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Doubleheader: Moonie's Burger House brings its 'A' game

Mike Sutter
Dress up a 'Plain Jane' cheeseburger and fries with Moonie's rich strawberry Blue Bell shake.

If you're a soccer parent or a tee-ball parent or any parent of any athlete who still qualifies for a Happy Meal, you've probably wondered why half their games are clear across county lines. How do I get a seat on the team plane?

Going out to Leander for games has its perks, though. Moonie's Burger House is one of those perks. Well, two of those perks, because Moonie's has a pair of shops along U.S. 183, the first one on South Bell Boulevard in Cedar Park and a newer one at Research Boulevard and Anderson Mill Road. Same highway, different names, same Moonie's - doing just a few things but doing them really well. Beef and buns, chicken and buns. Fries and rings, Fritos and chili. And bacon from here to the cardiologist's office.

Both locations share the design aesthetic of a restaurant-supply warehouse, hung with neon beer signs and the Hill Country kitsch of giant iron stars. The counter in Cedar Park is framed by barn-style weathered wood, and the communal tables at Anderson Mill are sturdy enough for a dinner party in Valhalla. Framed clippings from neighborhood papers talk about how Brian and Angela Gingrass opened the Cedar Park Moonie's in 2006 and started winning reader polls the next year.

Most of the cashiers, cooks and runners are in their teens, and they project a kind of Rotary Club picnic energy, even when they're slammed on a Saturday afternoon. We waited 25 minutes for lunch on one visit, but it didn't feel like negligence. It felt like busy. The whole neighborhood is here: moms with babies, moms with tattoos and babies, lots of Longhorn fans and guys in NASCAR hats and sunglasses, kids in baseball cleats tapping like sparky drumrolls on the concrete floors.

'Strawberry! Strawberry! Strawberry!' comes the keening whine from the snow-cone counter. The kids' meal includes a snow cone to round out the fries, the drink and the burger or the corndog bites or the chicken strips that look like actual chicken, not those processed puckettes.

For the adults, the menu lines up the dense, beefy burgers on one side, their juicy grilled chicken counterparts on the other. The combinations include bacon and cheese, chili and Fritos, mushrooms and Swiss and a half-dozen others. Twenty or so bottled beers line the coolers, including three types of Shiner during one visit.

The irresistible pairing of a Blue Moon beer ($2.75) with a Blue Moon burger ($5.49) brings together the creamy tang of blue cheese and the porky viscosity of bacon with the yeasty frost of a Belgian white. And no chicken sandwich should come without guacamole and bacon (the 'California,' $5.79) or a side of chili cheese fries, which eat like a meal unto themselves for $3.99, the light chili spice playing like a Tex-Mex combo plate against the salty battered crunch of fries. I won't play advocate for onion rings at Moonie's, dark brown and crunchy, but greasy and a slim deal at $2.99 compared to $1.69 for those superior fries.

Moonie's might be a tough sell for the whole team (or more accurately, the team managers), because at $5 or more a pop, the ticket builds up quickly. The math works for the combo deals: $7.99 for any burger, fries and soft drink (compared with $8.87 separately). A chicken sandwich combo is $8.29, and the kids' meal is $3.99. It costs more than fast food, but this is more than fast food.

The buns alone could salvage many a monster burger around town with their floury muscle, bulky enough to stand up to big beef and the occasional blue cheese-and-buffalo bomb. They're as sweet as challah, somewhere between Texas toast and a birthday cake, the perfect half-lidded afternoon nap of a bun to go with all that salty bacon. That bun with Moonie's 'Hawaiian' - grilled pineapple with sweet teriyaki - and you couldn't really call it lunch anymore. More like a sundae sandwich.

'Sundae' is more than a metaphor in Moonie's shakes in the tall Blue Bell cups ($3.19), with chunks of strawberry in cream not cold enough for a good hard brain freeze but rich enough to evoke equal parts guilt and guilty pleasure.

When I got mine back after my daughter's 'sip,' half of it was gone. She had just played goalie in the sun for an hour. What was my excuse?; 912-5902

Moonie's Burger House

• 200 S. Bell Blvd., Cedar Park. 249-5214.

• 13450 Research Blvd. 257-9000.

Rating: 8.0 out of 10

Research Boulevard hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday. 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Cedar Park hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.

Prices: Burgers $4.19 (`Plain Jane') to $5.79 (turkey burger). Chicken sandwiches $4.49-$5.79. Salads $1.99-$5.99. Sides $1.69 (fries) to $3.99 (chili cheese fries, Frito pie). Shakes $3.19. Kids' meals $3.99 (includes a snow cone).

Payment: All major cards

Alcohol: Bottled domestic and imported beer, $2.50-$2.75. Includes Guinness, Fat Tire, Shiner, Red Stripe, Blue Moon, Corona and members of the Bud, Coors and Miller families.

Wheelchair access: Yes

What the rating means: The 10-point scale for casual dining is an average of weighted scores for food, service, atmosphere and value