Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bitchin' Burger Joint?

Peace Burger Dive Bar & Grill
1228 William D Tate Avenue
Grapevine, Texas
(just outside the construction area, near where all the world's freeways come together)


During a short trip up to North Texas to see the Caravaggio exhibit at the Kimbell (which we both recommend enthusiastically), Rick and I drifted up the freeway to the homogenized northern suburbs of DFW, intending to mock the grotesque excesses of the ridiculous-sounding annual Christmas exhibit, Ice! At The Gaylord Texan, and to wonder how much of a carbon footprint was required to chill a 140,000-square-foot exhibit hall in Texas to nine degrees fahrenheit for two months, so that kids and their oblivious environmentally-conscious parents could have a little fun to relieve their lives of high-paid corporate drudgery. As it happens, the feeling of superiority promised by such a venture could not overcome our revulsion toward the mechanics of getting to the display. So we never saw the ice, only the SUV-choked parking lot, and the shuttle buses ferrying visitors back and forth. But I'm sure it would have been reprehensibly spectacular, or spectacularly reprehensible, in keeping with the Gaylord chain's theme of excess in everything that might make a buck.

But the visit to Grapevine wasn't a total loss: I did pick up a new art-glass sculpture by Kevin Doerner from the Vetro Glassworks on Main Street. And saw the new Sherlock Holmes movie. And found Peace Burger Dive Bar & Grill, making an unlikely trifecta of enjoyment amid the postmodern dross.

Nestled in a strip-mall like a John Birch Society mole, Peace Burger succeeds in making its customers comfortable enough with themselves to face the car-culture that dominates the surrounding prairie. Its plate-glass front, darkened with film to increase the interior's separation from the mundane world outside, is almost covered with bumper stickers, some of an iconoclastic bent, others celebrating lifestyle choices from, presumably, the owners' younger years: surfing, the Grateful Dead, New Orleans. Tables for four line the outer walls of the cozily dark dining room, with high-top tables in the central area of the concrete floor. In the back is the bar, and behind that, the kitchen where irreverently-named dishes like Voodoo, Mexi-Dog and Piggy are prepared. The bar offers eight, mostly mainstream, beers on tap, plus a full selection of hard liquor attuned to the taste trends of the thirty-something crowd, who know what to like because they read about it in GQ and Cosmo. The service is competent, with what a certain Dane once called an antic disposition. In our waitress's case, this was signified by the hot-pink T-shirt she wore (for sale at the counter) with the legend, "Buy me another margarita, you still look ugly."

We started with a couple of handfuls of peanuts from the barrel by the door. Rick, who is from Florida originally and doesn't get out much, had never been to a place that embraces what was once, long ago, a widespread custom in the less sophisticated parts of the country (i.e., Not New York): throwing the peanut shells on the smooth floor, where they are trodden underfoot and swept away upon closing. Eating peanuts this way, with the faint hint of sinfulness their mess produces, makes the leisurely consultation of the menu a pastime. That, and an ice cold beer. 

In the fullness of time, at the appropriate juncture, after giving full play to all considerations, and when the moment was ripe, we made our choices. First, we would split a Beach-N Quesadilla; then we would split a Havana and a Texas Steak "sammitch." Meanwhile, we would enjoy our beer and peanuts.

The quesadilla arrived first. It was a large flour tortilla folded over chunks of beef, with cheese and peppers and served with a side order of fries. It was cut into four barely-manageable strips, which made it flimsy and messy, a challenge to our dainty sensibilities. But because it was so good, we allowed ourselves the mess. It was the best thing we had at Peace Burger. The fries were good, too; thin-cut and slightly crispy, hot and not greasy.

Our other choices, while sounding more promising, disappointed. The Havana, Peace Burger's take on a traditional Cuban sandwich, would have been much better if the dill pickle chips had been forgotten in the kitchen; their overstated taste was both intrusive and jarring. Instead, it appeared the kitchen had briefly forgotten to take the sandwich off the press, as the hoagie roll was slightly burned on both top and bottom, just enough to convince me that a proper kitchen manager would have insisted that the sandwich be re-fabricated.

The Texas Steak sandwich ("Philly never had it so good! So good! So good!"), on the other hand, was made without obvious flaws, but neither did it possess any intrinsic exceptionalism. It was just a Philly steak sandwich, and not one such as Philadelphians argue over with great fervour and life-threatening passion. Just an ordinary steak sandwich, grilled with onions and peppers, with jalapeƱos and queso dip added to give it a vaguely Texan identity. 

All the burgers and sandwiches on the menu are five bucks. For five bucks, it appears, you get near-misses rather than greatness. Overall, the food at Peace Burger disappoints because of its unrealized potential; it's just good enough; while the atmosphere makes it a pleasant place to pass some time. 
Peace Burger Dive Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

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