Photo by Catherine Downes.

Eat This Now: The Burger at Barley & Board

This is the best burger I've eaten all year. And I've eaten a lot of burgers.

I had no intentions of ordering a burger during my visit to Barley & Board in Denton. I’d eaten enough burgers this year to last a lifetime, and I was interested in indulging in the brewpub’s more playful offerings such as the bacon-wrapped medjool dates with piquillo sauce, and farro risotto with vegetables and spinach purée.

Barley & Board opened in August on the northeast corner of the historic Downtown Denton square. The men behind the restaurant include John Pearson, co-founder of LSA Burger Co. in Denton; Eric Pulido, co-owner of Paschall Bar and member of Midlake; Eric “Emo” Hartman, the man behind Emo’s in Austin who was most recently the regional manager of Alamo Drafthouse; and actor Jason Lee. The kitchen is run by executive chef Chad Kelley (previously of Meddlesome Moth).

To start, I ordered a beer and the Chef’s Spreads board, which comes with pimento cheese, sweet potato hummus, mushroom-walnut “pâté,” and a selection of crackers and bread. I Instagrammed the spread and minutes later somebody commented: “Love that place! Their burger is incredible, too!”

Oh, that’s nice. Thanks for commenting, but I’m not eating a burger today.

When it came time to order, I asked my server for recommendations. “Oh, you have to try the burger,” she insisted.

No, no, no.

I looked over at my husband, who was smearing pimento cheese onto a golden brown shard of crostini. He shrugged.

Despite my server’s recommendation, I ordered the gnocchi in broth with fresh market vegetables, herbs, and parmesan cheese. My husband ordered the $12 burger. When our dishes arrived, I felt assured that I had made the better decision. A large, steaming bowl piled high with green and yellow zucchini, purple potatoes, carrots, and soft, doughy gnocchi. The dish was warming but a little bland. Meanwhile, my dining companion appeared to be having a love affair with his juicy hunk of beef. He offered me a bite. It was so good. The best burger I’d tasted all year. I pushed my gnocchi to the side.

I told everybody about the burger for weeks. And then I read this story from Observer writer Nick Rallo. “Denton’s first brewpub needs a more thoughtful burger, one that stands out as an experience.” What? Surely he couldn’t be talking about the same burger, could he?

I returned to Barley & Board to eat the burger once more before writing about how delicious it is. I pulled up a stool at the bar on rainy Thursday night, and was relived when a glistening brioche bun, that looked exactly like the one I remembered, arrived in front of me. I bit into two perfectly cooked beef patties, the American cheese oozed, the sweet and tangy pickles crunched, and my heart fluttered.

So how is it assembled?

Thinly shaved onions are placed on the griddle, the onions are topped with two 4-ounce, hand-formed Certified Angus Beef patties. The meat cooks slowly allowing the onions to caramelize and absorb into the beef. The patty is flipped and then topped with a slice of American cheese. The bright yellow cheese locks in the heat from the meat. The burger is slathered with house Thousand Island dressing (a mix of mayonnaise, eggs, house pickles, chile sauce, and ketchup), loaded up with sweet and tangy house-made bread and butter pickles, and sandwiched between a golden brown toasted brioche bun.

“It came about during our burger research,”chef Chad Kelley later explained. “All those Dallas flashy burgers were OK, but nothing really satisfied the soul. I wanted a burger that I wanted to eat all the time – not some over-the-top monstrosity that never delivers because it’s just too busy.”

I stand by my initial statement: This is the best burger I’ve eaten all year.

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