Anyone who knows me, knows I am seriously turned off by any restaurant that is part of a food chain. These restaurants often lose their spark or potential for innovation because their operated by some larger corporation only concerned with expanding and making money. The local dives owned by families and individuals who live for all things food, are the best places to eat because you can honestly taste the owners’ passion in each and every bite. Often the owners walk around talking with regulars and newcomers because they have such a strong connection to the food that comes out of the kitchen that they want to see it translated onto the customers’ faces. There is a real homeyness and familiarity to local businesses that can’t be found in chains. Plus the excitement of finding a new whole-in-the-wall, hidden treasure is half the fun.
It’s these very reasons that kept me from trying out the much raved about Hopdoddy Burger Bar, which recently opened in Preston Center this past fall. Well thank the Lord for Jessica Bartol and her shared love for oozing, loaded, beefy sandwiches that finally dragged my butt to this eco-driven restaurant. Jess had been on my tail to eat at Hopdoddy for weeks now, so at last I took her up on a dinner offer last Saturday. Though I usually do thorough research on any establishment I even think about eating at, I decided to keep my expectations low and go off the great remarks I heard from so many leading up to our outing.
Scrambling to find a spot as I saw the line was already wrapped around the side of the building, I was already having anxiety about this meal, but parking proved to not be a big issue even during prime dinner hour in the popular shopping center. Meeting up with Jess and her sister Renae in line, I started to feel the excitement build up in my stomach as I eyed the large crowd consuming the restaurant. This place HAD to be something special if it’s four months after the opening and the line still snakes out the door and around the corner. A waitress stood holding the door open for the constantly growing line offering menus and suggestions, even though a large blackboard hung next to the entrance with all the entree and side options. At one point she even brought out a tray of their famous truffled fries and unique ketchup selections. Her sole job seemed to be making me happy as I moved with what seemed great pace toward the register. The restaurant kept gaining foodie points in my book and I literally hadn’t even stepped through the door yet.
Hopdoddy’s management and whole system is one of the best I’ve ever experienced. They are effective and fast, so that it doesn’t even really seem like you waited at any point during your time there. The line moves only as tables become available and customers pass the bar on the way to the register, allowing them to order local draft beers or cocktails during the wait. While in line, a host assigns table numbers, so you don’t have to hunt down and fight for a table. Customers order at the counter and food is brought to the table. Servers are then able to get refills and extra orders. The ratio of seats to order time to cook time to seating time works in perfect proportion.
Once inside, I felt that oh so familiar dumbstruck expression wash across my face as I blatantly stared at the contents of every table’s orders and surveyed my burger choices. If I wasn’t already so set on sinking my teeth in a juicy grilled up piece of meat, I would have ordered a salad in a heartbeat. Toasted pecans intermixed with apples sprinkled with some feta on top of arugula with a dash of avocado and pickled red onions…it was clearly the workings of a salad master. However, I couldn’t come to a restaurant known for its burgers and opt out for a bed of greens, so as I made my final steps to the register I narrowed my picks down to the Primetime and Magic Shroom. The Primetime is a Texas akaushi beef patty with brie cheese, truffle aioli, arugula, caramelized onions, and steak sauce. Sounds amazing right? Well the Magic Shroom consists of angus beef, Texas goat cheese, field mushrooms, mayo, and basil pesto. Either choice I am going to die a happy woman, but I still couldn’t make up my mind. Thankfully, Jess swooped in to save the day, suggesting I order one of the two, she’ll order the other one, and we’ll split them. Genius!
Finding our assigned table with ease, we eagerly plop down on the high-stool chairs and await the arrival of our burgers and fry. Within seconds the waitress brings our baskets over, offering us refills from their Maine Root soda fountain (sweetened with Fair Trade Certified Organic evaporated cane juice), one of their 12 local beer brews, or a slow-churned milkshake. Though all sound like a great way to wash down the meal before me, my stomach gives me no time to respond. Before I know it my fingers are wrapped tightly around the Magic Shroom and I am off.
Swapping both the akaushi and angus patties for buffalo, I was more than satisfied with the taste, texture, wellness, and juiciness of my meat. The mushrooms and basil pesto blended nicely with the goat cheese and gamey flavor of the buffalo. Another perk to the burger was the whole wheat bun it came on. Speckled with seeds and toasted to perfection, I could have eaten the bread on its own and walked away equally elated. Crushing my first burger half within seconds and moving on to the Primetime I didn’t expect there to be much competition between the two, but Hopdoddy doesn’t disappoint. Maybe it was the sweetness of the caramelized onions with the sharpness of the brie or the richness of the truffle aioli with the tartness of the arugula, but the Primetime had me bouncing in my chair like a five year-old on a sugar rush.
Casually interrupting bites with the shoestring cut Kennebec potato fries, I found it hard to decide between the three house-made ketchups (BBQ, Chipotle, and Classic) as each had their own defining qualities. In my opinion, fries should be crispy, not dripping grease, and simplistic in seasoning. Hopdoddy certainly passed with flying colors as I shoveled those babies down not considering the fact I was supposed to be sharing with my fellow diner. Sorry I’m not sorry!
At the end of the meal, my only true regret was the missed opportunity to slurp down one of their creamy shakes. With intriguing flavors such as carmel and sea salt, Nutella and chocolate pretzel, and raspberry white chocolate, I couldn’t believe I actually gave up ice cream for lent….Oh well, just reason #26 to return to this swanky place.
What looks like a big silver box with glowing neon lights screaming Hopdoddy in your face, this new burger joint has something to offer every kind of tastebud. Though it is impossible to say the restaurant’s name and sound cool, refer anyone to this place and they will be singing you praises for months to come.
Some Hopdoddy History:
Hopdoddy is an eco-friendly venture that originated in Austin and expanded to Dallas with its third location and is still planning on more establishments. Chuck smith and Larry Perdido opened Hopdoddy Burger Bar on South Congress in October 2010. I was excited to learn they were actually part of another Austin restaurant called Moonshine, which I fell in love with this past fall during a soccer tournament. Hopdoddy is a name that originates from a combination of Hop (for beer) and Doddies, the name of Aberdeen cattle’s original Angus. The concept surrounds the idea of cravings people have, which is clearly reflected in the wide variety of burger selections. The two partners wanted a place where “parents bring the kids, not one where kids take their parents.” Hopdoddy has been a constant evolution through the years as the owners spent time talking to and polling customers about concerns such as their queuing method – wait in a line or order from the table (EaterAustin).
The beef is hormone, antibiotic free and humanely processed with vegetarians having the option of a hemp seed patty. The greens are organic as the restaurant tries to source as much as possible locally and organically, depending on the season and volume needed. Grinding all the meat, baking every bun, and squeezing all bar juices in-house daily, the precision and care Hopdoddy’s owners have for their business is clearly reflected in the food. If you like to keep it traditional, have the classic burger, which comes with lettuce, onion, tomato, “sassy sauce,” a combination of mayo, horseradish and mustard. and, if you wish, cheese and bacon.
“Creating a restaurant is like writing a song or a poem. You’re trying to tell a story.I’m really proud when people embraced the story we were trying to tell.” – Owner Chuck Smith