New burger on the block

Black Apple Bourbon Burger at The House

Black Apple Bourbon Burger at The House
Dec 11
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The House adds signature burgers to the menu with tasty results.

Making a good thing better is a daunting task. Just ask Olivia Newton-John, whose 1977 album by that name kinda flopped compared to her prior successes. Some might call that irony.

But in the world of business, and particularly the food business, improvement is what you strive for even if it means running into a conundrum when you tamper with success.

Take the hamburger. America loves the hamburger. Fortunes are built on the hamburger.

The classic burger may not be hard to alter, but when you do, you gotta keep in mind you’re messing with a classic. Classics are classic for a reason.

Or take Hillcrest hangout The House. Launched to mixed reviews in 2009, the place started to soar the next year with a menu revamp that netted unbridled enthusiasm from a lot of corners.

Even anonymous Internet posters were on board, and we all know how grouchy they can be. People always loved the location, even going back to its days as a coffeehouse. And now there was a small but diverse menu with a local focus to please a lot of tastes, including vegetarian and vegan, with a lot to love about it.

And yet, recent weeks saw both of these staples of the status quo tinkered with when The House, though keeping most of its other offerings, announced a new lineup of signature burgers. And did so despite a lot of praise for its original burger, a build-your-own option. Even Newton-John might be skeptical (probably).

But the thing about food is that the professionals who make it generally know a thing or two about taste. So it stands to reason a practiced hand could create an assortment of options that weave in different toppings in a way that wouldn’t be thought of by the average diner, who, generally, is just going to pick what they like from a list.

The result is a slate of eight burgers that each sounds more tempting than the next. And I mean that literally, to an extent. I personally was fixed on ordering the first... until I read the second. And then the third. Then the fourth. I was tempted after that, but that fourth (the mac and cheese burger, see sidebar) is pretty hard to top as far as descriptions go.

I guess it would be helpful here to offer a walk-through of the process. The list begins with the Black Apple Bourbon burger (see what I mean?), which as the name implies is topped in black apples, bacon and cheese and drizzled with locally distilled Brandon’s Bourbon (more in the sidebar).

Then there’s the Bird’s Nest, an egg-topped burger with bacon, cheese and the house-made spicy fry sauce. Next is a burger dusted with espresso and topped in mole sauce and avocados. I mean, really. How do you even keep reading?

Probably because the mac and cheese option is next. If you persist, which I did (albeit reluctantly), you’ll see still more interesting taste creations: a mushroom extravaganza, a spicy jerk burger (more on this, too), a burger topped in pico de gallo and finally the Burger O’ Mass Destruction, featuring five-pepper marmalade, chilies, jalapeños and Sriracha. Wow.

Worth noting here is that all of these creations are offered with beef, turkey or a black bean vegan patty. The bread by default is Arkansas Fresh Bakery brioche and not vegan, but a substitution is offered for one that is.

And when one person in my party asked for the vegan patty, the server was clear to point that out (she wasn’t vegan though, just curious to try the patty).

At $9.50-$10.50, the burgers aren’t too far out of line with like-minded places that put a real emphasis on gourmet and fresh ingredients, though the menu change has made fries cost extra. A bowl will run $2.30 for regular or $2.80 for sweet potato. Either will make a tab pushing $15 with a soda or tea, tax and tip, and that’s not exactly cheap for lunch.

Still, it’s hard to look over that variety and think of it as anything other than yet another improvement.

THE DISH

Mac & Cheese Burger ($10.50)

If ever there were a signature burger, one this inventive has to be it. Like the lady in the red dress in The Matrix, it’s hard to take your eyes off when you see it. The order entails a heap of macaroni, dusted in bread crumbs and cooked on the griddle, piled on top of a burger patty (I chose beef) and topped with bacon and barbecue sauce. Beef and mac is a classic pair, and that’s the dominant taste here. It’s a gourmet version of a childhood favorite. The bacon just adds more character, and it’s awesome because it’s bacon. At first I was dubious about adding barbecue sauce, but the tangy notes really worked, I think because it was drizzled and not slathered. Add in the dreamy bun from Arkansas Fresh Bakery and this is a burger as delicious as it is creative. (sw)

The Jerk Burger ($9.50)

I decided to sub a vegan patty for its beefy counterpart, but stuck with the brioche bun. I was impressed by how well this patty held together; the edges crumbled a bit, but overall it held its shape well compared to similar ones I’ve tried. Between the black beans, cherry peppers and green chilies, it has a lot of bold, savory flavor to it. Mine was a bit on the salty side, but that was tempered by the burger’s massive bun and the subduing sweetness of the mango chutney. While the jerk seasonings offered even more kick to the bold flavor of the patty, they didn’t have the heat I expected. (sc)

Black Apple Bourbon Burger ($9.50)

You had me at bourbon and bacon, and I decided to pair the toppings with a turkey patty. Add a sweet bourbon glaze, cheddar cheese, and crisp bacon and apple slices, and it’s a smooth combination of sweet and savory, crunchy and soft. I wouldn’t change a thing, and I actually think turkey might work better with this burger than the other patty options. There’s something wooded and earthy about the creation; I imagine this is the kind of burger that hobbits eat. Except it would need to be more miniature so they could actually consume it. (sm)

IN A NUTSHELL

A new burger menu adds to existing options at Hillcrest restaurant and pub The House. Variety and taste are the order of the day, with ingredients sourced locally and added to patties of beef, turkey or a vegan-friendly black bean mix.

Location: 722 N. Palm, Little Rock

Phone: (501) 663-4500

Web: https://www.facebook.com/TheHouseInHillcrest

Prices: $9.50-$13.50

Hours: Monday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. to 12 a.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 12 a.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Alcohol: Full bar

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