I don't eat hamburgers so much anymore.
Don't get me wrong: I love 'em. It's just that, now that I'm all grown up, I've discovered a world of wonderful foods that I would make faces at when I was a kid. Hard to believe I used to hate onions. And mushrooms. And Chinese food.
So it was unusual for me to have eaten at two burger joints in three days this past week. On Wednesday, my friend Rick and I went to Fatty's for lunch, because I wanted to go over to the east side to get tickets for the Terri Hendrix concert at the Carver. Fatty's has been my favourite burger joint in town since I first stumbled across it a year or two ago, looking for an east-side Cajun place that's no longer there. You can't miss Fatty's: its bright yellow exterior is like a radioactive glow as you head east on Commerce from St. Paul's Square.
Then, on Friday, Rick and I went in search of a place called Mike's In The Village, which, according to a review in the local throwaway weekly rag, was about a mile east of 281 on Bulverde Road. We didn't find it -- who knew there are two or three Bulverde Roads, all jumbled up in roughly the same area, and two of them crossing 281? We turned at the first crossing, went east a ways, then turned around and went west until we were sure we'd gone much farther than it was supposed to be. (Looked it up on the Internet, found that it's a mile west of the second Bulverde Road crossing, the one that leads to the actual town of Bulverde.) Anyway, not finding it, we went instead to a burger joint we'd passed called Beefy's Back Yard, a mile or two south on the east side of 281. Since I'd just been to Fatty's a couple of days before, I intentionally ordered the same thing I'd had then, so I could make a head-to-head comparison.
Fatty's has the edge on the food itself. Every other time I've been there, it would easily get five out of five; this time, though, the bun spent a few seconds too many on the grill, and was slightly scorched. That's the only food-related issue I've ever encountered there, unless you count servings being too big. Which I don't, even if I complain about it. (Hey, I'm a curmudgeon; I'm supposed to complain.) The onion rings we split this last time almost made up for it. The batter is absolutely superb, deliciously seasoned, the rings thick and juicy, and fried to perfection.
Then there are the pinto beans. Fatty's always has a tub of really, really, really good pinto beans with jalapeños sitting on a table off to the side, for guests to help themselves. I restrained myself this time, and only had one bowl. Okay, maybe two. But no more than two...this time. Anyway, beans are beans, but these beans are fantastic.
Beefy's burger was as big, and as juicy as Fatty's had been. In fact, too much so. I had to put a napkin down in my plastic basket, so that anything dropping from my sandwich wouldn't cause a splash in the puddle of oil that dripped out. Still, the taste was good, the ingredients fresh, and the cook's work in producing the sandwich was careful: nothing was overdone, nothing underdone. That's harder than it sounds to accomplish.
The onion rings at Beefy's were good, as good as at Fatty's in all but the seasoning of the batter. I don't know what Fatty's puts in its batter -- I suppose I could ask, or figure it out on my own, but I haven't done either -- but it comes out tastier than the product at Beefy's. That's not really a complaint; as I said, the rings were good. It's just an observation.
While Fatty's gets the edge on the food, Beefy's gets the edge on ambiance. Fatty's is all linoleum and glass, cultivating a vaguely Up-From-The-Ghetto look and feel. Beefy's has a honky-tonk atmosphere, which I prefer for just about every purpose. I personally think all city council meetings should be held in honky-tonks. (Congress, on the other hand, should meet in an elevator, so they can't sit down.) Beefy's is probably a new-ish place, but the feel is genuine, and pleasant. And if you have kids, Beefy's is definitely the better place to go; it's got a game room off to one side, and a large outdoor "back yard" where you can dump your little brats while you relax.
Since these two places are so far apart -- about 20 miles -- they don't really compete for business. And, in the end, the products on offer are similar enough that convenience is likely to be the most frequent deciding factor in choosing between them and the hundreds of other burger joints around. In fact, driving from one to the other, you'd have to pass within half a mile of at least three superb burger joints. (I mean, of course, Armadillo's, Timbo's, and Sam's -- the last of which I only hear is good, having never eaten a burger there.)