5 veggie burgers for a meatless Memorial Monday: Dodging the third bun at Bouldin Creek, Hopdoddy, Hut's, Mother's and P. Terry's
To reheat a subway metaphor, the veggie burger is the electrified third bun of burger writing. Touch it, and the beef people will brand you a traitor. Go anywhere near it, and the vegetable people will think you're a spy.
The veggie patty's a third bun most of the time anyway, seeing as how it's made from some of the same stuff as the bread. If you eat sandwiches packed with stuffing at Thanksgiving, you know what I'm talking about. Know what I'm thankful for? Gravy.
In our Food & Life section on Wednesday and at austin360.com/food, Addie Broyles dared to suggest veggie burgers as a Memorial Day grilling option at home. That's a big step for some of us who support the idea, as long as it's not in our own backyards. Somebody else's restaurant? Not a problem. Here are five places to test the notion of a meatless Memorial Monday.
Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse
1900 S. First St. 416-1601, www.bouldincreek.com . Veggie Royale: $6.75, side dish included. Add feta cheese for 50 cents.
Go ahead and lay to rest any worries about Bouldin Creek's new home in the slick urban makeover of a tire shop. The South Austin mojo of the old place is back, thanks to its laptopping, bicycle-mounted, bed-headed regulars and walls already tattooed with art as if it had grown there organically. Even the tables lean to the left. The whole menu is vegetarian, and the Veggie Royale burger doesn't pretend otherwise. The patty is dense and lush and spicy-hot, flecked with corn and red pepper and grains and a hint of peanut and paprika. The result is a burger that holds together without being tough or dry. Its character defines the burger, regardless whether you add a hit of tangy feta or a hypnotic chipotle-pecan pesto. In a world where "chipotle" has become just an urbane adjective builder, this chipotle remembers its roots, its fruit, its seeds and its capsaicin. Asian cole slaw is one of the side options. Choose it for purple and green cabbage and for carrots, but choose it mostly for a mouthful of sesame.
Something extra: At its beating heart this is still a coffeehouse, and a good one. Lavender syrup added to a mocha latte ($3.75) gives it a mellow floral background, making it somehow calming and recharging at the same time.
Hopdoddy Burger Bar
1400 S. Congress Ave. 243-7505, www.hopdoddy.com . Janis Joplin burger: $7.50.
Part fast-casual social experiment, part smoked-glass tavern, Hopdoddy has the potential for a game-changing veggie burger, starting with a bun so covered in seeds, grains and nuts it looks like a vacation Bible school crafts project. But mine collapsed like last season's Cowboys when the hemp-seed patty flattened out on the first bite, forcing a warm, tan bloom to spill around the outside. The bouquet was joined by spiky leaves of arugula, the tendrils of sunflower sprouts and waxy blades of avocado. The patty's seared crust was more like a wafer-thin shell, its insides like oatmeal just starting to firm up, but with a flavor profile closer to low-salt turkey dressing. As a knife-and-fork hot lunch with salad and bread, it works. But as a burger, it's a danger to your white work shirt.
Something extra: A simple $2.25 fountain drink puts the world of Maine Root at your fingertips, a cane-sugar world of orange, lemon-lime, root beer and Mexi-cola sodas. But its Think Pink Drink outperforms them all, dosing lightly sweetened lemonade with prickly pear, a cactus fruit similar in taste and texture to kiwi. Now I feel guilty for just drowning it in margaritas all these years.
807 W. Sixth St. 472-0693, www.hutsfrankandangies.com . Beachboy's Favorite with a veggie patty: $6.50.
For three long days 17 years ago, it was my job to guide a spoiled French college student around Austin. I was proud to take her to Hut's, but I put serious effort into balancing the tour with music, politics and Barton Springs. She was mostly interested in finding Chesterfields to smoke. Back in France, she summarized her tour with a paper called "My Time in Hamburgerland." Careless stereotyping or testament to the power of Hut's? I always order the Beachboy's Favorite with pineapple, Swiss cheese and bell peppers. Except when I get the Wolfman Jack with bacon and green chiles or the Alley Oop on toast with Swiss and Thousand Island. The veggie patty is an option on all of them, even if it leans toward the thin, dry side. But Hut's gets extra points for making it themselves, not charging extra for it and for being the capital of Hamburgerland.
Something extra: Hut's onion rings are as big as a pharaoh's wrist bangles and crusted with a tawny gold of their own. A quarter-order of two is $1.25 with a burger.
Mother's Cafe & Garden
4215 Duval St. 451-3994, www.motherscafeaustin.com . Bueno Burger $7, chips and salsa included. Add guacamole and vegan cheese for $1.25.
In my vegan dream, I'd have the discipline to cook and eat by a code in which the only animal in the food chain is me. And I'd wake up and let Mother's do the cooking, because no way do I have that kind of discipline. The Bueno Burger starts as a whole-wheat bun with an elegant bite and nutty grain. Leaf lettuce, tomatoes, red onion and thick coins of mild pickles paint a garden still-life, and the grilled patty is made from seeds, grains and tofu with an unimposing taste that lets the other elements shine. A two-handed burger from vegetarians who know how hard it is to live the vegan dream.
Something extra: This can't be real, this little glass of carrot juice for $1.75. It's too orange, too thick and tastes too much like it was picked to order. Really.
P. Terry's Burger Stand
204 W. Ben White Blvd. 462-4998, more locations at www.pterrys.com . Veggie burger: $3.80 by itself, $5.95 as a combo with fries and a drink. Add 20 cents for a wheat bun.
If this isn't the best veggie burger on the list, it's far and away the most convenient, just a drive-through away at four locations all day long. The patties hold together like a marching band, ready to peel away with their own flavor notes from a fresh mix of black beans, oats, brown rice, cheese, onions and mushrooms, which play the loudest of all. Owner Patrick Terry said this sandwich was set to make a national magazine's best-of list until they told him he'd have to cough up the recipe. We knew better than to ask.
Something extra: This new P. Terry's is the most old-Hollywood of all, with a road sign as big and curvy as a catamaran sail painted aqua blue and lipstick red. The little drive-through building looks like Charlie Sexton in the '80s, with cheekbones and hair as angular as pointy-toed shoes.