By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Minh T Truong
By Molly Dunn
By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Molly Dunn
By Molly Dunn
By Eating Our Words
A small black dog greets me at the front door of Rudyard's on Waugh. I take a seat at the short end of the bar. The place is dimly lit, and my eyes adjust slowly. The walls and windowsills are all painted drab brown. But Rudz is one of the most colorful bars in town, thanks to the Montrose-area characters that hang out here.
Tonight the cast consists of a tall man in his mid-twenties with a wispy Brad Pitt beard, shoulder-length hair and a backward baseball cap; he's drinking Guinness and smoking American Spirit cigarettes at the end of the bar. Isn't he somebody's bass player? At a table by the wall, a double-chinned woman in her late forties is laughing in a loud, hoarse cackle that sounds eerily like Janis Joplin. Beside me a couple of regulars are drinking Shiner Bocks and looking at Halloween party photos. Halfway down the bar, a young man with a shaved head and a Camp Bluebonnet T-shirt is having an intense conversation with an Asian woman in tiny black almond-shaped glasses.
The aroma of cigarettes and stale beer doesn't do much for my appetite, but I order anyway. "One bacon cheeseburger and a Spaten Oktoberfest," repeats the barmaid as she scribbles on her pad. She then places a chrome stand that holds a piece of cardboard bearing the number seven on the bar in front of me.
Houston, TX 77006
Category: Bars and Clubs
Bacon cheeseburger: $6.50
Spaten Oktoberfest: $4
Roky Erickson on the jukebox: Priceless
I tried to come to Rudyard's for lunch earlier today, but the kitchen doesn't open until 5 p.m. I am intent on eating here because of an e-mail I received from a reader named Jimmy Sanchez. "I think Rudyard's Pub has the best bacon cheeseburger in town and their jukebox has Roky Erickson on it," the message said. I have been looking for a benchmark burger in Houston. And it's a good idea to grab a bit of Roky Erickson wherever it floats by.
The other bartender, who is wearing shorts, hiking boots and a T-shirt that says "Montrose Beer and Gun Club," assures me that the burger here is a thing of wonder. "Our kitchen guys make their own patties and season them with all kinds of shit," he brags. I express the hope that it is good shit.
I have auditioned some other outstanding burgers. These include the free-form patty at Market Square Bar and Grill and the nostalgic classic at Bellaire Broiler. The Market Square sandwich was a tad dry; its voluminous sesame-seed bun a little too big for the hand-formed patty within. The Bellaire bacon cheeseburger, on the other hand, was wet and wild, a delicious masterpiece of dripping tomato and sauces, marred only by the thinness of the preformed patty.
Once upon a time, burgers were all shaped by hand. The thick, old-fashioned patties stayed juicier than the preformed frozen kind. There were still a few holdouts until the Jack in the Box catastrophe in Portland, Oregon. After three kids died from eating contaminated burgers, a wave of paranoia about ground meat swept the land. Restaurants were instructed to serve well-done burgers whether we liked them that way or not. And health authorities cracked down on meat-handling practices. Burger makers were asked to wear plastic gloves and to refrain from handling meat in the presence of any other foods. The once-popular method of putting a raw meat ball on the griddle and slapping it with a spatula to make a free-form patty was banned for fear of spreading contamination. These complicated new rules make it a whole lot easier to forget about meat handling and just buy frozen hamburger patties.
"I don't like games," the Asian girl says a little too loudly. The guy with the shaved head looks embarrassed. He moves closer to her and whispers adamantly. A kitchen hand wanders up behind them holding a plate. I believe he is searching for my lucky number seven. He sets an ornate china plate in front of me; it is heaped with a burger, toppings and fries.
The plate has a royal blue rim with a zigzag gold design and the words "Heritage Club" inscribed in the middle -- a very fancy garage sale relic. The burger is presented with its top bun askew. Alongside it, a slice of tomato, another of purple onion and a chunk of iceberg lettuce are neatly stacked. Mayonnaise is offered in a small ceramic ramekin. The patty looks very thick, and breaking off a small chunk, I ascertain it is nicely pink inside. I pop the meat in my mouth. If I had to guess, I'd say it is seasoned with garlic powder, salt and pepper. The meat is generously covered with bacon and American cheese. The fresh bakery bun has a high enough yeast content that large bubbles have formed in the dough, creating an excellent porous texture. I arrange the salad ingredients over the bacon, spread the mayo on the top bun and lower it into place. The whole assembled sandwich is ridiculously tall. Using the second joint of my index finger as a ruler, I estimate the height to exceed three and a half inches, roughly twice the clearance between my top and bottom teeth when my mouth is fully open.