Monday, November 10, 2008

Mighty Fine Burgers

10515 N Mo Pac Expy # 205
Austin, TX 78759
(512) 524-2400

So my month of eating cheaply continues. Only, the dating has abated slightly, so I was left having to pay for my own dinners last week. Oh horror of horrors! But as I've mentioned before, I've made a deal with myself to try out some of Austin's less expensive fare. I want to try all the mom and pop taquerias, street food vendors, and neighborhood burger joints in town. I want to definitively answer for you all who makes the best of each. This is my vow to you! (this week)..

So the first place I tried was a north side burger "joint" called Mighty Fine Burgers that has gotten mixed reviews from my friends. But, they have huge billboards, and apparently I am suggestive to advertising. Plus, they're owned by Rudy's and though I haven't reviewed it, I am a big fan of Rudy's turkey and sausage (though not their sauce).. oh yeah, and that evil, evil creamed corn. And while its not the best BBQ I've ever eaten, it's passable enough for lunch on a weekly basis and I will generally recommend it to people when they ask for a BBQ place within Travis County's border.

My friend Jared and I went to Mighty Fine last week on our way to Fry's. It's located in a rather nondescript strip mall at the corner of 183 and Mopac. You know, the GIANT strip mall with the home depot, Golf Galaxy, and every other shop known to man. That one. So unlike the 360 Rudy's where I eat at, parking is not a problem. The inside is sparsely decorated and is laid out like a cross between Rudy's, Johnny Rockets, and Krispy Kreme. The tables are laid out a la Rudy's were everyone on long picnic tables. But the red checkered table clothes and old photos of 1920's grocery stores are distinctly reminiscent of "Burger-Chic America". There is even a large glass room with an industrial looking burger press that reminds me of the donut assembly line at Krispy Kreme. But when I was there it wasn't on and I felt like I was missing the great meat extrusion show.

You go through the Rudy's style queue to order (which having taken a queueing theory class, I know really IS the fastest method to move people). There is even the quality guy with the clipboard by the registers making sure everything is tip top. But gone is the lively atmosphere of most Rudy's. They don't yell and scream when you tell them its your first time ordering. They don't toss the sides back and forth. Ordering is rather.. boring. I did appreciate the spartan In-N-Out style menu. There are only 2 main course options: burger or hot dog. Now, you can get cheese, bacon, chili, and fixings on either, but the simplicity is refreshing. Oh and there's only one side order, crinkle cut french fries. Now, it would be nice if they offered at least one vegetarian option, say a veggie burger, or a portobella cap, but I get the feeling they're trying to appeal to the gun toting, belt buckle wearing middle American population in Austin. Sorry veggies, you have no home here.

Mighty Fine differs from Rudy's in the speed of service too. At Rudy's they prepare your order while you stand at the register. There's a lively dance of meat cutting and side tossing that never takes more that a minute. But despite the lack of menu options, the burgers at Mighty Fine are cooked to order. You order, pay, take a number, and sit until you're called. General fare for most burger joints. But where as Rudy's gives you your order in a large plastic crate with a wax paper mat to use as your plate, Mighty Fine delivers your burger wrapped and in a paper sack.

Now having taken a few efficiency classes I wonder why Mighty Fine chose to deviate from their speedy Rudy's layout. I appreciate that each burger is cooked to order, but with only 2 options (3 if you could the melted cheese required for a cheeseburger). I could see how they could easily alter they're layout to quickly produce a burger/cheeseburger/hot dog while you stand at the register. It only takes slightly longer to put a burger together than it does to slice and weigh brisket. Then they take the further timely step of bagging it for you instead of just throwing it in a plastic crate. While Rudy's service feels like a finely choreographed ballet of efficiency, Mighty Fine feels like an awkward grade school slow dance.

But all that is fodder for my engineers brain and not for the average customer. The average customer only cares about taste. And unfortunately Mighty Fine lacks in that department. The burgers are only average. No special attention is given to the bun, its not toasted, sesame seeded or in any way distinguishable from a HEB Sunday special hamburger bun. On the plus side, its very fresh, not the sodden steamed McDonald's bun or a stale road side burger bun. And the meat, is quality Angus, and is not overly greasy or over-cooked and dry. Its cooked perfectly and has a pleasant fresh taste. But there's nothing special about it. No special seasoning, no additions to the ground beef to make it extra special. Its the kind of burger I'd make at a pre-game BBQ where I have to feed 40 hungry men and I don't particularly care how it tastes because I know they'll eat 3 anyway.

Now what is special about Might Fine isn't their burgers, but their crinkle cut fries. Those are spectacular. They have a great down home shape and texture. They're thinly cut and they have the perfect potato to fry ratio. Perfectly salted and dipped in ketchup they are perfection.

What sets Mighty Fine apart from most burger joints is that it is absolutely pristine and clean. There are no fingerprints on the large windows that make up two whole walls of the restaurant, the floors are so clean I wouldn't feel weird eating off them, and the tables are immaculately wiped down between each seating. There is even a nifty hand washing station that you absolutely have to try when you go. You place your hands into two bio-hazard looking slots and firm spray of warm water encircles your arms. It tickles, it tingles, it makes you feel all warm inside. Its the best public jollies you can have and not get arrested.

Bottom Line: A Might OK burger but Mighty Fine fries
Mariah - 6.5