Monday, June 30, 2008

Gimme them old-time burger stands - Someburger

11th at Studewood in the Heights

One of our newspaper reviewers has observed astutely that one’s taste in hamburgers is very personal. That’s true for me and obvious to anybody who notes the great diversity of burgers that people rave about. In my case it has to do with my earliest experiences of burgers at a burger joint, Harden’s Dairy Bar in Lake Jackson, to be exact. It’s been in business for 55 years, which means I was going there within a couple of years of the opening, tagging along with my older brother, spending time on a Saturday afternoon standing around in the parking lot (walk-up window service only), getting picked on relentlessly by my brother and his friends, listening to the latest hits blaring out of tinny speakers under the eaves, enjoying a burger with a Coke float or frosted root beer. I’ve wondered if I would enjoy one of those burgers if I could have one today; I can’t, because the burgers at Harden’s have changed. In keeping with the times they’re much bigger now, like most Americans and appetites, I guess. Not only that, these days besides the walk up windows you can dine-in or go through a drive-thru.

But I still like the style of burger the Dairy Bar served, a thin patty, well caramelized crust on the exterior, hot and fresh off the grill. And I have a fascination with old timey burger stands like Harden’s Dairy Bar and like Someburger in the Heights, which remains a walk-up window only type place (and probably started around the same time as Harden’s).

It’s one of my favorte burger places in Houston, but it’s not for everybody (what burger is?) If you want red juices running down your chin when you bite into your burger, this is not the place for you. These days I always get a double meat, an extravagance which probably didn’t exist on the original menus at either place. They still come off the grill so hot and fresh even the bun could burn your tongue. I’ve speculated the place is so small they can’t possibly store many supplies in there so the fixings must be fresh.

There’s not only no drive-through or kiddie playground, there’s not even indoor dining, or much to choose from on the menu. A faded printed sign in the window advises that french fries, onion rings, shakes and malts come in one size only - there’s no biggie size or supersize here. Shakes and malts are made with hand-dipped ice cream and an old mixer. Once when I was ordering the owner was standing by the window and when he heard me order a shake he commented ‘You must be on a diet. Around here, a shake is considered diet food.’ My kind of place.

They do a real good business not only from neighborhood folks but from people all across town who drive there for the burgers. I've chatted with several people standing in line or under the trees who tell of growning up eating Someburgers at other locations around town, on Shepherd near Richmond and on Airline Drive for instance.

The iconic stand on 11th is one of only 2 still surviving of a chain that once had locations in many Texas cities. The other is in beautiful downtown Baytown, on Decker Drive, and has a website which gives some of the history of the chain, which was originally called Somewhere and started in Austin. The Baytown location offers the additional amenity of indoor dining in air conditioned comfort and to the basic choices of chocolate, vanilla or strawberry shakes and malts adds pineapple.

Me, I’m happy with the Heights location, eating at the picnic tables under the trees out back or in my car. All that’s missing to complete the experience is some tinny speakers blaring out Bill Haley and the Comets, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and the like That maybe and a lot more hair on my head.

Someburger Baytown

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