I haven't been doing too well in the ooze department lately, so my recent burger expedition to the not-so-wilds of Sugar Land Town Square really cheered me up. The oddly conceived Guru Burgers & Crepes (really? burgers and crepes?), dreamed up by the folks who run nearby Japaneiro's, managed to deliver gratifying drippage with its Akaushi grass-fed beef patty. And that wasn't all there was to like:
*PRICE: : $10 for the six-ounce Japaneiro's Burger with chimichurri and fried plantains; $4 for an order of fresh-cut fries. (Noon is less pricey. Lunch hour specials get you a burger, choice of fries and a side salad for $10 total.)
*ORDERING: Table service only. Sit at the bar at the back of the dining room or wait for a hostess to seat you at a table inside or outdoors on a bamboo-fringed patio.
*ARCHITECTURE: I couldn't resist ordering the Japaneiro's Burger, named for the owners' flagship sushi/South American fusion restaurant just down the mall block. Fried sweet plantains on a burger? I'm there.
Salad stuff was on the bottom. On an eggy toasted twist-top bun goes a big Bibb lettuce leaf, a slice of Roma tomato, a brace of fried sweet plantains and a handful of cilantro sprigs. Only then comes the half-inch ground beef patty, a swipe of garlicky green chimichurri sauce and a tangle of caramelized onions. The top bun is fastened on with a long toothpick crowned by a cherry tomato.
*QUALITY: The best thing about this burger is the big rush of beef flavor you get when you bite into the grass-fed Texas Akaushi patty, which is admirably loose-textured and obviously hand-formed. I asked for mine medium rare, and that is exactly how it came, with ample beef juices that dripped onto the plate and made the whole sandwich come alive.
The term "sandwich" matters here, because the Japaneiro's Burger's effect exceeded the sum of its parts. The herbal, garlicky snap of the chimichurri amplified the beef and the sweet-tart tang of those nicely fried plantains, which worked better in this context that I thought they might. The onions were so lightly caramelized that they added a bit of crunch to echo the lettuce and tomato. The whole package was low-key and delicious, with the beef never taking a back seat — unusual in a city where we tend to like our burgers with a big, bold flavor profile.
I don't mind admitting that I more or less wolfed my Japaneiro's Burger and left not a crumb on my plate — just some telltale beef juices spattered here and there. The Guru owners may not be riding the Texas Akaushi burger wave with the intensely local ingenuity and manic panache of the Burger Guys, but like the Burger Guys, they're bringing really serious burgers to the 'burbs, which is a noble mission indeed.
*OOZE RATING: excellent.
*GRADE: Solid A.
*BONUS POINTS: The fresh-cut fries, bronzed to a glazed crisp, are well worth the calories, at least until they begin to cool. (Then, not so much.) If you want to feel slightly virtuous (I didn't), you can opt for the fresh-sliced round beet fries instead. Although I imagine the garlic aioli they are served with lessens their innocence.
Microbrew fans will find plenty of local and American craft beers, either bottled or on tap, to amuse them; indeed, the beer menu is a good deal more interesting than the wine list. And oh, yes, there's a growler program for those so inclined. I had efficient, cordial service even during a crowded lunch hour, too.
*MINUS POINTS: I hate to look a quasi-gift horse in the mouth, but the side salad included with my burger-and-fries lunch special was a limp thing tossed with a dressing that I found objectionably sweet. I assume from the brittle fried-noodle bits on top that they were going for an Asian effect, but does Asian always have to mean sweet? I think not. In fact, I pray not.
*EXTRA MINUS POINTS:Narrow metal chairs that are instruments of torture.
*LOCAL COLOR: If you're still caught up in the antiquated vision of Houston's suburbs as white-bread, take an excursion to Guru Burgers in its well-manicured Sugar Land Town Square setting and look around.
Every shade of Houstonian was in attendance the day I was there, and the hostess in her size 0 Missoni-style Lycra minidress, accessorized with mid-calf industrial boots, could have superintended the door at any stylish spot inside the Loop. Only the slightly surreal faux-Main-street mallscape outside gave the location away, along with the occasional Sugar Land City Hall worker sporting an official-looking lanyard.
There's lots of would-be folksy/quirky signage to survey in the crisp whitewashed room. My favorite was an inspirational quote from one of Guru Burgers' favorite gurus: Bruce Lee. Gurus, like excellent burgers, are where you find them, I guess.
(Guru Burgers & Crepes, 2268 Texas Drive, Sugar Land. 281-313-0026. Monday — Thursday 11 a.m. — 10 p.m.; Friday & Saturday 11 a.m. — 11 p.m.; sunday 11 a.m. — 9 p.m.)