Mytiburger Is on the Way
Editor's clarification: Kathy Green says she was not forced to close Mytiburger, but chose to do so.
Take a trip behind the 46-year-old grills at Mytiburger in our slideshow.
The small dining room at Mytiburger is laid out in intricate fashion, maximizing every bit of black-and-white-checkered floor space to fit 20 diners into a handful of persimmon-colored booths and one old-fashioned soda fountain table near the register. On a Monday afternoon at lunchtime, every one of those booths is full.
A woman's voice crackles over the intercom that conveys orders from Mytiburger's drive-thru, but most people who dine at this 46-year-old burger joint in Garden Oaks prefer to come inside. That's because all of the ladies behind the counter — each of whom looks as if she sprouted organically from beneath Mytiburger's white Formica counters at various stages in the restaurant's history, springing forth fully-formed complete with red-and-blue caps and aprons — welcome you like family.
"See you tomorrow, Mr. Dale," cries out one of the ladies with a jolly laugh. "Same bat time, same bat channel!" A gentlemen who looks to be in his 80s has just finished slowly chewing his way through a classic double-meat Mytiburger, watching the slow stream of traffic on 43rd Street through the restaurant's plate-glass windows. He smiles and waves as he leaves, nodding in agreement: "See you tomorrow."
"I know Dale," says Shawn Salyers, the new owner of Mytiburger, when I ask him about the regular customers who pass through Mytiburger every day. "He's a friend of ours. Comes in nearly every day and always gets the same thing."
Salyers is just getting to know the regulars who have been coming to the burger joint since long before he bought it from former owner Kathy Green, who'd owned it since 1988. When she was forced to close Mytiburger last year, it was Salyers who saved the burger stand and who's now busy bringing the old joint back to life. Salyers, who owns a Baskin-Robbins franchise nine blocks away and was a Mytiburger regular himself, says he wasn't about to let the burger stand close.
"I always liked hole-in-the-wall places and older diners," Salyers says. "I started coming here when I opened the Baskin-Robbins and got hooked on it." Salyers, who's been in the restaurant business in one way or another most of his life, is now serving up the same classic Texas roadside-style burgers that Mytiburger has served since 1967 — the same kind of burgers he was flipping as a 16-year-old at his first job in a Whataburger.
Inside a standard Mytiburger, cold, crispy vegetables jostle against two thin patties and a slice of gooey American cheese (you have to request this last ingredient, but it's highly recommended that you do). It's all snapped into place with a vigorous spread of mustard, tucked into a square of white butcher paper and passed across the counter to you by the same person who likely took your order, cooked it and is now ringing you up.
It's these classic Mytiburgers that I love best and the ones I'm happiest that Salyers has saved. Roadside Texas burgers are an increasingly rare species in the days of over-the-top, foie gras-slathered, fried-egg-covered behemoths that require a knife and fork to eat. Comparatively petite, thin-pattied burgers like the ones served at Cream Burger on Elgin, Burger Park on Martin Luther King or Champ Burger on Samson are becoming relics.
Yet I still champion them, because they — to me — represent the ideal of a Texas burger, one that can be purchased inexpensively and consumed without self-conscious regard for how you'll fit it into your suddenly far-too-small mouth. These classic burgers are beefy enough to tide you over for an afternoon but won't weigh you down. Their allure lies in the textural pleasures of cool, crispy lettuce and salty pickles and raw white onions snapping against warm, tender meat and a blanket of gooey cheese. Their finery is limited to a fervent swipe of neon yellow mustard, and mayo if you must. Ketchup is reserved solely for french fries.
These are the burgers that Mytiburger specializes in, although Salyers has added a few concessions to time.
"We've added some ingredients to the burgers," he says. "Fried eggs, refried beans, mushrooms — some of the things you expect these days." They don't necessarily detract from the burgers, but they don't add to them, either.
The fried eggs I've tried have usually been fried all the way through and are missing that burst of yolk that new-school burger fans crave. I tried the refried beans on a Mexican burger that was recently added to the menu and found myself thinking the burger would be better without them. The cheese, pickled jalapeños and salsa on top were a nice touch, however, and they hewed closely — albeit in a totally different way — to that Texas arithmetic of snappy vegetables plus meat plus melting cheese equals good.
The one new ingredient I have found at Mytiburger that works perfectly are the plush, fat slices of avocado which give the burger an additional creamy dimension that a single slice of cheese cannot. I've ordered avocados twice now, and felt a little funny adding them to such an old-school burger — but it's paid off each time.
I generally prefer sticking to Mytiburger's standards, however, like surprisingly excellent frozen fries that feature a nicely crisped exterior and soft, mellow inside that's never mealy or mushy. Equally good are the crispy little sticks of sweet potato fries or the house specialty onion rings dipped in the jalapeño ketchup that sits on every table.
"We hand bread them every morning," says Salyers, who knew that he could never remove the popular side from the menu. Mytiburger also still makes its cherry limeade with fresh limes and its extra-thick, extra-creamy shakes with extra malt — upon request — but has also added fresh, house-cut fries if you're feeling extra fancy.
In addition to those fries and the new burger accoutrements, Salyers has also installed Wi-Fi — no easy task, as he had to get a drill hammer to punch through walls "built like a bunker." It's worth it to him, though, to try and encourage a new generation to discover the "Myti Good" burgers in what he likes to refer to as a "vintage" — not "old" — restaurant.
Plenty of other things are still vintage at Mytiburger, from the 45-year-old grills to the staff, many of whom have worked there for 15 years. Salyers was excited to hire them back and equally excited to get Green's help in running the place. After the sale, she signed a six-month contract with Salyers to help out, show him the ropes and keep the place running smoothly. She's also helping Salyers retain another demographic that's as important as new fans: loyal regulars.
"The whole dynamic of the place is that it caters to the older crowd and people who've lived in the neighborhood a long time," says Salyers, "I want to keep those customers. I want to keep it basic, keep it to what they expect." He recalls one of his first days in business: "One guy came in and said he was standing right here when he heard that John Lennon had been shot. That's history right there."
But Salyers isn't stagnating. He has big plans for Mytiburger aside from just fried eggs and refried beans. He wants to build a seating area under an oak tree out back when he's saved the money and wants to start serving breakfast soon. "Breakfast tacos," he says, "and breakfast sandwiches. Stuff we can cook up on the grills."
The new era of Mytiburger is fully dawning this week, when Salyers will take the reins for good. Green — who typically works seven days a week, 12 hours a day, and knows every customer before they even walk in the door — is leaving. Her contract ends on February 15. I think that this new phase of Mytiburger's life will end up suiting the old burger joint just fine, although Salyers admits he's a little nervous.
"A car pulls up, and Kathy starts making the order," says Salyers. "I don't know if I'll ever get there, but I'm trying."
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