A toothpick holds it all together.

QUALITY: OK, let’s get that wheedly, ingratiating name out of the way. 281-330-8004 is the cell phone number rapped out countless times by Houston hip-hopper Mike Jones, who was big stuff in the mid-aughts. It was pure marketing back then, just like the names Rodeo Goat blandishes here now: the Marvin Zindler burger, the Luv Ya Blue, the Billy F Gibbons (which is a quinoa, barley and radish burger, if you must know).

It’s the excellent house-ground patty that gives the 281 burger its forceful character: a mix of 44 Farms chuck, brisket and beef rib that’s run through the grinder twice then hand-formed for flat-top griddling. I want a LOT of pure, clear, expansive beef flavor from a 10-buck burger, and this one delivered.

House style is medium well, but I asked for medium and was rewarded with a faint trace of pink at the heart of the patty.

What let the beef shine brighter was the restrained, umami-forward suite of accompaniments: the cremini mushrooms; the nutty mantle of gruyere; the slightly sweet tinged punch of the salty soy caramel glaze on the finish. The pickled red onions provided a nice tart contrast, although I thought there were too many of them. (I ended up scraping some off the top.)

At first the high-domed potato bun looked like it might skew the bread-to-meat ratio, but it tamped down nicely in action and held up right to the end. I really appreciated being able to eat this burger with my hands, like a sandwich, even though it looked pretty tall at first glance.

OOZE RATING: Decent, in the form of a couple of juice spatters on the aluminum pie tin that served as a plate.

LETTER GRADE: A. (I am on a burger roll lately, it seems.)

BONUS POINTS: First-rate fries, hand-cut and crisply bronzed with a big, earthy potato flavor, are a big asset here. So are the no-nonsense old-fashioned shakes, particularly the lovely vanilla-bean version.

LOCAL COLOR: I came at an off hour, in the mid-afternoon, when my fellow diners ranged from a quartet of animated young Asian Houstonians to a couple of white-guy office workers. I spied a familiar face, too: manager Ruben Zamarippa, who manned the door and the floor at the late Southern Goods with a hospitable, eagle-sharp eye.

I really liked the amenity of a counter — the better for solo diners at crowded times, when the long industrial room fills up with revelers swigging pop cocktails and local beers on tap. As I departed, I checked out the framed color photos of rodeo action than range across the front wall. And sure enough, the one closest to the door depicted goat-roping.

alison.cook@chron.comtwitter.com/alisoncook

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