An existential crisis can strike at any time. I was unexpectedly punched in the metaphysical gut just last week by a $24 burger and still haven’t recovered from the blow.
My evening started innocently enough. I met a friend on the patio of Harlowe MXM, the new Deep Ellum restaurant and bar from the team behind Bread Winners, Henry’s Majestic, and Atwater Alley. (For those of you who are curious, Harlowe is the name of the owner’s French Bulldog and MXM is for the restaurant’s cross streets: Malcolm X and Main Street.)
I’d been to Harlowe MXM a few weeks prior for their opening night and sipped the most delightful frozen Aperol Rosé Spritz. The icy mix of Aperol, rosé, simple syrup, soda water, and citrus oils is the perfect frozen cocktail. Go try it. This time, I ordered the Air Mail. The combo of rum, honey, citrus, and sparking wine is effervescent and smooth without being too sweet. Go try this, too.
I got a cheeseburger for my main. The menu lists the “MXM Burger: brisket and short rib grind, double-double, b.l.t.o.m. and sea salt fries” for $16 with the option to add a lobster tail that’s brought in twice a week from Gloucester, Massachusetts, for an additional $8. I got it all. I was feeling decadent. I blame the rum.
A giant, sloppy pile of meat and seafood sandwiched between brioche from Village Bakery landed in front of me—processed cheese dripping down the sides of the bottom half of the bun, causing the bread to slide and squish under the pressure of my grip. I couldn’t successfully take a bite. I lifted the top half of the bun, picked the lobster tail off the mound, and dropped it into my mouth like a cat who had just dipped her claws into an aquarium to retrieve a poor unsuspecting goldfish. The flesh was lean and coated in butter. This reduced the pile by about half an inch, but it was still too mammoth to execute with my hands while maintaining any sort of dignity.
I reached for my fork and knife and halved the burger. The thin, one-fourth-pound patties were brown all the way through despite my request the meat be cooked to medium. The thick slabs of juicy, flawlessly prepared bacon rectified the misstep. I was finally able to take a bite. The classic combination of beef, lettuce, mayonnaise, and processed cheese brought a smile to my grease-coated lips. That was until I remembered I was paying $24 for this affair.
I felt the very foundation of my dining experience shift. $24? For a cheeseburger? Okay, sure, there was lobster. But what about the remaining $16? Was the meat ground in the mouth of a centaur? What is life?
I held it together for the remainder of the meal. I didn’t want to freak out my friend. But I couldn’t shake the unsettling feeling that I had just paid what I did for a meal that, for so many decades, was historically flung into the hands of diners for mere pocket change. I’m not saying that’s how things currently are. My favorite burger costs $12. But as the prices of patties continue to creep upward, unwarranted and without being coated in caviar and gold flakes, where does it leave us? Is this classic American staple on its way toward transcending the embodiment of wholesomeness and simplicity and morphing into a gaudy display of excess? These are the questions that kept me up that night.
I brought the issue to my colleagues and asked them to list all of the things they’d buy for $24. The results:
- 10 gallons of gas
- 96 gum balls
- Two hamsters
- Four DART day passes, one two-hour pass
- A fifth of decent bourbon
- A subscription to D Magazine (Which you can find right here!)
- Tim and Zac’s bar tab at the Old Monk
I asked if any of them would pay $24 for a cheeseburger. The answer was unanimously no. I may be alone in my existential despair, but it relieves me to know that I’m not the only person who finds the cost of this dish absurd.