When a waiter asks Greg Morrissey how he would like his burger, he doesn’t skip a beat.
“Medium rare and drag it through the garden.”
Which, in burger joint lingo, means grill it to pink perfection and top it with lettuce, onions and tomatoes. And whether the server grins and jots down the order or pauses and looks up blankly could be an early indicator of where this particular burger ranks on “the list.”
“The list” came into being last spring when Morrissey and Steve Lazewski, whose daughters are in the same class at Lakewood Elementary School, began their quest to find the ultimate Dallas hamburger. Why, you ask? Why not, the men reply. New York has its delis; Chicago is known for its pizza; and in Dallas, burgers are the classic cuisine, argues Lazewski, who has lived in cities across the country and regularly traverses the globe on business.
It’s not that he and Morrissey were unfamiliar with the city’s burger scene. Any red meat-eating Dallasite can rattle off a couple of favorites among the myriad of options. But an article in D magazine claiming to have found the area’s best burger spurred the men to action. They vehemently disagreed with 10 or 15 of the magazine’s finalists — “We thought it was stacked,” Morrissey says — and resolved to embark on their own investigation.
There would be no relying on past experiences. Every burger joint in Dallas would be considered unexplored territory. And rules were put into place to make sure every burger received a fair assessment:
First of all, no fancy condiments. Stick to plain mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup (none of this Dijon, horseradish or steak sauce business), and use the same condiments each time. Second, no grilled onions. Not every restaurant offers a caramelized version, and cooked versus uncooked completely changes the meat’s taste. Finally, no bacon, but cheese, though discouraged, is allowed. (Because sometimes you just need cheese.)
No plan of attack was formalized; no map of the city dotted with miniature burger icons. The men simply called each other if they felt like grabbing a bite. (Morrissey grew accustomed to hearing his wife yell: “Steve’s on the phone! He wants to go knock one off!”) So far, they’ve hit roughly 40 locations. It helped that Morrissey, a teacher, worked a summer job as a water purification technician and often spotted potential restaurants during his treks across North Texas. If he walked into a small town eatery and found the tables claimed by blue-collar workers, it was a pretty much sure thing, Morrissey says.
But the hole-in-the-wall atmosphere isn’t a guarantee the burgers will be tasty, the men caution. (Morrissey was especially disappointed with a place called The General Store, in Sherman, whose burgers resembled “a Dairy Queen burger,” he says.) Their top picks include places that stick a roll of paper towels on the table as well as more “opulent” locations that might offer sides such as sweet potato fries.
Laweski and his 12-year-old son, Matthew, recently dined at a burger joint that combine these two approaches, Twisted Root Burger Co. in Deep Ellum. Matthew wasn’t much of a meat-eater until this summer, when he began tagging along with his father and Morrissey to their various stops.
“Last year, he was a vegan; now he’s a connoisseur of prime meat,” Morrissey laughs. “He came over to the right side.”
Twisted Root, which assigns names such as “Darth Vader” and “Lois Lane” to each pick-up order, seemed to be a hit with Lazewski and Matthew. It didn’t hurt that the place brewed its own root beer or that it practiced the fine art of bun toasting (which, Morrissey and Lazewski admit, tends to influence their decisions). The father and son tried to decide where Twisted Root would fit on “the list” among other higher-ranked eateries like Wingfield’s and St. Pete’s Dancing Marlin, but when asked what it is that makes a burger good, Lazewski simply shrugs.
“It’s not really the way they make it,” he says. “It’s really what you like.”
And therein lies the dilemma of finding the ultimate Dallas burger. It doesn’t exist, the men have found, because everyone has different tastes. That’s why they each have their own version of “the list.” Sure, there are places such as Kincaid’s and Balls that land on everyone’s top 10, but when Morrissey enjoys 1/3-pound burgers so he can truly taste the meat (“I like them juicy with almost a steak flavor,” he says), and Lazewski prefers thicker burgers, they’re bound to disagree.
For these two friends, however, the fun lies just as much in the pursuit as in the discovery. And they have no intention of giving up anytime soon, especially when so much ground is left to cover.
“I’ve seen about four that I want to hit,” Morrissey says, “and I’m not stopping.”
Got an off-the-beaten-path burger house suggestion? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know. We’ll pass the tip on to the Burger Quest duo, and probably act on it ourselves.
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