5 new burgers: Workhorse Bar

First came 100 Austin BurgersHere’s the fifth of five more burgers that have popped up since then.
Workhorse Bar
100 E. North Loop Blvd., Suite B. 323-5700, www.workhorsebar.com.
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight daily.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 04.23.12
Remember that North Loop rock I was telling you about, the one you could throw from Drink.Well and hit Foreign & Domestic and the Tigress? Add the Workhorse Bar to the North Loop target package. Steve Ettle and Brent Broyles opened their shotgun shack of a bar and grill April 2 in the former home of the punk-rock pizza Parlor.
The jukebox is howling Mastodon metal, but it’s a Springsteen line that comes walking in: “But I swear I left my wallet / back home in my working pants.” Work pants, work shoes. We’ve all had the jobs with clothes we sat aside just for the job, right? Like the steel-toed half-boots the dogs would steal off my front porch because they smelled like fryer grease. Workhorse has that sturdy utilitarian feel. The chairs are made from thick boards stained as dark as a Tolkien tavern with only a triangle of shiny bolt heads to suggest they’re brand new. The tabletobs are set with chessboards and backgammon courts and Chinese checkers under thick coats of epoxy. Tree trunks have been chainsawed into barstools, bark and all, in front of a counter armored with corrugated steel. Most all of it was put together by Ettle and Broyles themselves during the running gun-battle of permits and plumbing do-overs that go into opening a restaurant.

The burger: We’re getting our priorities all wrong to talk about food before drinks at the Workhorse, but we’ll get to that. As secondary priorities go, the Bastrop Buffalo Burger ($8.50 with a side) argues for a shot at first-string. The Triple-B is anchored by the meat that gives it the name, a half-pound of dense, grass-fed Bastrop Cattle Company beef. It’s a cleaner burn, meat that doesn’t linger on the palate with an oily sheen but finishes lean with a quick flash of flavor from the grill. Then the salad factory hits, with sturdy ridge-cut pickles and the trinity of leaf lettuce, spring tomatoes and red onion on a grilled wheat roll with New World Bakery sensibilities. It’s a bar cliché to put spicy red sauce and blue cheese on a burger and call it buffalo, but Workhorse applies that formula with guarded reason, knowing we’d know better if the sauce and twang were laid on thick to cover something up. Neither the sauce nor the cheese fights for first place. It’s a team burger, and there is no “I” in team, just an easy anagram for “meat.”
The extras: I’ve tried macaroni and cheese so thick it can stand a spoon and a cool potato salad made from chunks of red potato dressed with red wine vinegar, mustard seed, green onions and bacon. Each one is a meet-your-Mom prom date for the burger king.
The drinks: Heroic valve-wrangling has created a tap wall that crams more than 50 draft beers into a space no bigger than a sideways screen door behind the bar. The list rivals the Draughthuse for an alphabetical roll-call of locals: Adelbert’s, Austin Beerworks, Circle, 512, Independence, Live Oak, Real Ale, South Austin and Thirsty Planet.
Let’s look at Adelbert’s Rambler (at left). My boss, who after a trip to Belgium fell hard for the cloudy sweet-sour-mystic glow of that country’s beers, tells me that the Austin-brewed Rambler from Adelbert’s reminds him of that country’s ubiquitous Jupiler. I’ll likely never know, but Rambler radiates a foggy light like sunset through a barley field in a stiff summer wind. It’s a yeasty glass, with butter-toasted bread upfront and a warm, drying finish. ($4 a pint)
Happy hours around town make a big deal over $3 pints, but at Workhorse, 19 real beers sit elbow-to-elbow with Coors Light at that price all day. Live Oak Hefeweizen, Thirsty Planet Buckethead and 512 Wit for $3? Not happy-hour prices, just the price of a happy hour. Workhorse isn’t the craft cocktail destination that Drink.Well and the Tigress are, but it pours a who’s-who of spirits from around here: Treaty Oaks rum, Balcones single-malt whiskey, Republic tequila and others.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)