Thursday, November 17, 2011

Potential Unrealized

Bunz Burgerz & More
1012 South Presa Street
(in Southtown, across from Pig Liquors, a 
charming little place y'all should visit)

Southtown feels different from the rest of San Antonio. The congested, urgent newer developments out in Loopland and beyond feel, unavoidably, like Anytown, USA. The postwar developments inside the Loop feel, generally, like comfortably bland sets for Leave It To Beaver. The old pre-war neighbourhoods closer to downtown feel like where your grandma used to live, where you could play stickball in the street and then walk down to the ice house for a soda pop. And downtown feels like, well, like a fairly ordinary city on the day before a holiday, when half the people have taken off early from work, and the rest are just kind of relaxed in anticipation. 

Southtown, though, reminds me of a cross between small-town America and small-town Europe. Not a large area, it's not really easy to get lost in, but it is easy to not be sure whether you want to turn to the right, or to the left. As you travel its few streets, criss-crossing each other at odd angles and turning with the nearby river, you start to decelerate, and very quickly you're feeling the hum of its low-key, slightly quirky trance. You relax. You drive slow enough to irritate the city folk behind you, who are probably from Dallas or somewhere, and so have farther to go to reach a state of bliss. You start to notice the old buildings, the galleries and small offices, the low-aesthetic art, the oddities that surround you. You mellow.

Bunz Burgers and More fits right in. A newish occupant of the pointy end of the building that stretches the entire block, its large glass windows with northern exposure are like the viewscreen on the bridge of the USS Enterprise, except that you're not going where no one has gone before; you're sitting still, and letting it all pass by you. Bright, bright walls of primary colours, broken stucco, only two annoying flat-panel televisions, and a few too many tables more or less lined up in two rows across an oddly-shaped dining room, with the kitchen in back behind a low counter, so pleasing aromas drift out to excite you: you feel comfortable enough because the huge windows make the place feel much more expansive than it is. The volume on the televisions is off (thank the Lord, because they're tuned to different sports stations; the audio would make it hellacious) and, despite the hardness of all the surfaces in the room, even the buzz of conversations at other tables stays in the background. 

The servers are cheerful; a tad overworked during the lunch rush, but they're capable people, and you appreciate the effort they make to get you what you want, and get it right, and make sure you're happy with everything. They seem genuinely glad to have you in their restaurant, so you avoid mention of anything that's less than perfect: just as they are being good hosts, you want to be a good guest. 

Everything, unfortunately, is less than perfect. It is, so far, all potential, unrealized. But the place is young, only about three months old. And it's a burger joint, not an haute-cuisine nosh house. It may yet improve.

The afore-mentioned pleasing aromas wafting in from the kitchen made us eager to try the food. The menu features several varieties of burgers, including an intriguing version of surf-and-turf: grilled beef with charcoal-grilled shrimp; but Rick opted for a slightly more traditional sandwich, the Flamin' Jack (beef, Jack cheese, grilled onions and roasted jalapeños), while I wanted to try the house's version of the Cuban sandwich, the Miami: roast pork, ham and Provolone on a pressed hoagie roll. We also asked for a side order of fries and onion rings, half and half.

Last city inspection:
October 2011
4 demerits
We split the sandwiches. We also split on the verdict for Rick's burger. He thought it was a non-specific "pretty good." I didn't. The onions and cheese were good, and the roasted jalapeños gave the sandwich a subtle but very pleasant kick; but I thought the burger's main feature, the half-pound of grilled meat, was overcooked, to a point where it was bone-dry and had lost almost all its flavour.

My sandwich was not as deliciously messy as the best Cuban sandwiches, but it had excellent taste nonetheless, and the meat in it was finely cooked. But it was kept from being a complete success by the fact that the hoagie roll was pressed almost into cardboard. Some bites, my teeth could barely penetrate the solidity of the bread.

The onion rings were excellent. They were thinly-cut and breaded in a well-seasoned flour mix, cooked long enough but not too long, and served hot and crumbly. If only the rest of the meal had been prepared with as much attention. The fries, on the other hand were a huge disappointment. We received them in two batches (I'm not sure why; the waiter apologised when he brought the first part, then returned with another basket containing more). The first was undercooked and cold, with a greasy texture and almost no potato flavour. The second batch was undercooked and hot, but with the same greasy texture and as little potato flavour as the first. Maybe if they'd been cooked a little longer, in hotter, fresher oil, they'd acquire a bit of crispiness that would help them overcome their limp, flaccid feel. They were a great deal like the fries that keep Chester's from being a really good chain of burger joints.

But like I say, Bunz has only been around a little while, and as much as this sort of cooking has an artisanal side, it ain't rocket science. Clearly the folks behind the counter have some idea of what makes a good burger joint. When they get it right, there'll be one more reason to hang out in Southtown. Until then, though, I'll be finding my burgers elsewhere.
Bunz, Burgerz & More on Urbanspoon

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