Filling the Gaps: Lankford Grocery

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Nicholas L. Hall
A burger with gravitas.
I've lived in Houston for 22 years. It took me 16 of those to visit the Rothko Chapel for the first time. I didn't eat at Ninfa's on Navigation until I'd counted myself a Houstonian for nearly a decade. I still haven't eaten at Frenchy's. The list of glaring omissions goes on and on. Before you boot me from the city for civic negligence, or at least refuse to continue allowing me to write about Houston food, let me assure you that 2014 is the year I start fixing this problem. I'm making a list of places. Places I should have been by now. Places even I can't believe I haven't visited. This is the year I get (re)acquainted with my city. Maybe you'll find a few from your own list in these posts. I encourage you to follow suit.

So it's not strictly true to say that I hadn't been to Lankford Grocery. It is, however, true to say that my single previous actual visit had missed the point somewhat entirely. If you want to get technical though, I've gone at least three times. The first, I didn't bring cash, and left burgerless and dejected. The second, I showed up too early for burgers and had to assuage myself with (a pretty solid) breakfast. Third time's the charm, as it were.

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Seasonal Special at JerryBuilt Homegrown Burgers

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Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Seasonal Saint Arnold Burger. Why not make it a double?
If children were allowed legal access to cars and could drive themselves to dinner, JerryBuilt Homegrown Burgers would be the most profitable restaurant in town. The combination of cheeseburgers, ice cream, cookies, a wall-length chalkboard ready for doodlin', and a Coke Freestyle Machine pretty much make this place heaven for kids...and young-at-heart adults eager to binge on beef and strawberry-flavored Sprite.

With two locations (West University, The Woodlands), JerryBuilt is easily accessible to families with a fair amount of disposable income, which is why they can charge $9-10 for a single-patty sandwich and include sides such as truffle macaroni and cheese alongside more traditional options like crinkle-cut fries without most people batting an eye.

Is the elevated pricetage worth it? You betcha, as these burgers are far better than Whataburger to say the least. The foodstuffs (grass-fed beef, organic produce, Three Brothers rolls, etc.) are fresh, minimally processed, and locally sourced, which makes even the plain cheeseburger, classic "greasy" fare, taste lighter and maybe even healthful? More reasons why, perhaps, so many parents seem comfortable taking their kids there and even letting them round out dinner with a house-baked chocolate chunk or cow-shaped cookie.

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Consumer Reports Names the Best and Worst Fast-Food Restaurants in America, and the Results are Surprising

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Is this the best fast food burger in the country? Voters seem to think so...
Last week we published an article about good, old-fashioned, roadside-style Texas burgers, and in this story, we might have insinuated that there are a lot of crappy fast-food burgers out there. One commenter called us out on it, writing: "I would also argue that McDonald's does not serve a poor excuse for a cheap burger. They serve the gold standard for cheap burgers. The McDouble is a good burger, especially for $1.19."

Well, friend, I'm sorry, but the latest study by Consumer Reports begs to differ.

The online shopping resource conducted a study in which they asked readers to rank fast food meals on a scale of one to ten (ten being the best thing they've ever eaten). According to the report, readers ate "53,745 burger chains' burgers, chicken chains' fried or roasted chicken, Mexican chains' burritos, and sandwich chains' sub -- or heroes, hoagies, grinders, or wedges, depending on where you call home."

In the burger category, McDonalds came in dead last, and not by a narrow margin.

More surprising, though, is the burger category's winner...

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An Ode to the Classic Texas-Style Roadside Burger

Categories: Burger Break

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Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
Champ Burger: Unchanged since 1963.
"How's your dad?" asks a man stepping in front of the line to pick up a burger from the window. He called ahead; clearly he knows how this works. He's talking to the owner of Champ Burger, whose father used to be behind the window before he got too old and had to let his son take over.

When the man notices me looking at him, he addresses me: "I've been coming here for 25 years. These are great burgers, good people. You want a burger, you've come to the right place."

Of course, the 25 years that he's been visiting Champ Burger is only half of the hole-in-the-wall burger joint's life. It's been open since 1963, serving thin but sprawling, greasy patties on toasted buns with a sprinkle of shredded iceberg lettuce, chopped onions, pickles and a few slices of tomato. There's a smear of mayo on one bun and mustard on the other. If you want ketchup, cheese or anything else, you have to ask for it.

This is the Texas-style burger, the kind you used to get a drive-thrus and roadside stands before fast food empires took over the landscape, serving poor excuses for cheap burgers that eventually created backlash and led to the gourmet burger. In many cities, those are the only options available: Chain restaurant fast food burgers and gourmet monstrosities. Nostalgic burgers like the one at Champ Burger are hard to come by.

Not here in Houston, though, where we remain loyal to the modest burger joints that have been serving us for generations.

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Burger Report: Cottonwood's Bleu Cheese Burger

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Photo by Brooke Viggiano
There's a lot going on in this burger...and we love it all.
Though Cottonwood is known mostly as craft beer bar, it has some serious burger game. And while we've already waxed poetic about their poblano-and-fried-egg-laden Squirrel Master Burger -- it even made our critic's 100 Favorite Dishes of 2013 -- that doesn't mean the other burgers aren't just as good.

The Bleu Cheese Stuffed Burger ($10), for example, is ridiculously just as good. And it all starts with the patty.

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"The Slopper" at James Coney Island

Categories: Burger Break

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Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Aerial view of my Slopper burger.

When I first saw a picture of James Coney Island's new limited-edition burger, "The Slopper," I realized two things: 1) I had to try it. 2) Public decency laws dictate I should do so in the privacy of my own home.

The "Slopper," as its name might suggest, is very, very sloppy. As a cheeseburger covered in about two cups of chili, cheese and onions, this sandwich makes no attempt to be neat.

Sounds just like me. (At least in terms of eating.)

Those in the know will easily testify to the fact that I cannot consume any food item without spilling at least a quarter of it either on myself or on the floor. And sometimes, on very special occasions, I spill 1/4 on the floor and 1/4 on myself, thereby wasting 1/2 of my dish...yet another reason I appreciate large portions.

My messiness is due neither to laziness nor to ignorance. (I assure you, my parents did try to teach me how to use a fork and knife properly.) I am simply a huge klutz when it comes to handling food and drink in the act of consumption and will spill, sprinkle, drip, etc. all over myself. Bibs help, but they need to be floor-length with long sleeves.

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Dish of the Week: The Jucy Lucy

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Photo by Michael Salazar
Beware of this burger's molten core.
This week, we're sharing a recipe for the Jucy Lucy -- just in time for grilling season.

A Jucy Lucy -- or Juicy Lucy, depending who you believe came up with it -- is a burger with the cheese stuffed inside the meat. As the patty cooks on the flattop grill, the cheese inside melts, creating a molten core that oozes with each bite.

So basically, biters beware.

The origin of the cheese-stuffed burger is a heated debate. Two bars in South Minneapolis lay claim to the cheese-stuffed burger. And they're both on the same street. Matt's Bar calls the burger a Jucy Lucy, while the 5-8 Club adds the "i" to make it a Juicy Lucy. Both bars taunt each other further with their mottos; One saying "Remember, if it is spelled correctly, you are eating a shameless rip-off!" and the other, "If it's spelled right, it's done right."

We don't really care who made it, we're just happy that it exists. We're also happy that it has spawned creations all over the nation. You can find a jalapeno-and-fontina-stugged Juicy Lucy at Lowbrow, but we're sticking to the original recipe.

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Elevation Burger: Ingredients Matter, But So Does Flavor

Categories: Burger Break

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Minh T Truong
A burger and fries for me is one of those guilty pleasure meals in life -- you know it's not great for you but when you want one you want a really good one. When a craving hits you, it hits you hard and if you've used up your designated cheat day for something else, you're S.O.L. I was hoping that Elevation Burger would solve that problem for me. When a burger craving crept up on me maybe I could get away with a "healthy" burger -- but what I discovered was if you're gonna eat a burger -- just eat a burger.

Elevation Burger is a chain with locations from Kuwait to Austin. The first Houston location opened in 2012. According to the website their philosophy is to "elevate" the dining experience by providing 100 percent organic, free range, grass-fed beef and high quality ingredients. They also offer veggie and vegan burgers.


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Top 5 Underrated Burgers in Houston (According to You)

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Photo courtesy Just Burgers
The Texas Burger at Just Burgers is a force to be reckoned with.
Well, Houston, you've proven your love of burgers yet again.

More than 1,100 people voted in our poll to determine which burgers in Houston don't get their fair due, and the results are in. It actually wasn't even close for first place, either. Forty-five votes separate first and second places, though the rest of the votes were a little closer.

Some of you wondered in the comments how the winner of last year's burger bracket, Rainbow Lodge, could be underrated. My answer? I don't know, guys, you picked these spots! I do think that all of the options were good ones, though, as they aren't places I would have immediately thought of when wanting a great burger.

Of course, they are now. And I'm on a mission to try them all.

Without further ado, here are the most underrated burgers in Houston.

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We've Narrowed Down the Most Underrated Burgers...Vote Now!

Categories: Burger Break

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Photo courtesy Listos Restaurant
This burger from Listos got A LOT of votes during the initial call for comments.
Last week we were seeking burger inspiration from you, dear readers. In an effort to expand our burger horizons, we wanted to know what you felt were the most underrated burgers in Houston. Hopefully yours, too, will be expanded in the process.

We received hundreds of responses on the blog and on social media, which is awesome. Clearly you folks are passionate about your beef! In order to narrow down the top five most underrated burgers in Houston, we've put together a handy poll. Check it out and vote on your favorite option.

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