Roy Pope Grocery has long occupied space on my list of Notable Places in Fort Worth I’m Somewhat Embarrassed That I’ve Never Visited, despite the fact that I essentially grew up on the west side.
But the very name “Roy Pope” was bandied about in the same cool kids’-speak as Under the Tower and Mama’s Pizza — haunts that seemed exclusive and off-limits to me — when I was in Arlington Heights, so perhaps that’s why I’ve been intrinsically averse to the notion of frequenting the small, family-owned grocery that sells unusual, hard-to-find items like Texas Tea from Austin and Picolos Pickles from Corsicana.
What’s that saying about how your palate develops as you get older? (And isn’t there another one about how all of the cool kids peak in high school?) It was a burger that finally brought me and a friend to Roy Pope, a place whose roots are nearly synonymous with the Kincaid family, in terms of being purveyors of food and other goods to the west side.
Just like there were once cans of food at the Kincaid’s on Camp Bowie, Roy Pope completes the circle of food life by selling stellar burgers amid the produce, cheese and pantry staples.
The burger: Originally, we were lured in by the promise of the Kobe beef cheeseburger ($12.99), 8 ounces of Kobe beef with thick-cut bacon, lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, chipotle barbecue sauce and cheddar cheese. But we had a little mishap, which turned out to be fortunate.
The patty: Somehow, we accidentally ordered the regular cheeseburger ($6.99) first, which was a third-pound hunk of freshly ground sirloin and beef with traditional fixin’s. We asked for the regular cheeseburger to be cooked medium, and it thankfully came out gorgeously pink in the middle — juicy and crumbly.
After eating half of the wrong burger, I ordered the Kobe version cooked to medium, and it turned out to be steaklike in texture, with a compact, flavorful bite. You might think this was a flagrantly inappropriate means of eating an extra burger; I simply think I was doing my job, and my accomplice tacitly condoned the entire experience.
The bun: Was old-school (naturally), or as my friend said: “Just like Dairy Queen,” with a flattened mien and a generalized flaunting of white flour. I like to think it was a perfect conduit to mop up the burgers’ collective juices. No sweet brioche bun here, baby!
The toppings: I’ll cut to the proverbial burger chase here: The Kobe burger had too many. They were all incredibly good — meaty, buttery mushrooms; thinly sliced sauteed onions; salty, fatty bacon — but the extras distracted from the meat. And there was no need for that.
Add lettuce and tomato and a solid house-made barbecue sauce to the proceedings, and you had a burger that was chaotic in character. Conversely, the regular cheeseburger — all pungent purple onions and ripe tomatoes, lettuce and mustard/mayo — was utterly perfect.
Plus, all of the toppings were piled under the meat, with the melted cheddar making a gooey mess on top. This is my new favorite way for burgers to be built.
The sides: I can’t remember the last time I had fried okra (probably before high school), so it seemed an appropriate choice. Crispy and salty outwardly, tender on the inside, the nuggets seemed to scream “summer in Texas.”
The verdict: I realized something about myself during this assignment, much like one does during the coming-of-age years: I will choose a well-executed, medium-rare cheeseburger with traditional toppings any day of the week over a tricked-up specialty version.
Kobe beef may be popular — like those kids in school — but it doesn’t hold a candle to the simple, understated masterpiece that is the cheeseburger at Roy Pope.