the burger: Double w/ Cheese: Two 100% all-natural black angus beef patties, two slices American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle and onion(upon request)
the bucks: $3.95
the coordinates: Austin, TX
Burgers can be many many things. Like all food should be, burgers live in a dynamic state. Some appear in formal dining halls worthy of rap moguls or royalty, some are served on street carts. Some cross culinary genres like a Bulgogi topped burger or a burger conceived to taste like carnitas. Few burgers can be called “authentic”, a term not universally embraced as a good thing but a powerful one regardless. P. Terry’s, the celebrated burger chain in Austin whose reverence to quality ingredients frankly belies every negative connotation one could have to that dirty “C-word”, serves up a burger that can simply be described as authentic. And that summation conveys the very best that word has to offer. At $4 for a cheeseburger of this caliber – it’s a slam dunk when it comes to Bang for your Burger Buck – but more importantly it is a slam dunk because of the quality first and foremost. The price point just happens to be the cherry on the sundae. And a cheap cherry at that.So about this whole “authenticity” thing. I just dove into the 3rd season of Mind of a Chef, featuring Edward Lee, a man whose culinary narrative strikes multiple chords with me as a fellow first generation American and someone who embraces an array of ethnic cuisine with tremendous zeal. In the second episode he tackles the term “authentic” and challenges it, saying that our reliance on the word enforces rules that allow a given food to become static. The idea of using the word “authentic” is really about using the word “unauthentic”, which comes down to calling any variation of a well known dish to be viewed as wrong. When you consider this power that the word “authentic” has, one can see it’s inherent danger: it can stymie culinary creativity. At the same time one would be mistaken not to call attention to tradition, to recognize that what worked way back when, still works now. Perhaps Lee would be more comfortable with the word “classic” in place of “authentic” as it simultaneously elevates the subject while acknowledging it is a nod to the past living in the present. “Classic” is a term I have most certainly used in the past but there is something about P. Terry’s that feels current, modern. Despite the restaurant’s open acknowledgment of the past that influenced it’s creation, there is also the signs of today that define P. Terry’s:This signage wasn’t necessary 50 years ago because many of these attributes were meant to be expected. Like In-N-Out, the work of utilizing fresh and wholesome ingredients while maintaining a price point working families can approach is a Herculean task that drives both burger chain’s fine reputation. Let’s not think for a moment that Natural Ground chuck can compare to the richness of Wagyu, but achieving burger perfection does not always mean taking a path paved by sheer decadence. Let’s also not think that the beef sourced by P. Terry’s is run of the mill either. I feel compelled to define the difference between “classic” and “authentic” here and I suppose the difference is that a “classic” burger would stop at the recipe where “authentic” also addresses the ingredients that further define the taste of a burger. And what a taste. The pure pleasure, the complete satisfaction derived from consuming the double cheeseburger at P. Terry’s spurs me to call the burger experience genuinely authentic. Part of the brilliance lies in the timeless success of the classic burger concept, the other lies in the ingredients, that may seem part time farm to table, but still manages to kick things up a notch. One could recreate this experience with more elevated ingredients but the end result would not necessarily be more authentic, only more refined. This burger stays true to the virtues of simplicity while addressing the pitfalls of our contemporary food world. And with that, let’s take a look under the hood of this 21st century American Classic.Do yourself the favor of unwrapping this burger and push your tray about a foot back in order to admire this beauty from afar. Some of the best meals of my life have been served in a paper bag but P. Terry’s deserves to be placed on a silver platter. The epic melt alone brings men to their knees:Often I find double cheese to be excessive. To borrow loosely from Orwell: two patties, two cheese good. Two patties, one cheese better! It would seem that P. Terry has been proven Animal Farm wrong because a double patty cheeseburger doesn’t really get better than this. In-N-Out fans will quickly point to their beloved Double Double as the standard-bearer of all things double cheeseburger, but I find the ratio of beef to cheese tips too far to the dairy and have advocated for the ordering of a 3×2 or a 4×1 as the official path to Bang for your Burger Buck at In-N-Out. Such tactics are wholly unnecessary at P. Terry’s where the burger patties are more substantial thereby balancing off the double layer of cheese. And that makes for a more juicy burger.Going for the full topping suite of lettuce, tomato and house sauce gives the burger the classic substance while not risking slippage, even sans wrapping paper. But the key is getting the pickles and onions – free extras but a necessary request. I can’t stress how much the pickle and onion defined this perfect cheeseburger experience. Savory chopped onion and the briny bite of pickle are critical elements to a classic cheeseburger experience but at P. Terry’s it showcases the remarkable overall burger quality. Many times certain toppings can mask a burger’s inferior attributes, at P. Terry’s the pickle and onion actually makes everything else shine.My margin for burger excellence gets very small with cooked through burgers. Frankly, I love seeing red in my burger cross sections, so something special has to be going on to convince me that this burger is juicalicious(forgive me but that one aint going away). Of course something special certainly is going on at P. Terry’s and it makes the case for what defines the authentic cheeseburger experience: flavor and ingredient harmony. This burger is juicy because the house sauce isn’t the standard issue Thousand Island. This burger has texture and zest because the pickles are a solid notch above, and the lettuce and tomato are nothing to sneeze at either. The burger tastes beefy because the beef is damn decent and the onions are a smart play that enhances the overall bovine flavor effect. The cheese is well melted which is really a nod to the skills behind the grill. P. Terry’s is a brilliant, authentic 21st century cheeseburger experience. It also costs $4. I would say that’s Bang for your Burger Buck twice over.
But that doesn’t make sense.
What does make sense is for you get over to a P. Terry’s soon.
P. Terry’s Burger Stand
Locations throughout Austin, TX