the burger: The Fats Domino 1/3lb custom burger blend from local butcher(Johnny Gs), standard issue bun, lettuce, chopped tomatoes, pickles, mayo, mustard, jalapeños, onions, grated cheddar cheese and a spicy New Orleans seasoning
the bucks: $7.75
the coordinates: Austin, TX
Imagine Austin, Texas in 1939. A time when skinny jeans were reserved for skinny cowboys. When food trucks were just for shipping food. When a hamburger joint was just a . . . well in the case of Hut’s Hamburgers, somethings do the stay the same, or in this case, have clearly not forgotten where they came from. You know this place is special the moment you walk in. The sign that bears the year of its founding is about as necessary as the last line on a McDonald’s sign that says Billions and Billions served. History is heaped onto the walls and boasts that type of hoarder chic that has become the trademark style of casual dining empires such as TGI Fridays and Applebee’s, but of course Hut’s feels infinitely more authentic with the predictable but thoroughly enjoyable Texas Roadside feel. Faded baseball pennants with that font that literally takes you back to your childhood bedroom help ease the notion that a midday beer is just what the doctor ordered. Or if you are committed to a course of Bang for your Burger Buck, rest assured that signs like this mean the place you are sitting in is serious about burgers. It would have fit my own preconceived narrative of Hut’s Hamburgers that only one offering was made on the menu, unchanged since Hut’s inception in 1939 but this couldn’t be farther from the case. Hut’s Hamburgers offers 20 different topping focused burger concepts and that’s just with their standard issue beef burger patty. Factor in options like grass fed Longhorn, Buffalo, veggie or chicken and you are facing literally a hundred different burger adventures. Lucky for my indecisive self that I am on a budget and am happy to put my faith in the waitstaff so I could settle on one of the most straight up flavor forward burgers I have ever had. And it only set me back $8. And I didn’t need fries. Ladies, Gentlemen and children of all ages – I present to you the Fats Domino in all of her unabashedly Tex-Mex/Texan glory.Upon arriving in the Lone Star State as yet another LA-Austin transplant I quickly took in my new burger surroundings where I noticed natives worship Whataburger like Californians idolize In-N-Out. In either state, beef is beef, but the variance lies in the topping culture. Texans prefer mustard and mayo to Thousand Island dressing which is the SoCal gold standard. Not surprisingly, jalapeños come up in the course of burger topping events in Texas and I’m more than happy to oblige. Now I would be a two faced liar if I didn’t tell you that the very sight of the words “Taco Salad” did not commence an eye roll from yours truly. I remain skeptical of Tex Mex. I go out of my way to seek out tacos that are served from trailers and trucks, on corn tortillas, with fiery salsas, have offal options on the menu; in short I worship Mexican food that is prepared for the unabashed Mexican palate. But what I am finding, slowly, in my tenure as a transplant to Texas, is that the adaptation of Mexican flavors on American foods, and vice versa, has its place when prepared properly. I don’t think of queso as Mexican food, but I sure as hell will have some with Margaritas. And shredded cheddar and pickled jalapeños make plenty of sense on a burger. Sour, spice, and creamy tartness, those hallowed Tex-Mex flavors most certainly have their place in burger cookery as well. Look beyond the joyous overflow of Tex-Mex burger toppings, (the chopped tomato was a brilliant play), and you will notice a heavy red crust on the burger itself. This is the “Spicy New Orleans” rub that comes only on the Fats Domino. With the exception of Lawry’s seasoned salt, I can’t ever imagine beef needing any other seasoning beyond Kosher salt and coarse ground black pepper. And that Lawry’s exception is really when I’m feeling nostalgic about the days when my home cooked meals were almost always prepared with premixed seasoning. Back in those days I came across the legendary Paul Prudhomme Magic Seasoning Blends, the namesake belonging to the man who introduced nearly every home cook in the 1980s to Cajun cooking. These days I almost always prefer to make my own rubs for sake of cost and for a better understanding of which spices are at play but for me there is a sense of liberation to fall back on these seasonings every now and then. The Cajun rub on the Fats Domino is striking, immediate and methodical. It stands up to the bevy of toppings and lingers on the palate for a moment or two after that final bite. I can almost hear Emeril and Prudhomme talking shop as I work my way through the Fats Domino. Cajun-Creole cooking is neck and neck with barbecue as America’s greatest culinary contribution, so I have no doubt that the book remains open on where the most definitive Cajun burger lies, but I’ll happily munch on a Fats Domino while I search Yelp for a better one.The cross section of the Fats Domino resembles the stratum Geologists study when examining layers of sedimentary rocks, only instead of rock and soil, you have the basic garnishing elements of a Mexican combination plate. Though half the toppings will fall by the way side, know that every bite of Fats Domino will be loaded with texture and taste. Nothing wholly groundbreaking here – this is an unabashed Tex Mex burger with a slap of Cajun rub thrown in for good measure, but it works. It’s a bold burger but it isn’t over the top. In the end of the day, the most decadent topping here is cheddar cheese. And with a menu that offers bacon, chili, sliced ham and the opportunity to double down on a patty as easy as saying “I’ll have the Dagburger or give me Tuby’s Tickler”, the Fats Domino comes off as downright demure.With 18 other burgers on the menu running a price range of $5.95 to $7.75(one burger sails just past $10 with a double serving of beef), I anticipate I will work through most of the menu at Hut’s Hamburgers. And the atmosphere of a legit Texas burger joint that encourages day drinking doesn’t hurt either. In this exciting age of food, it is nice to come across a burger joint that delivers sans the smoke and mirrors, the lines and the hype. On paper there isn’t much to yell about here; the burger I chose is hardly unique if you live in Texas, but I can promise that your hard earned $8 investment will become a recurring one, because nobody goes to Hut’s Hamburgers just once. And they don’t always stick to burgers – the meatloaf special on Thursdays, Chicken Fried Chicken and Po’ Boys all have a loyal following amongst Hut’s Hamburgers regulars. But one thing all can agree on is that this joint is about as authentic as it gets. There is no doubt that the patrons who came to Hut’s back in 1939 would still feel right at home in 2016. Like the Longhorn that hangs on the wall, Hut’s Hamburgers is unabashedly Texas, an authentic taste of vintage Austin and a place that for many years has been and most likely always will, offer Bang for your Burger Buck.
807 W. 6th Street
Austin, Texas 78703