January 23, 2022

happy-House

The home veterans

Burger Friday: A swell everyday burger at the new FM Kitchen in Montrose

4 min read

The original 4-ounce FM Burger at the new FM Kitchen & Bar on Westheimer near Montrose. Photo: Alison Cook / Staff

Big fancy chef burgers are all well and good.

You know, the kind with whomping 8-ounce patty-slabs of pedigreed beef, and maybe some highly respectable (artisanal, even!) cheese on top. Not to mention a price tag in the double digits.

But having consumed a spate of these colossi lately, I was in the mood for what I think of as an everyday burger: compact and priced in the mid-single-digits, the patty weighing in at 4 to 6 ounces, the kind of sandwich you can wolf down in a flash with no juggling (let alone forks) required.

Such a burger should, in my cosmology, leave you feeling pleasantly sated instead of stuffed, so that you can enjoy some fries or onion rings, too, without having to be rolled out in a wheelbarrow.

Only a few years ago, I would have stipulated that such a burger be priced at around five bucks. But the prices have been creeping up, as prices do, especially when there is beef involved. One of my favorites of the everyday variety, the cheeseburger from Cantina Barba, now costs $6 for a four-ounce version. So it’s still holding the line.

BURGER GUIDE: From A to F: Every Alison Cook burger review of 2021 (so far)

Another fave, from Burger Chan — currently operating out of Click Virtual Food Hall as they prep to open their brick and mortar — now costs $9 for the 5-ounce cheeseburger. It’s teetering on the edge of Everydayness, barely.

The cheeseburger at FM Kitchen & Bar leaped into my everyday pantheon from the moment I tried back in the autumn of 2017.

It cost $5.89 back then, and it was made according to then-chef Ryan Hildebrand’s exacting specs, with an expertly griddled 4-ounce patty of brisket, chuck and sirloin and an invigorating “Sssssh Sauce,” a blend of mayo, mustard and ketchup kicked up with minced pickle.

Hildebrand moved on to life in Wimberley, where he’s soon to open his own restaurant. But when FM Kitchen launched a second location in Montrose five weeks ago, with an expanded bar and an updated menu of Texas comfort cuisine — yeah, I said cuisine, come fight me —I wondered if Hildebrand’s burger legacy had lived on.

Here’s what I found.

PRICE: $6 for the 4-ounce FM Burger with American Cheese. Add $4 for either hand-cut French fries or onion rings, plus a happy-hour-priced frozen Margarita for $6, and you have a $16 feast.

ORDERING: Grab a seat at the gleaming, U-shaped counter, or sit at a table inside or out, on the sidewalk patio. A server will take your order.

ARCHITECTURE: Such a pretty package. Salad stuff on top. On a potato bun that has been griddle-toasted on both sides goes a swipe of Ssssh Sauce, a surprisingly plump four-ounce ground beef patty and a melty slice of American cheese. Over that furls a frill of leaf lettuce, three red slices of Roma tomato, and a couple of magenta red onion rings. The top bun is affixed with a bamboo skewer.

They’ve jettisoned the cheery white-and-red wrapper of yore, and parked the skewered burger directly on an aluminum tray, along with the French fries.

QUALITY: Good as it ever was. Well, very nearly: I would have loved twice as much of the sparingly applied Sssssh Sauce to set off the clear, buoyant flavor of the beef, the mellow cheese, and the lively freshness of the produce.

They still season the patty with assertive quantities of salt and pepper, and griddle-sear it aggressively so that a nice crust forms. And here’s the important part: they still manage to keep the patty interior a good juicy medium while doing so, always a neat trick.

OOZE RATING: Juice but no drippage.

LETTER GRADE: A

VALUE: Excellent. I was gratified to note that the $6 priced was just 11 cents more than the $5.89 I spent on my first FM Burger four years ago.

BONUS POINTS: Superior versions of both hand-cut French fries and onion rings, a rare bifecta.

STUFF FOR LATER: Chef Bety Barrera has revamped the core FM menu with some appealing Mexican dishes like potato flautas and birria tortas. At the Montrose location, chef Valentin Garcia is turning out some very good green enchiladas with just enough tartness and green chile burn, rolled around a ground-chicken filling that’s so light it’s almost downy. I took some home and ate them for breakfast.

LOCAL COLOR: During a weekday happy hour (which starts at 4 p.m.), I shared the enormous counter with a trio of young women enjoying after-work cocktails, including what looked like an egg-white-frothed Clover Club in a coupe glass; and a changing guard of young men fueling, chatting up the bartender, checking their cellphones and working on their laptops.

At a corner table, two young couples took turns running after a gleeful toddler who made several escapes. I predict he’ll go far. And fast.

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  • Alison Cook

    Alison Cook – a two-time James Beard Award winner for restaurant criticism and an M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing award recipient – has been reviewing restaurants and surveying the dining scene for the Houston Chronicle since 2002.

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