In a town with so many great burger joints already, it may seem absurd to embark on a suicide mission up congestion-infested I-35W to track down another one.
Liberty Burger is worth the hassle. The first Fort Worth branch of this Dallas-based chain offers excellent gourmet burgers in a family-friendly atmosphere; it looks like Smashburger but tastes like Hopdoddy.
Housed in yet another innocuous strip center in far north Fort Worth, this fast-casual concept comes from Mariel Street, whose father Gene is behind Good Eats, Black-eyed Pea and other staples of North Texas’ restaurant scene.
Seven locations strong now, Liberty takes more than a few cues from Hopdoddy, the Austin-based chain that, in the eyes of many, perpetuated the gourmet burger trend.
Where Hopdoddy speaks to hipsters, Liberty speaks to families, offering the same style of cheffy burgers and shakes but in more of a pretense-free atmosphere. Orange and lime-green decor is easy on the eyes, and ordering is a cinch. Friendly employees greet you and show you the ropes of the small menu, which includes a kids section.
Most, young or old, will have a burger; the menu doesn’t leave much choice. It includes a grilled-cheese sandwich and two salads, but otherwise there’s nothing but burgers: Six have thick patties made from a special blend of chuck, tenderloin and brisket (all of the grass-fed variety, of course), and the rest are made from turkey, ahi tuna, bison, chicken or grains.
All three burgers I tried were very good, but a beef burger called the Napa ($8.50), topped with Gorgonzola, green olives, arugula and basil garlic aioli, was outstanding, not necessarily because of the toppings but because of the skill with which the 6-ounce patty was cooked.
After giving my order to a young, giggly cashier, I wondered what I would get in return, assuming that the young kitchen staff wouldn’t be able to cook a medium-rare patty — a task that often befuddles some of our city’s veteran burger spots.
What emerged from the kitchen was a patty that was on par with any burger I’ve had at more well-known places: pink and juicy inside, the outside blackened with crust and a good sear. With each bite, I chewed slower and slower, savoring the complexity of the beef and the toppings that nicely augmented it; this was a burger worth relishing.
Both inside and out, I should say. Another thing I loved about this burger was the bun, a white, shiny brioche — from The Bakery Group in Dallas — with a springy interior that allowed wiggle room for toppings but with a firm shell that held ingredients in place.
Elsewhere on the menu, a ground turkey burger ($8.50) didn’t taste like a turkey burger; the meat was pleasingly rich, almost sweet.
The lone veggie option, the Woodstock ($7.50), was not the usual token veggie burger. Thought was put into this mix of chickpeas, grains and chopped roasted vegetables, and it showed in the patty’s beefy texture and delectable flavor. Like the turkey burger, it was topped with a crown of mashed avocado, as opposed to whole avocado slices, which can make for clumsy bites. Again, excellent bread: a multigrain bun also from The Bakery Group.
Fries were a mixed bag. Pass on the overly salty sweet potato kind ($3) for skinny matchbox fries ($2.50), whose combo of crunch and salt was right-on. The small, bountiful fries also offered ample opportunity to sample housemade sauces. Ranch was timid and mild but raspberry chipotle was an addicting combo of sweetness and fire; mustard had a gentle kick.
Best of the sides were huge onion rings ($4), sheathed in a thick, buttermilk batter dotted with pepper, stacked like a pyramid. I can’t remember having better rings.
A good ending — or beginning, for that matter — is a shake. Made with a vanilla custard base, the shakes come in flavors both ordinary and exotic, from chocolate to sea salt and caramel, each topped with a hill of whipped cream and a cherry; adults can get them spiked. After the harrowing road trip up there, you may need it.