Monday, January 26, 2009

Hill's Cafe

Fans of the Odyssey may start noticing a trend in the burger places we are visiting to start out the new year. We are trying to hit all the Austin burger joints that are over 50 years old, and Austin has quite a few of them: Sandy's, Dirty's, Hut's, The Frisco Shop, and tonight's choice, good old Hill's Cafe founded in the great year of 1947. We figure we need to know the classics before we can start discovering some new classics.

And Hill's Cafe is a classic holding up the far southern end of South Congress. It traces its founding back to Charles Goodnight, the old chuck wagon pioneer. While that may be a bit of stretch, if the feel of an old trail ride exists anywhere in Austin today, well Hill's may lay claim to it, though I don't know if they had HDTV's back then. FriedEd instantly liked the place as the parking lot has a couple of old signs and neon (neon is key for a good old fashioned burger joint) and the customer is greeted with a practical museum of Austin history at the entrance. The walls are covered nearly top to bottom with newspaper clippings and old photos telling a story of an Austin that is fast disappearing, but not at Hill's. Here the booths are named after Austin personalities, be it the governor and his wife or the favorite local weatherman. Restaurants like Hill's, along with Threadgills on Barton Springs and Cisco's on East 6th perform an important local service: they preserve the past on their walls and put food in the belly that has passed the test of time. If you like history and food, start at Hill's Cafe. But is this a burger blog or what history dorks?!

So, the story goes that Hill's Cafe shut down around 1987, only to be reopened in 2001. The owner, Bob, put his sweat and tears into bringing back the good home cooking style that the old Hill's Cafe was known for. But, when his first customer ordered a burger, Bob realized he had done nothing to make a good burger and the customer complained. As a result, Bob sat down determined to create Austin's best burger, and he came pretty damn close. We can not yet say if it is the best, at $8.95 it is certainly one of the most expensive, but give us a year or two of eating all of Austin's hamburgers before we answer.

The burger, as Sage says, is "a knife and fork burger." It comes big and open on the plate with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and onions with a little cup of mayonnaise for you to spread. The ingredients are fresh, the patty is thick and the bun is made from potato bread and is fluffy and sweet. FriedEd liked the bun the best and figured it might go really well by itself. The fries are thick cut potatoes, fried and seasoned. They overwhelm the mouth with potato but make a statement in their creation. Good job Hill's on a well thought out and creative burger. You have amped up criteria. Our expectations were high going in as the Statesman had named Hill's as the best burger in Austin and I have to say we did not leave hungry, or disappointed.

Burger: 93
Fries: 87

Dare I say I think FriedEd's write up was, well almost perfect. Hill's Cafe, to me, epitomizes the true essence of the classic South Austin culture that has become so famous. South Austin has, among many things, three aspects that make it truly authentic: live music, eclectic vibe, and that true "Keep Austin Weird" feeling that gives this town it soul, and ladies and gentlemen Hill's Cafe is it's model citizen.

Hill's is equipped with a legendary stage that ranks as one of the best live music venues in Austin. The clientele range from hipsters, to families, to businessmen, to ranch hands and more. We concluded this would be the perfect place to bring someone who is new to town in for a meal, a show and some good old Lonestar Beer.

When it comes to the meal there is plenty to choose from but as we love our burgers we dove in to this legend head first. The burgers were what I referred to all night as a "classic backyard grill burger." A large bun, lettuce, tomato, pickle, huge patty and sauces on the side. It was as if I was grilling and putting my burger together only their meat was well seasoned and juicy and delicious.

The fries were thick cut wedges that had seasoning all over them. Free bread and giant sodas only added to the splendor. All in all if you are visiting Austin and you want to know what good South Austin culture is all about you need only to hit one stop and Hill's Cafe on South Congress is your winner.

Burger 90

Fries 84

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Frisco Shop

When The Frisco Shop first opened in 1953 its famous Frisco Burger was .45 cents. Today, it is significantly more, but at $6.75 still within the budget. The Frisco Shop is the last remnant of the old Nighthawk chain. I don’t know what that means but it sounds cool and makes FriedEd feel like he is an Edward Hopper painting. The Frisco Shop was run by the legendary Harry Akin, whose style is admired by Rock Star, and apparently the people of Austin who voted him mayor. A burger joint that launches its owner to city hall must be good. In the early 1960’s, his Frisco Shop was an equal opportunity employer before anyone had heard of the law and it was Austin’s first restaurant to allow African-Americans to sit wherever they wanted. For those reasons, it was a perfect pick for an Odyssey MLK Day hamburger. We felt that Obama might like it too.

The Frisco Shop was for many years located at the intersection of Burnet and Koening, but it closed to make way for a Walgreens, because you know we need a new Walgreens more than we need a fifty year old restaurant. After a few months a new Frisco Shop opened up about ten blocks north in an old Curra’s restaurant. FriedEd remembers this restaurant as a place where he broke up with his girlfriend over a really good breakfast taco while being waited on by another ex-girlfriend. It was a little weird. The restaurant has been completely reworked, the owners of Frisco Shop realizing that a Mexican themed restaurant does not quite square with an old time burger joint. The remodel added a counter with stools, booths, warm wood paneling and a cool old fashioned tile floor. FriedEd doesn’t remember if all of this is new, or if he was just drunk or breaking up with girlfriends at the old restaurant and hence not paying attention to design. Either way it looked cool and passed the Odyssey old time burger joint ambiance test. You could tell this because everyone in there was old, and old people like stuff that is old time feeling.

The Odyssey was joined by a new member, the band manager of Romance Fantasy, Jeff. He did a Murray style quick check of all present who included BurgerMatt, FriedEd, Rock Star Rodd and Onion Ring Sage. This was the first joint we have been to that has sit down service and the wait was well worth it. Nagelle from Districto Federal was our waitress and was the first hot woman we have seen at a burger joint since the P. Terry’s trip back in September. If you want to be sexually aroused by the name of a burger, ask Nagelle what is their best burger. You will hear a sweet, sexy pronunciation of “Frisco Burger.” I liked the burger right away.

The burger’s unique taste comes from its relish, a sweet pickled concoction. FriedEd usually skips the pickles, but he wanted the real deal so he went with it. It is included with lettuce, tomato and ketchup. The relish pulls out the sweetness of the meat. The fries are a little bland but the Onion rings are outstanding. A good onion ring allows the onion to do the talking. These rings did that. Finally, the Frisco Burger was a great burger on this night for FriedEd because it is the last burger of the Bush administration. Maybe that is what made it so sweet. And Nagelle, if you are reading, can I have your number?

One final note, the Odyssey is thinking of ways to advertise our blog. So far, all ideas are focusing on airborne means that could include a billboard, a blimp or skywriting.

Burger: 90
Fries: 77

Quality of Hot Chicks around: 90 (and that is with all the old ladies around, that is how hot Nagelle was)

Feeling of stomach one hour later: 77


This plus 50 year old burger joint was a great stop for the Odyssey on MLK day 2009. The sit-down table service diner style restaurant took you back to the days wanting a soda pop and some kind of malt, shake or homemade pie. Having done some research on burger joints that are over 50 years old and having already gone to a good number of them, The Frisco Shop was next on the list and it did not disappoint.

While most places offer a variety of burgers you have three choices here, The Frisco Burger with its tangy relish, the Down South Burger, and a Chili Burger. These come alone or if you order the plate you get fries and coleslaw. Coleslaw was a new addition to our burgers and added a new flair to the burger Odyssey. While FriedEd loved his burger, I think this had as much to do with his ever growing crush on Nagelle, I was not so fond of the sweet relish. The burger seemed lacking in flavor and the fries needed seasoning as well. The onion rings, were no doubt one of the hits of the night. They were the best onion rings to date and may be hard to beat from here on out. (I would go back just to get an order of onion rings.)

Some other aspects of this legend have to be mentioned. The homemade pies were without a doubt spectacular. Myself and the Sage indulged ourselves in the banana cream pie and it was sublime. The place definitely gets extra points for the homemade pies, the fully stocked bar and back to the future diner feeling. The memorabilia on the walls makes you long for the 50's and 60's, while the long diner style counters gives that authentic look and feel of a classic!

Burger 84
Fries 79
Onion Rings 94
Homemade Pie 93

The Rockstar had this to add:

"You can find your way across this country using burger joints the way a navigator uses stars....We have munched Bridge burgers in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge and Cable burgers hard by the Golden Gate, Dixie burgers in the sunny South and Yankee Doodle burgers in the North....We had a Capitol Burger -- guess where. And so help us, in the inner courtyard of the Pentagon, a Penta burger."
Charles Kuralt, journalist. (1934-1997)

"Hunger is insolent, and will be fed." Homer's Odyssey

I was asked kindly to submit an entry on the Down South Burger served at Frisco's on Burnet, I have committed to keeping my entry brief.

If Quentin Tarantino were searching locations for a diner scene similar to the one that took place in Pulp Fiction, he would look no further.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Happy New Year Odyssey and welcome to Player's

Players, since 1983. It seemed like a good place for a couple of players like BurgerMatt and FriedEd to kick off the new year! Ha, ha, just kidding, only one of us is a player. Players is on MLK street so close to the University of Texas one could almost call it the offical hamburger joint of U.T., though Dirty's and a few other places might disagree. We chose Players as a good location to watch the U.T.-Oklahoma basketball game. This was a mistake, as not only did U.T. get killed, but Players big screen T.V. hasn't been cool since 1997. Come on guys, let's join the H.D. age. And while you are at it, make sure your cable connection doesn't run lines across your screen.

That being said, Players makes an outstanding little burger creation. It is charbroiled goodness with real fresh lettuce and tomatoes and just the right amount of mayonaise. The bun is fresh and thin so as not to overwhelm the taste. The place has just the right college burger joint ambience with U.T. paraphanalia and photos from past 4th of July parties. If that day ever falls on a Monday, you know where you will find the Odyssey.

The Odyssey was joined by the Rock Stars. Rock Star Rodd was a little hungover after a legendary night of karaoke in which he depleted the wine stocks at the Alamo Drafthouse and almost had the cops called after accidently insulting a waitress. Ah, just another night in rock star land. How did the burgers treat the hangover rock star? The Sage also made it. He ordered a sampler basket of fried vegetables. He commented, "Players loves their fried food so much they include fried cheese in their fried vegetable basket." The Rock Stars had to leave early to polish up the new album, available on the blog in the first week of February.

Players also has a set of old school games. One asks what kind of lover you are. For 25 cents, you can squeeze a handle and your quality in the sack is rated from "Blah" to "Mild" to "Wild" to "Sexy" to "Fire" to "Hot Stuff" and the top "Uncontrollable." FriedEd went first and of course the red lights shot nearly to the top and registered a "Hot Stuff," one away from the top prize. In his head, FriedEd could hear the Chinese guy from Sixteen Candles saying "Hot Stuff" and he thought it was good in kind of a creepy Chinese guy kind of way. BurgerMatt stepped up next with clearly something to prove. The pressure was clearly on and BurgerMatt knowing full well that the outcome would be talked about for years pressed and pulled with all his might to the point that his veins were popping out of his head. Out of breath, BurgerMatt hardly noticed when the red dots shot to "Uncontrollable." FriedEd shook his head and said it was all random. So, the boys stepped up to the other old school game, a palm reader with a creepy swami on it. For 25 cents you can place your palm on a metal hand and push it down and one of eight lights will light up telling you what profession you should be. FriedEd went first, pushed down, and it showed up "teacher." FriedEd and BurgerMatt looked at each other in bewilderment (NOTE: FriedEd is a teacher). BurgerMatt pressed down and up popped "Athlete." BurgerMatt was a college swimmer. The boys looked at each other with more bewilderment. They looked at the creepy swami and decided it was time to leave. Weird.


The new year brings in a new dawn of the Burger Blog to a number of new burger options. We had discussed having Casino El Camino as the New Years kickoff burger but as we were thrown for a bit of a loop we moved to Player's, (we are still going to do Casino no worries)and we were very happy with the change in plan. As mentioned this bastion of burgerdom lies on the UT campus and has no doubt seen its share of tailgaters and crazy college kids looking to celebrate UT's numerous victories. If your looking for a college feel, (they serve beer as well, always a bonus) this is your spot. Great atmosphere, really good service, (leave them a tip you will like the response)and a burger worthy of some kind of award at the end of next year. (Did you read the Salvos yet?)

The classic double cheesburger was flame-broiled and came with all the fresh fixins. The meat was very tasty and the buns were perfect. The fries, although nice and crispy, needed some serious seasoning. I was told after to try the onion rings there, and I remembered I did have one in the enormous fried basket of goodies. If you like fried stuff you will love the basket, Fried Zucchini, Okra, Onion Rings, Mushrooms and cheese. Does it get anymore decadent, and or heart attack inducing?

I would highly recommend this place before or after a tailgate as it will not dissapoint.

Burger 91
Fries 82
Heart healthy basket 87

Gameday retreat 94

Oh yea and the Rockstar and the Sage are playing Wednesday night at Roux on 6th Street. 10pm. Romance Fantasy for those not in the know. See you there!