Burger “Challenge”: Accepted

burger challenge logo

After posting my epic homemade burger (humble much?) post, my fellow food bloggers pointed out a Burger Challenge being put on by the local MMH restaurant group.  Not just any group; McGuire Moorman Hospitality is a group of upscale (read: expensive) restaurants that hold two of the three top spots on my (old) Best Burgers list.  The “challenge” is to eat the burger at each of the six restaurants in the group in the month of August.  If you do, you automatically get a $50 gift card to use at any of the restaurants.  If you’re really up for it, eat all six in a week and you’ll get a $250 gift card.  And if you eat the most burgers from these places during the month of August, you get a 25% off Friends and Family discount to all 6 restaurants for a year (and a juice cleanse… seriously)!

PS – I’ll say upfront I have no affiliation with MMH.  I just love burgers.

First order of business, figure out when each place is open, and more importantly, when each has happy hour.  That’s because these burgers are not cheap, ranging from $12 to $24 each.  Running the numbers (pre-tax/tip), at full price the burgers cost $104.  If you maximize the happy hour prices you can get away with $76.  The choice was clear: let’s knock these out in a week and get paid to eat burgers!

UPDATE!  The MMH group just posted on Instagram that Happy Hour pricing is no longer valid for the burger challenge.  That means if you are participating in the challenge, you need to pay full price, even during happy hour.

Burger 1 – Perla’s – $18 – Good

The challenge kicked off at Perla’s.  The only thing I knew of Perla’s Flat Top Cheeseburger is it’s expensive at $18.  Turns out it’s a double-patty, double-cheese beast with lettuce, tomato, and special sauce, reminiscent of a Shake Shack burger.  Despite the fancy business casual setting, it has that “everyman” quality to it with doubled up thin patties and melty American cheese.  However, while being comparable to Shake Shack isn’t a bad thing on it’s own, when it’s double the price, it leaves a bit more to be desired.  The fries, for what it’s worth, were outstanding.  In fact, I think Perla’s had my least favorite burger and my most favorite fries.

Iceberg Lettuce, Tomato, Onion, Pickles & Special Sauce

Iceberg Lettuce, Tomato, Onion, Pickles & Special Sauce

Perla's Burger Bite

Double-patty cross-section

Burger 2 – Clark’s Oyster Bar – $8 (Happy Hour) – Outstanding

Five hours after the Perla’s burger I grabbed a seat at the bar at Clark’s Oyster Bar.  The burger at Clark’s has been my favorite burger in Austin for quite some time now and they delivered once again.  The pan-roasted patty is thick and juicy, served simply on a soft, toasted bun with Gruyere and sauce gribiche (like an aioli).  The shoestring fries are crisp and salty and flavored with fried rosemary and garlic.  At happy hour it’s half price, which means it’s only $8.  There isn’t any other menu item in Texas with more bang for your buck than the $8 burger at Clark’s.

Sauce Gribiche, Gruyere with Clark’s Fries 16

Sauce Gribiche, Gruyere with Clark’s Fries

Burger 3 – Elizabeth Street Cafe – $12 – Excellent

The imposing presentation with shrimp toast stacked on top of the bun at Elizabeth Street Cafe turns every head as it’s brought out.  The sesame seed brioche bun gets smeared with griddled ham, kewpie mayo, cucumber kimchi, and lettuce.  The meat, apparently on purpose, is cooked medium-well.  While I wish it were juicier, it was plenty flavorful and all the toppings distracted from any dryness there might have been.  And a pro-tip: slide the shrimp toast under the bun for even more flavor and texture.

Griddled Ham, Cucumber Kimchi, Iceberg Lettuce, Kewpie Mayo, Shrimp Chip

Griddled Ham, Cucumber Kimchi, Iceberg Lettuce, Kewpie Mayo, Shrimp Chip

Burger 4 – Josephine House – $18 – Overcooked

Having been to Josephine House on a few weeks earlier specifically to try the cheeseburger, I knew I was in for a treat.  Unfortunately, and I’ll chalk this up to the increased burger demand, my burger came out obliterated.  The flavors from the toppings held up, but as you can imagine it’s hard to come back from a dry, overcooked patty.

Grafton cheddar, harissa aïoli, grilled red onion, house-made bun, frites - 18

Grafton cheddar, harissa aïoli, grilled
red onion, house-made bun, frites

To be fair, they weren’t all cooked poorly.  Evelyn’s came out perfectly medium rare, which really makes me think someone else had ordered well-done (why, oh why?) and I got theirs while they got mine.  Just look how beautiful this is.  If mine had looked like this I think Josephine House would’ve ranked higher.

Josephine Cut

Burger 5 – Lambert’s – $8 (Happy Hour) – Solid

Closest to a “good ol’ cheeseburger” the burger at Lambert’s relies on simplicity and the oak-grilled flavor.  It’s a thick, beefy patty is heavily seasoned (some have commented that it was too salty) and topped with cheddar, lettuce, tomato, mustard, and mayo.  Again it was probably left on the grill a little longer than I’d prefer, but the crisp, potato-y waffle fries make up for any shortcomings you may find with the burger.

Mayo, Mustard, Lettuce, Tomato, Red Onion 16

Mayo, Mustard, Lettuce, Tomato, Red Onion

Lambert's Overview

Burger 6 – Jeffrey’s – $12 (Happy Hour) – Fancy

The first bite of the final burger screamed “steak”.  The patty is made from the steakhouse’s dry-aged wagyu beef, and you can tell.  Combined with a mild stinky cheese, caramelized onions, horseradish mayo, and unnecessary frisée lettuce.  The burger, regularly an eye-popping $24, tastes fancy.  At half price during happy hour, it’s definitely worth your time.  Interestingly, the frites (see? fancy) were super thick and good for what they were, but my least favorite of all the fries.

mustard frisée, cambozola, caramelized onion, horseradish & caper mayo, steak fries

mustard frisée, cambozola, caramelized onion, horseradish & caper mayo, steak fries

And which was the best?  My ranking of these six burgers is:

  1. Clark’s
  2. Jeffrey’s
  3. Elizabeth Street Cafe
  4. Lambert’s
  5. Josephine House
  6. Perla’s

As for the common question “do you have to eat them all, or do you really just have to order them?” to that I say:

Thoughts? Leave a comment!