50 Burgers, 50 Days: Mike's Pub

 
A burger a day all around Austin, plus an answer to the pressing question: Fries or rings?
 
UPDATE: Mike's Pub has closed
 
Day 29: Mike’s Pub
108 E. Seventh St. 479-6424, www.mikes-pub.com.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday. Closed Saturday-Sunday.
 
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 09.08.11
 
The burger: The tall bay window facing Seventh Street gives Mike’s Pub the outward appearance of a bistro from decades past. But the windows are just a front for a spiral staircase leading to a plain brown door. Behind it is a shotgun bar with a row of blue booths and a pool table in the back that doubles as a family-style table. It’s dim, lit mostly by the unhealthy yellow and orange glow of neon reflected off beer-hall mirrors. The menu is simple: burgers, fries, ham sandwiches, chili dogs and beer for three hours a day five days a week. To be here is to admit you’re a guy who drinks beer at lunch, no sin if you can get New Belgium Ranger IPA or Left Hand Milk Stout for $4 a pint. But if a Bud Light nooner is your thing, Mike’s cool with that.
 
As bar burgers go, it doesn’t get much simpler: a chewy patty from the flat-top grill with a single slice of processed cheese on a picnic-style bun for $4.40. The rest is up to you, a custom opportunity from a salad bar behind you, with the usuals plus a fresh-chopped pico of tomato, onion and green pepper. Properly dressed, it’s something to fill your hands while you watch the news or sad weekday ESPN on old-school TVs. I don’t taste the superlatives I’ve seen other people heap on this place, but I figure it’s more about mood than food.
 
Fries or rings? Drawing from the character of a place where it feels like midnight in the middle of the day, the fries have an endearing, rough-cut character, all starch and skin and scars at $2.10 for a healthy half-order. Frito pie ($3.90) will have to stand in for onion rings, and it’s an ugly plate, even in this forgiving light: a shiny reddish-brown mound with artful splatters and a languid square of American cheese. Dress it with chopped onions and jalapeños from the salad bar, and it tastes better than it looks. But not by much. In the land of perpetual midnight, it will have to do.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Waking)