the spot: Launderette 2115 Holly St. Austin TX 78702
the eats: Plancha Burger
the bucks: $9
the full nelson: A chef driven take on a classic comfort food burger
I have been living in Austin for a little over two years now and while I feel comfortable waxing poetic on some obvious edible essentials like La Barbecue, P. Terry’s or Taco Deli; the fine dining scene eludes me. Part of it is because since having a kid, my wife and I eat out at these types of establishments far less. The other part is that you don’t need to eat at a fine dining establishment to get a taste of the chef driven, farm to table food experience that is the cornerstone of our contemporary fine dining movement. Which brings me to my visit at Launderette for the Plancha burger. First off Launderette is far more than a mere burger spot, their menu is a mix of shared plates and a few entrées, with a heavy Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influence. The chef behind the savory side of the menu, Rene Ortiz, is an accomplished one, with a resumé that rattles off names like Daniel Boulud and Alain Ducasse like a teaser for an upcoming episode of Top Chef Masters. And the burger costs $9, so this should be a perfect storm for Bang for your Burger Buck right? That depends on what you expect out of your burgers. The Plancha is a chef driven version of a classic American Diner cheeseburger, a burger genre whose entries make the lists of the best burgers around. And if you need support that a diner cheeseburger can draw the admiration of top tier critics, just ask Jonathan Gold, George Motz or Nick Solares. How does the Plancha stack up? Let’s find out.
For so many, the burger experience is really a cheeseburger experience and their is something irreplaceable when that cheese is American cheese. The very thing which may draw ire from cheese snobs, the emulsifiers in American cheese, are the very properties that allow this cheese to excel in a burger: it makes for a perfect melt which is exactly what you see here my friends. Now onto the Challah bun which is frankly the star of the show. Made in house, the Challah bun is heavy with eggs vs a traditional hamburger bun, and very soft. If you’re gonna be serious about making burgers, you need to be serious about making the buns and Launderette crosses T’s and dots I’s here. The burger blend itself is grass fed beef that also is spiked with some bacon. To be honest, it wasn’t advertised on the menu and I wouldn’t have know that unless I asked. In the last few years I have seen burgers sell the “we put bacon in here” bit as part of some shock value but I don’t think that is the case here at Launderette. I’m just not sure why they had to add the bacon in the first place.
The toppings are a burger’s defining moment which in the case of the Plancha means “special sauce”, pickles and onions, in addition to the American cheese. Yes, the pickles are made in house but this burger flavor profile is 100% classic diner cheeseburger. Chalk it up to my 20 years living in Southern California where pink sauce on burgers was ubiquitous to the scene, but I love me some Thousand Island dressing, which is clearly the basis of the Plancha burger’s “Special Sauce”. It is my go to when I’m grilling burgers for a crowd and just drives the point that burgers excel when presented in the familiar and without too much fuss. The choice of toppings here is as much what you don’t put on as what do. No lettuce and no tomato because it just isn’t absolutely necessary. Now I have nothing against lettuce and I love fresh tomato BUT if it isn’t gonna be fresh or make for a better burger, it doesn’t have to be there. Talent is in the choices and I respect the call to leave out the superfluous.
Now some assembly is required with the Plancha burger. You are on your own to apply the minimalist toppings of pickle, onion and special sauce. And this is where my burger experience at Launderette hit a bump on the road. The beauty of a chef driven burger is that you are embracing an interpretation of a burger and that vision should arrive at your table fully realized. I went a bit heavy on the pickles and it overwhelmed the burger overall. Frankly, I would have gladly paid an extra $2 for the burger to arrive at the table ready for that first bite. Beyond the assembly issue, the Plancha burger at Launderette does stack up to some of the best classic diner style burgers in the country, and in the case of the bun, excels the likes of Pie ‘n Burger and Apple Pan(Joe Junior is on my burger bucket list). Whether one is comfortable spending $9 for chef driven comfort food is an individual choice but I promise you that if your hunger pangs mix Bang for your Burger Buck with a little nostalgia for edible Americana, Launderette’s Plancha Burger is indeed the burger you are looking for.