Reality Bites

Reality Bites: Burger Land

It's taken awhile, but after years of self- (and external) loathing, Houstonians have largely come around to appreciating their city.

Houston's negative aspects can't be waved off: The heat and traffic are legendarily terrible, the sprawl threatens to make any trip outside our immediate environs an epic pilgrimage, and our so-called "feuds" with Dallas and Austin often feel like either we're trying to hard (at best) or we're secretly envious (at worst).

But from arts to food to music, Houston has plenty to be proud of, and it's always nice when someone from reality TV deigns to visit the Bayou City and confirm this. And that's just what George Motz did in a recent installment of Travel Channel's Burger Land.

Granted, it isn't as if other shows haven't visited us before. Some, like Animal Cops: Houston, are even (obviously) based here. But the involvement is usually incidental. If you're lucky, nobody will remember if a particular episode of Extreme Hoarders or Neighbors From Hell was set in H-Town. And if you're not...well, the less said about that unfortunate episode of Insomniac with Dave Attell the better.

Burger Land host Motz looks like what you'd end up with if Dr. Moreau combined Wolverine and Jermaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords. But he's an affable enough fellow. And he's not wrong in his assessment of Houston: We're crucial to the nation's oil and gas infrastructure, we like things big and it's ridiculously hot. We also like burgers, almost religiously so, and Motz set himself quite a task trying to nail down a representative Houston burger experience.

He started out safely enough, heading to Christian's Tailgate for the fried bacon jalapeño cheeseburger. It's the nature of these food shows that any experience the host doesn't positively exult over ends up on the editing-room floor, so we already know Motz will love Christian's (and everywhere else on the show). At least those of us who live here realize his reaction was warranted.

Tookie's in Seabrook is next. I like how new owner Barry Terrell describes it as a "landmark" since it was founded waaay back in 1975 (shut up, Euros; not all of us can have an Acropolis). Motz has the Squealer, Tookie's famous bacon-infused burger. Though I've never been to Tookie's myself, anything that convinces people to visit Seabrook must be pretty damn good.

Watching Burger Land, you almost can't help liking Motz. Unlike just about every other food show host, he's not obnoxious (Gordon Ramsay), annoying (Rachel Ray) or bowel-clenchingly awful (Guy Fieri). His attempts at conversation are, honestly, kind of awkward. It's refreshing.

Next up is the classic cheeseburger from Blake's BBQ on the west side (Jeanetta), where Motz is joined by an unusually boisterous Robb Walsh (formerly of the Houston Press), who then escorts him to Stanton's for the bacon cheeseburger. The episode was shot shortly before the untimely death of Stanton's owner Art Fong, and there's a mention of this at the end of the show, which was a nice touch.

Naturally, Houston burger enthusiasts will take umbrage at the joints that didn't make the cut: no Bubba's, or Bernie's, or Lankford's, or Wunsche Bros, or or or. It's a city of 6 million people and the show's only 30 minutes long: Sacrifices have to be made, people (though that didn't stop Motz from stopping by the JSS for a freeze-dried space burger, which looked a lot like a McDonald's patty). If there's one thing America isn't lacking for, it's hamburgers, so I wouldn't rule out a second visit.

Which reminds me: Are those Ghost Adventures guys ever going to drop by?

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar