I put a burger on the brunch menu at The Grape, because I couldn’t find one that was at the level of awesomeness that a chef deserves on his day off. We ground the chuck rolls by hand. I cured, smoked, and sliced the bacon. Sourced the finest pain au lait roll from a local father-and-son bakery. Peppered sliced tomatoes from Mr. Lemley’s farm. Found these crazy Nathan’s horseradish pickles. Made fresh Dijonnaise. I also went out of my way to make a perfect slice of Vermont white cheddar, which does not like being sliced perfectly. The fries? Of course they were hand-cut. It was kind of a pain, but we made only 10 or 12 burgers every Sunday. No big whoop.
Then, one day in 2009, came the phone call: “Texas Monthly named the burger the best in Texas. You better get ready.”
It now takes one full-time employee roughly two-thirds of his work week to prep for the burgers we will use all day Sunday and Monday nights.
We got our asses kicked. The Sunday after the magazine came out, we went from 100 people to about 300, and half of those ordered the burger. It was a tsunami. Lots of cargo shorts, baseball caps, and flip-flops. I recall one group of four very large men, all of whom ordered the burger with “a bowl of ranch for the table.” This type of service and guest was not what The Grape had built its reputation on over 40-some years. But it wasn’t going to beat us. No way. We buckled down. I had to hire one guy whose job it was to hand-patty the burgers; cut the buns; prep the lettuce-tomato-onion set-ups; cut-rinse-blanch 300 pounds of potatoes. It now takes one full-time employee roughly two-thirds of his work week to prep for the burgers we will use all day Sunday and Monday nights.
Fast-forward a couple years. Some say we were lucky to have this happen. I say we were well-trained enough to have handled it the way we did, because it would have crushed mere mortals. The burger made us who we are as a business—and it made me who I am as a chef. And I will confess: even after cooking nearly 200 of them on a Sunday, I still sometimes find myself barely able to wait till the end of the shift to inhale one.