50 Burgers, 50 Days: Hut's Hamburgers

 
Day 21: Hut’s Hamburgers
807 W. Sixth St. 472-0693, www.hutsfrankandangies.com.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
 
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 08.31.11
 
Fries or rings? I’m going in reverse order for Hut’s (sides first, burgers second), because cocktail onions dreamed of growing up to be Hut’s onion rings before they became alcoholics. Ron Paul wants to base our currency on them. And for me, they’re a part of history. The dinners at Hut’s when I was a rookie copy editor who could only afford a side? Onion rings. The day I had to take a spoiled French kid to Hut’s for her Austin vacation? Onion rings. The night Joe Ely joined Tex Thomas and the Dangling Wranglers on Hut’s tiny stage? Onion rings. Then, now, always. Peppered, armored, titanic.
 
Hut’s will sell you a whole basket for $3.95, a half-basket for $1.95 or just a few to go with your burger for $1.25. A few or too many, you’ll eat them all if you’re by yourself. You will fight over them if you’re with somebody else. Sometimes you’ll lose. The rings show up cold and tired sometimes, or you’ll wish they’d stopped at Magic Tan first, for a little color.
 
Or you’ll discover something about yourself. What I discovered is that I owe an apology to the french fries at Hut’s for ignoring them all these years. They’re the binary “one” to the onion ring’s “zero.” And you can’t spell “Hut’s” without “ring fry ring ring fry ring ring ring.”
 
The burger: Hoon Park is a purist. The man who generates the website BurgerAustin.com likes to start simple, with a burger that lets the beef do the talking. For him, it’s the Hut’s Favorite ($6.75), with cheese and bacon and the usual picnic fixings. Me, I’m a detourist. The Wolfman Jack ($6.95) calls to me with chopped green chiles, Jack cheese and bacon.
 
This was Park’s first-ever visit to Hut’s. The first, even though he went to school at the University of Texas and has lived in Austin for most of the last 12 years. BurgerAustin is a hobby with two benefits: It gives him an outlet for his devotion to the art of the burger as it guides him through the mechanics of building a website from scratch when he’s not working at his day job with the e-mail services company called OtherInbox.com. Writer, photographer, web tech. Welcome to New Journalism.
 
Park and I agree on some things. Shredded iceberg lettuce is nobody’s friend. We also agree that Casino El Camino is a Hell of a place to get a burger. The uppercase Hell, for decor and demeanor, and he likes the Amarillo Burger there, with roasted serranos , jalapeño cheese and cilantro mayo.
 
I’ll let Hoon Park speak for himself on BurgerAustin about his Hut’s experience. For years, Hut’s was an entry point for me, a beginner’s burger when there weren’t as many places specializing in what they do. As the marketplace grill has filled up with places like Mighty Fine and Black Sheep Lodge and Casino El Camino, Hut’s has become less a destination for the food and more about the history and sense of place. A Hut’s burger with everyday chopped green chiles can’t touch the roasted poblanos at Hopdoddy, nor can its blue cheese and bacon Mr. Blue play on Casino’s gaming floor.
 
We’re not so nostalgic for the 1950s these days, but Hut’s was there when the ‘50s were still in the future. And for that, Hut’s will always be ahead of its time.
 
2-for-1 bonus: On Wednesdays from 6 to 10 p.m., buy one burger, get another of the same kind for free when you dine in. Good luck getting a seat.
 
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking. Top: The Wolfman Jack and onion rings. Inset: Hoon Park of BurgerAustin.com.)