Saturday, July 19, 2008
Gimme them old-time burger stands - Sparkle's Hamburger Spot
Dowling @ Leeland, just East of 59.
A new contender for ‘best burger’ in Houston???? Well, not if you have to have fu-fu ingredients, white table cloth service (or service at all) and a see-and-be-seen clientele. Ever since I first saw this place I noticed it seemed to stay pretty busy and I had to check it out. I went expecting something like the burgers at Someburger on 11th street in the Heights or Jaime’s Dairy Treat in Richmond - thin, 50s style meat patties - but I was in for a big surprise.
The food took forever. I didn’t check the time when I ordered but I’m sure it was close to 30 minutes before I got my burger and I was getting quite frustrated. A few people had stopped in to pick up phone-in orders, on bicycle or on foot or by car, but only one of the other people in line in front of me had gotten their food in that time either. I wondered what in the world could be taking so long, and then I got the burger and beheld the patty and understood. The ‘patty’ was at least an inch thick and probably weighed 10 or 12 oz (I’ve since taken one home and weighed it at 10 oz). It was cooked too well done for my taste but was not too dry. There weren’t many condiments on the burger, a small amount of iceberg lettuce, onion strips, pickles, a slice of tomato, a generous amount (but not too much) of mayo and a small smear of mustard, about all that could be put on the burger and still leave it manageable. The bun was appropriately greasy and well toasted, probably necessary to keep this monster together until finished. The cheese was thoroughly melted across the top of the hand-formed patty. It was a sight to behold and it was very good.
The hand-cut, irregular fries weren’t very good, undercooked, a very pale golden color, but I didn’t care. This place is about the burger. I’ve tried the fries on another occasion and they were mediocre again. Unfortunately I’ve also gotten a burger to go one time that had been way overcooked and developed about a 1/4" crust on the bottom.
You can choose from bacon, cheese, chili, jalapenos, and hickory smoked barbecue sauce or various combinations of these as additional fixings but there is no bleu cheese or feta cheese, shitake mushrooms, alfalfa sprouts, raspberry vinaigrette, Brussel sprouts, radicchio or tender young salad greens or whatever it is they’re putting on burgers in trendy bistros these days.
There are turkey burgers and grilled or fried chicken burgers and a fried pork chop sandwich on the menu. The breakfast menu includes pork chops, ham, bacon, pan sausage or country links and eggs, tacos and grits. Cajun platters include chicken ‘n waffle or chicken ‘n pancake platters, available also with pork chops or catfish.
On my first visit I came to the conclusion Sparkle’s takes it’s name from the personality of the lady at the window, a delightfully pleasant young woman, but I’ve never seen her again on subsequent visits. It’s open 6a-6p on weekdays, 7a- 5pm on Sat and 8a-3pm on Sun, according to the signs.
Oh yes, the cheeseburger described above was only $3, the fries a buck extra. They also sell large, stuffed baked potatoes and chips and the fries also come w/chili and cheese, curly style, and as tater tots. None of these has proved to be as good as the burgers and the chili is ground meat with taco seasoning.
I picked up a copy of the to-go menu and always call in my orders in advance to avoid the wait. Obviously part of the reason it looks so busy is the long wait for the food. If it’s your first visit you might want to take a book!
Oh yes, on that fried pork chop sandwich. I’ve commented elsewhere on this blog on the pork tenderloin sandwich of the Midwest; the fried pork chop seems to be a soul food or Cajun counterpart and the one here is the best I’ve found. Though it’s just a cut of sirloin (boneless) its tender and very tasty, a real mess of a sandwich from the get-go, though, on plain white bread with just mayo, lettuce and tomato. I’ve thought pickles would be a nice addition but the tartness of the mayo is enough to balance the tastes for me.