The last time I was in Bunsen Burgers, one of the owners, Kevin Cacy, said the burger joint with the Atomic Age theme had just celebrated its first anniversary.
Here’s hoping to many more, because over the course of that year, Bunsen Burgers has launched itself to the upper echelon of the city’s patty palaces. That’s right, it’s right up there with Chris, the Cove, Big Bob’s and Bracken. Each of these places has developed its own take on the burger, using everything from grass-fed beef to real flames to launch itself into the burger atmosphere.
Bunsen’s claim to fame begins with its bun, which is made in-house. The recipe has evolved over the year from sourdough to a seeded bun with a burnished sheen on it that is light yet substantial enough not to fall apart when heaped high with moist ingredients.
The kitchen builds on that with fresh toppings that include caramelized pineapple with peppered bacon and melted Swiss on the Bikini Atoll; roasted green chiles and Jack cheese on the Roswell; and a mouth-searing chili on the Manhattan Project.
The meat for the third-pound patties is ground in-house. In fact, you can see the grinder in the kitchen, as if it were some prop left over from the set of “Sweeney Todd.” But that freshness is also a factor in how good the burger tastes. The kitchen will also oblige with cooking that burger to your desired doneness, though I can’t complain about the medium-well default.
“Sometimes the simplest is the best,” says the restaurant’s description of the its plain Bunsen Burger. I agree, though a few slices of avocado is definitely one way of improving on that level of perfection. Well, OK, maybe a few slices of avocado and the one-pound Big Bang option would be even more of an improvement … Let’s face it, I can get positively gluttonous when it comes to a superlative burger. And I feel that way every time I walk in the door.
There are even two vegetarian burgers on the menu, including one made with a portobello mushroom that is packed with great flavor.
On Thursdays, the menu includes Navajo fry bread. It may be the only place in the city with this Southwestern treat, and the house-made bread, like a taco on steroids, arrives loaded with beans, tomatoes, lettuce and more. It’s spectacular.
The sides are classics reclassified. I’ve developed an addiction for the Sweet Potato Sci-Fries, battered and prepared in a tempura style. The Saturn rings are another good bet, if you like real onion flavor; a smidge too much batter was on a recent batch, but they were fried to a heavenly dark gold color and crispiness that made them comforting. Classic Potato Sci-Fries, also battered, are equally habit-forming.
Don’t miss one of the chocolate shakes or ice cream floats (root beer or orange cream) for dessert.
The tongue-in-cheek decor, including sci-fi movies screening in the background, has been perfect from the beginning, though it may be a little more Austin in feel than Alamo City. It’s simple yet highly effective and as calming as the turquoise paint on the walls.
Fresh food made with the freshest ingredients available. It’s the concept of fine dining applied to burgers, and it works.
So, if you’re heading for a meltdown, or you’re just in the need of some singular refreshment, just head to Bunsen Burgers for the Big Meltdown and let it sweep away whatever’s ailing you.
5456 Walzem Road
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday