50 Burgers, 50 Days: Sandy's

A burger a day all around Austin, plus an answer to the pressing question: Fries or rings?
Day 38: Sandy’s
603 Barton Springs Road. 478-6322.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 09.17.11
The burger: Possibly the template for the classic Middle America walk-up burger, Sandy’s piles on the shredded lettuce, chopped onion, sliced tomato, green-bucket pickles and mustard onto a toasted white bun that looks like it got flattened by the Thursday and Saturday crowds who line up for the $3.89 burger-fries-and-drink combo. They line up so deep that Sandy’s puts out orange traffic cones, and I’ll bet drivers wish they’d do the same for Barton Springs Road.
The best you can say for the wafer-thin beef is that covers every circular inch of the bun, so your last bite is the same as your first: sloppy, salty, a little grassy, a little greasy. It’s what you expect from a plain white paper bag at a picnic table out back or in the passenger seat of your car.
Fries or rings? Fries are the only option, and they’re cut from a food-service template that demands a fry that’s pale yellow, about four inches long, thoroughly salted and served somewhere between snap and squish. Otherwise, Sandy’s is a place to indulge in soft-serve ice cream that’s dense and sweet and creamy, whether it’s part of a chocolate-dipped cone, a butterscotch malt or a truly fine root beer float ($1.99). Once you’ve drained the frosty brown soda, there’s enough frozen custard left at the bottom for a few spoonfuls of dessert. Sandy’s never seems to change. The boxy tan and brown building with the neon ice cream sign illuminated my drive home for the 25 years I worked downtown. Now if I could just get the crew to stop treating me like an idiot child, like I was out spending my first quarter. Of all the things that stay the same at Sandy’s, it’d be OK for that part to change.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)