★ ★ ★ I’ve learned a few things since starting this burger blog. One of them is that everyone has an opinion about what constitutes the best burger, and where to get it.
When I let slip that I was in Dallas this week, the recommendations came flying. The much hailed Liberty Burger was cited by both friends and readers, as was Wingfield’s, the wonderfully-named goodfriend, and the alliterative Maple & Motor. The nice gentleman who picked me up from the airport also had a few suggestions including Whataburger, a Southern chain that has stayed miraculously true to its 50’s roots.
Speaking of roots, Twisted Root was another recommendation. And as it came from a friend, I decided to make that my Dallas burger experience.
Twisted Root’s website proclaims, “Our philosophy is that the best burger in the world is in a dive down the street...and that’s just where we are.” (Not many dives boast a website, but I agree with the sentiment). Open since 2005 in the lively east Dallas entertainment district known as Deep Ellum, Twisted Root exploded after Guy Fieri profiled them on his show in 2009. Today they have ten locations...and franchising opportunities. Can you franchise a dive?
Twisted Root's menu offers more than a dozen different types of meat (beef, buffalo, venison, elk, lamb, ostrich, kangaroo, emu, boar, alligator, rabbit, camel and beaver) on your choice (mostly) of three different buns, with seven different cheeses (is nacho a kind of cheese?) and toppings ranging from prosciutto to peanut butter. Inside, the decor consists largely of distressed signage—some repurposed, some with an apparently applied patina—corrugated metal, and a few rogue stickers strewn about. Outside a sign proclaims, “Where The Locals Eat.”
“No they don’t,” confided my friend Jeremy, who drove me down to Deep Ellum and whose love of a good cheeseburger rivals my own.
“No?” I asked, “Then where do the locals eat?”
“Right across the street.”
I followed Jeremy away from the peanut butter beaver burger and down an alley toward the back door of Adair’s Saloon. Adair’s is a dimly lit 40-year-old honky tonk bar with a shuffleboard table and a live stage. Every inch of the place is covered with messages, jokes, signatures, drawings and doodles scrawled in sharpie marker by appreciative patrons over the years. In front, stickers black out the street-facing windows. Whenever someone walks in (or stumbles out) a bright shaft of light pierces the dark space with mysterious purpose.
They have three mainstream beers on tap—Miller Lite, Dos Equis, and the ubiquitous local favorite, Shiner. They also have a trio of craft brews on draft, including Angry Orchard Cider, Velvet Hammer from Peticolas Brewery (props to Peticolas for dedicating an entire page on their website to the design of their logo—no mention of the designer though), and Temptress, an imperial milk stout from Lakewood Brewery in Garland (props to them for nice typography). I opted for the Temptress on the bartender’s advice: “It’s 9% alcohol.”
When it comes to burgers the options are more limited: hamburger or cheeseburger. We each ordered the cheeseburger—a thick half pound of unseasoned meat, slow grilled to medium rare. I split mine with my friend Brandon who showed up as soon as he heard he were heading to Adair’s. Jeremy told me the grill is so old that slow grilling is the only option. They also grill their fries which makes them a little crisper than your average french fry.
Burgers in Texas come with mustard. Ketchup is strictly for the fries. At Adair’s they also come with the basic lettuce, pickle and onion setup, plus a big fat jalapeño speared to the top. That pepper is hot, by the way, so order yourself another beer before taking a bite. The bun is tasty enough—nothing fancy, but that’s just fine since there’s nothing fancy about the rest of the burger. It’s just a really tasty, really hot, really real burger. Maybe that’s because Adair’s is a real dive.
The Creative Lesson
I know it’s hard to make an argument against success—especially commercial success. Twisted Root is a successful and studied simulation of an original experience—perhaps even the Adair’s experience. It does a fine job of talking the talk and clearly enough people like what they hear. Adair’s, on the other hand, is walking the walk. In the strictest sense they are the stronger brand. It is a paradox, to be sure, but the world needs more originals and fewer copies.