7 Houston burgers you definitely need to check out
What, you may ask, could pry me forth from my summer-long Burger Friday hibernation?
The advent of a meritorious blue cheese and bacon burger in my Near East End stomping grounds, that’s what.
Alfred’s Burger House, which debuted early this year on the corner of Telephone and Dumble, in the triangular spot where the old John’s Broiler Burger once sat, turns out to be a welcome addition to my neighborhood on several important counts.
The Alfred involved is local resident Alfredo Lopez. His place has a cheerful malt shop vibe, and his tall, stately burgers are beauties. Read on for the rundown.
PRICE: Blue cheese bacon burger $7.99; fresh-cut fries $1.49; hand-spun Blue Bell milkshake, $4.99, for a total of $15.66 including tax.
ORDERING: Step up to the counter and consult one of just a handful of laminated menus, order your food, give your name and find a booth, table or counter seat. Gather paper napkins and condiments from the dispensers, and wait for your name to be called. It will take awhile, because the pace is deliberate and everything is made to order.
ARCHITECTURE: Salad stuff on the bottom; toothpick through the top. On a toasted Slow Dough bun goes a curly ripple of leaf lettuce; two slices of tomato; pickles; and very thin slices of red onion. Next comes the meat patty and a nice big pile of veiny blue cheese, with a thick slice of bacon laid on top.
QUALITY: This burger puts the “blue” back in blue cheese. No kidding: the menu touts it as “aged” blue cheese, and it has the salty-tart bite and the funk that make the heart of a blue cheese fan beat faster. I have a friend who despairs of the mild-mannered blue cheese sauce some joints use, and I immediately dragged him to Alfred’s to sample this version, to which he gave the Seal of Blue Cheese Approval.
Beyond the doughty cheese, this burger possesses good looks that come from careful layering and Slow Dough buns glossed with fat, so that they fairly gleam. The half-inch, 7-ounce patties are hand-formed of chuck, round and brisket; the house flattop style is a bit of seasoning, a moderate sear, and a doneness level that seems to hover (judging by three burgers over two visits) between medium well and medium. The beef flavor is clear and understated.
As a package, the Blue Cheese and Bacon Burger has lots of personality, despite the pale, tasteless tomato slices involved on both occasions. (Just pull ’em out.) I might have wished the red onion slices were a wee bit thicker, so that they crunched instead of tore; or that the bacon fat had been crisped a bit more. But the whole thing was so satisfying I am putting it on my regular neighborhood rotation.
I was less enthralled by the basic “Just a Burger” sandwich with a slice of melty American cheese on top (add 49 cents to the $6.99 price). It was big and pretty, but you must apply the condiments yourself, so it didn’t have much of a base personality — especially compared to that grabby blue-cheese-and-bacon number.
OOZE RATING: Good. A nice spatter of meat juices lands on the white paper lining your tray when you first bite into your burger.
LETTER GRADE: A-minus. Crisper bacon and better tomatoes would make this particular burger rock harder. That Just a Burger? I’d give it a solid B.
HoustonChronicle.com: Alison Cook picks Houston’s best restaurants
BONUS POINTS: French fries like my dad used to make ’em — cut medium thick with some skins on, fried to a nut-brown tint, with some softness alternated with a crispish tightening of the surface — made me really, really happy. They might not be everyone’s idea of great fries (if you’re a crispness fiend, in particular), but they made me so gleeful I scarfed half a cardboard boatful before I even took a bite of my burger.
Also of note: The Blue Bell vanilla milkshake is as pure and perfect as can be (I ordered mine minus the whipped cream and cherry). And there’s a nice little roster of beers on tap, including Saint Arnold Art Car IPA and Karbach Love Street.
Of seasonal importance is that the appealing diner-type counter seats, with a view of the open kitchen action, look out upon a big-screen television for your Astros and (ahem) Texans viewing pleasure.
MINUS POINTS: The booths lining the walls are a tight fit for a family of four. I witnessed one such family crammed in awkwardly, so that eventually they upended a tray, wound up chasing tater tots and a colossal onion ring around the floor, and had to move to another booth to escape the mayhem.
LOCAL COLOR: That bright vintage malt-shop look translates to a local malt-shop feel. Alfred’s pulls clientele largely from the Greater Eastwood neighborhood in which it is located; Country Club, Idylwood and University of Houston are also within easy reach. So there’s a diverse mix of guests, mostly couples and families, and many of them know the owner and staff. There’s an easy, unhurried feel to the place — this is not the place to come if you’re in a rush.
Nor is it a place to visit if you think being on the East End means it should be cheap. Count on spending about $15 per person, on a par with your basic premium burger experience in Houston 2018. It may not be a great value, but it’s a decent one. And it’s open, ever so conveniently for yours truly, seven days a week.
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.