50 Burgers, 50 Days: Chez Zee

 
A burger a day all around Austin, plus an answer to the pressing question: fries or rings?
 
Day 17: Chez Zee
5406 Balcones Drive. 454-2666, www.chez-zee.com.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday. 11 a.m. to midnight Friday. 9 a.m. to midnight Saturday. 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
 
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 08.27.11
 
The burger: Zee Burger ($11.95). If I ran Chez Zee, you can bet I’d call this a ChezzeeBurger. That’s why it's good that Sharon Watkins is in charge and not me. Because it isn’t about clever words; it’s how you back those words up. Six words from the waitstaff can make a difference in burger-town: “How would you like that cooked?” Nobody with pre-frozen beef of ambivalent provenance can ask that question. Refreshing what a little rosy-cheeked color can do for the core of a burger, one that takes it a few levels higher with sauteed mushrooms, smoked Gouda and equally smoky bacon on a bun whose flavor and density are driven by yeast over sweeteners. With that burger comes one side and Chez Zee’s Alice in Wonderland aura, with rooms defined by stars on strings, soft white Christmas lights and long tinseled strands of color carrying payloads of cupcake and pastry ornaments. You can hear each other in here, and you can hear a service staff that gives even lunch the cordial attentions of dinner service.
 
Fries or rings? Ring-free environments give us room to explore. And when a respectable place gets its fries from a bag but otherwise draws from a handmade repertoire of sides, feel free to roam around the cabin. Try potato chips, for example, cut fresh and fried with precise rosette centers. There’s an art to the potato chip, which is why so few places fry their own. Too many things can go wrong, and you end up with greasy foldovers or wafer-thin home fries with no backbone. Chez Zee gets the basics right: size, color and crunch, even the residual parchment rasp of razor-thin skin. Then they dust the canvas with sea salt infused with rosemary and lavender. This marks the first time I’ve applied “floral” as an adjective to potato chips.
 
Freed from rings and fries, soup also comes into play. From the standing menu, Aztec corn and shrimp bisque fuses Southwestern and seafood flavors into a silky tomato cream, like a tortilla soup from a Mexican mariscos shack. ($3.95 cup)