Before undertaking the trek home from a weekend in Austin, we took advantage of a leisurely Sunday afternoon and headed to South Congress, sort of a one-stop-shop if you’ve only got a few hours: vintage resale shops, live music in the Güero’s Garden, quirky artisans selling their wares. I had thought we’d hit up one of the many food trucks that set up in an otherwise vacant lot, but the burgers on the sidewalk menu at Hopdoddy Burger Bar lured us in like Toucan Ham.
The procedure at Hopdoddy can be a bit disorienting for the novice, but in retrospect I liked their system. They’re focused just as much – if not more – on craft beer as they are on their burgers. The line starts near the door, but you don’t place your order until you get nearly to the back of the space – passing the bar on your way. Twelve local, craft breweries on tap, most of which are available in Houston, but I was glad to see Austin natives Circle Brewing and Thirsty Planet, which are not. I couldn’t pass up an IPA, so I started with the latter’s Buckethead as I proceeded down the line and ignored the menu. The beer started a bit sweet, almost like sucking on the penny its copper color suggests, but then dries out with bitterness from the bucket of hops its name promises. I was ignoring the menu because, out on the street, the Greek Burger had caught my eye – as it is wont to do – and not only did it promise lamb, feta, and tzatziki, but arugula, which has become something of an addiction1.
The line moves pretty quickly, but you don’t grab a table until you’ve placed your order, and you don’t place your order until there is a table ready for you. Sip on that delightful beer you ordered, make a new friend in line, or chat with the gregarious staff. When they’re ready for you, they’ll take your order and give you a table number. This system obviates the need to hover over tables like vultures, intimidating occupants to finish those last couple of fries and wrap up their conversation. That’s just uncomfortable for everybody. We ensconced ourselves in the booth waiting for us, happily bantering over our craft brews.
The hand-formed lamb patty on my GRΣΣK burger was a perfectly cooked on the medium side of medium-well, with juices running down my wrists, with crisp, refreshing cucumber, tangy pickled red onions which played off the feta cheese that gets you right in the salivary glands, peppery arugula, and a creamy tzatziki sauce all stacked on a fresh-baked bun. It was a burger fit for an Argive king, and I greedily consumed it lest Harpies snatch it away before I could finish. But Hopdoddy doesn’t just stop at a quality burger. Gone are the days when your average Russet was a fit potato for French fries. Kennebec is the potato of choice here, lending a slightly nutty flavor, expertly fried with a soft interior and crispy, delicately seasoned exterior. A generic condiment seemed a sin on any part of this spread, but they do have chipotle ketchup and honey mustard back at the condiment bar. In fact, I was surprised to see the standard red ketchup and yellow mustard. If Hopdoddy has raised the bar on so many other fronts, why not produce some in-house stone-ground mustard or curried ketchup or something?
Lingering over the last of those fries, I ordered the Blur Hefeweizen from Circle Brewing. I’m not generally a Hefeweizen man, but just like at the No Label Field Day, on a hot Texas summer day when I recall my phone showing 108° at one point, Blur was quite refreshing with its light body and notes of citrus. In due time I’m sure we’ll see these Austin breweries available in Houston, just as ours make their way north. Or west. Over there, anyway. And I look forward to the day.
Making our way back to the car, we passed under some patio misters and stopped at a shaved iced truck to keep cool, then pointed the car towards 71. The Hopdoddy Burger Bar has found success in Austin, opening a second location with a third on the way, and has carved out its spot in the burger hierarchy alongside the likes of Hut’s. I’ll certainly be back, but if you’re in Austin already, it wouldn’t be a bad spot to spend National French Fry Day.
1I’m going to start tagging posts with “arugula” – it’s just successful in so many applications.