Burger Friday: City Acre Brewing
Eight miles up the Eastex Freeway from downtown Houston, City Acre Brewing lolls amid garden plots and picnic tables beneath spreading, venerable pecans. Inside a red metal shed with roll-up garage doors lurks a classic brewpub, selling beer brewed on the premises to go with a menu geared to match.
If last week’s Burger Friday subject — the new beer garden at St. Arnold Brewing Company —was all about a grand new urban space, City Acre is about one of those idiosyncratic, semi-rural pockets that lurk in the Houston landscape. It’s a beer garden writ small and personal. And they make a burger you’ll want to mark off on your Life List. Here’s why:
PRICE: Urban Cowboy burger with bacon in the patty, American cheese, fried onion strings and jalapeño ranch, $12.25 with fries; happy-hour priced pint of Bayouwulf IPA, $3.75 for a pre-tax-and-tip total of $16.
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ORDERING: Proceed past the raised garden beds into the brewery shed, where you line up at the counter to place your order. They’ll give you a numbered placard. Find a seat indoors or out among the trees, where picnic table seating is al fresco or sheltered by a small pavilion. A staffer will bring your food when it’s ready.
ARCHITECTURE: No salad stuff. On a grilled-on-both-sides house-made bun goes a splash of jalapeño ranch dressing, a half-inch patty of beef, pork, venison and bacon ground in-house; an oozy mantle of American cheese; and a crown of skinny fried onion strings.
QUALITY: This is not a burger that is lacking in personality. The house-ground patty has a current of spice that made me wonder if the pork and venison components entered in sausage form. The patty’s firm sear contrasted nicely with an interior that stayed rosy at its heart, just the way I like it (and which seldom happens without my asking up front).
The melty tack of the American cheese; the light, crisp rings of fried onion; and the bite of the pinkish jalapeño ranch — the first thing to hit your palate when you bite in — all combined in a highly satisfying way.
I had my doubts about the bun at first, because it looked so pale. But it had a strange appeal, in that it stood up to the fore-and-aft grilling and the burger like a champ. OK, right at the end, when it had compacted way down, it seemed a little doughy. But it worked.
OOZE RATING: Good. A nice splotch of meat juices landing upon the tray at first bite.
LETTER GRADE: A.
BONUS POINTS: Oh, those Belgian-style fries! Fresh-cut and fried twice to a super-bronze tint with some skins attached, they were glorious. Best of all, you can order them with a hit of vinegar and garlic if you specify Dragon’s Breath style.
Extra credit for the well-done Bayouwulf IPA, just crisp and hoppy enough with a resinous piney twinge. The gardens here yield some interesting ingredients to some of the beers, including a Pale Ale brewed with lemongrass and the Hitchcock Blonde brewed with coriander and Meyer lemon from the surrounding fruit trees.
EXTRA BONUS POINTS: For the friendly staff.
LOCAL COLOR: I found the setting enchanting, with its ropes of white lights, its cascading vines, its scatter of Adirondack chairs. It may be only 8 miles north of the city center, but feels further, as if you’ve taken a trip. Gardeners will enjoy checking out the last of the okra pods on the towering plants, or spotting the emerging radish greens and spiraling pea vines. (Yes, the garden provides seasonal ingredients for chef Rick Kelsey’s menu, which is part of what makes this spot special.)
The crowd’s a casually dressed mix of locals from the Eastex/Jensen area and beer enthusiasts from all over. The evening I visited, there were a couple of Minnesotans in attendance, and a table speaking a language I would swear was Latvian.
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.