50 Burgers, 50 Days: Contigo

A burger a day all around Austin, plus an answer to the pressing question: Fries or rings?
Day 23: Contigo
2027 Anchor Lane. 614-2260, www.contigotexas.com.
Hours: 5pm-midnight Mon-Sat. Brunch 10:30am-2:30pm Sun.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walkng | 09.02.11
The burger: Contigo has a lean, sunbaked feel, a testament to its roots on a South Texas ranch owned by Ben Edgerton’s family. He and chef Andrew Wiseheart have put together a menu you might serve at a backyard barbecue if you had no fences and your culinary friends brought all the food: patés, charcuterie, rabbit and dumplings, fried green beans, pickles they made themselves.
The ranch ethic extends especially to a simple burger ($10 with fries), starting with beef ground in long fibers with a good fat balance, making it as soft as the fresh challah bun that holds it. Without mustard or mayo or fussy sauces, it delivers flavors of campfire fat and aromatic spices from a spread of thin-cut but serious pickles. That bun comes across with egg and yeast and an amber shell. For a dollar each, add a thick layer of white cheese and a rasher of thick bacon cooked like a pork steak rather than a diner strip.
A cocktail called the Contigo Ranch ($8) plays into the dusty landscape illusion with the smoke of mescal braced by orange and soda in a tall glass beaded with perspiration. That ranch illusion? It’s more like a reality, given that the seating is outdoors at picnic tables, at a walk-through bar or at four-tops under a pole-barn awning cooled only by industrial fans and misters. The strings of white lights and the big shade trees help make the heat fade away
Fries or rings? Handcut fries come with the challah burger. They’re thin and rustic, like little Marlboro men. But here’s a chance to play out my indecision and work with my “burger” definitions by ordering an ox-tongue slider on slices of toasted baguette with pickled green tomato ($3). It’s meat we had no trouble talking my tweenager and her cousin into trying, and it speaks well (ouch) for all the “other” meats of the world. Something closer to a ring would be batter-dipped and fried green beans ($6). But of course they’re more than rings: they’re an excuse to say you ate your vegetables.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)