It seems as though a new burger joint opens in Houston every week. Whether it's imports like Denver-based Elevation Burger and Dallas-based Burger House or homegrown concepts like Guru Burger in Sugar Land and JerryBuilt in Bellaire, it's no longer good enough just to serve a terrific burger. You have to stand out from the crowd, too.
And although The Refinery -- the subject of this week's cafe review -- is still struggling to craft a terrific burger, it succeeds in setting itself apart in part because of its setting. (Say that last part five times fast.)
There is no better place right now to catch a football game than on The Refinery's cedar-planked patio, filled with TV screens and picnic tables that feature handy, metal-lined beer wells down the center. There's also no prettier view of the downtown skyline -- sitting smack dab in front of your face, just over I-45 -- than the one that The Refinery affords, especially when the sun starts to sink.
That The Refinery should offer such a view onto the city's central business district is entirely appropriate. After all, the icehouse-cum-burger joint pays homage to the business upon which Houston was founded: oil, which led to the city's first big growth spurt in 1901 after being discovered at Spindletop. A few short years later, the discovery of oil reserves in Humble and Goose Creek in 1906, put Houston on the map as the center of new oil and oilfield equipment development.
Today, Houston is known throughout the world (for better or worse) as the home of petrochemical processing plants, natural gas refineries, petroleum exploration, pipeline development, the massive Offshore Technology Conference each year and energy companies large and small. Hell, we're home to 31 percent of the nation's energy-related jobs and over 5,000 energy firms (including 17 energy-related Fortune 500 companies).
With that in mind, it's almost surprising that The Refinery -- or something like it -- didn't spring up sooner. Its walls are decorated with pipeline fittings and old gas station signs. Trash cans are repurposed oil drums. Its very logo is comprised of letters lifted ransom note-style from old oil companies and filling stations. And if the pretty patio setting (not to mention the excellent craft beer and whiskey selection) didn't make The Refinery stand out, these little touches certainly would.
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I just don't want to be anywhere near the place when OTC comes to town again this May. The Refinery is only a few short blocks away from the George R. Brown Convention Center and any visiting oilman would be foolish not to enjoy a burger in one of the few places left in this country that celebrates fossil fuels with such passion.