50 Burgers, 50 Days: Spec's

 
A burger a day all around Austin, plus an answer to the pressing question: Fries or rings?
 
Day 36: Spec’s Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods
4978 U.S. 290 W. (Brodie Lane area). 366-8260, www.specsonline.com.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
 
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 09.15.11
 
The burger: I’m revisiting the scene of an early crime at Spec’s, the liquor store where I took my kids for a lunch I wrote about in my first month as the Statesman’s food critic. I survived my editor and Child Protective Services and came away with one of my favorite stories, a decent lunch and respect for the way Spec’s parks a low-cost bar and grill in in this store. Except the “bar” part is one of those water-water-everywhere situations. You can buy a six-pack of cold New Belgium Hoptober, but you can’t drink it in the store the way you can at Whole Foods. (To drown your sorrows, ee “Also,” below.)
 
A business that sells high-end deli foods has a vested interest in showing off what they carry, which is as good an explanation as any for a burger with bacon this smoky, thick and well-cooked. And so many slices. Its potency throws off the balance that makes bacon and blue cheese a good fit. You lose the twang to the smoke. The burger patty has a big grill flavor that comes either from seasoning or cooking — and I can’t tell which — tucked inside a really soft bun with leaf lettuce, tomato and sliced onions. At $5.99, it’s a handful.
 
Fries or rings? Get the fries for just a dollar extra to complete the burger basket, then get rings to share for $1.49. Neither is hand-dipped, handcut, nor handcrafted, at least by the looks of it. But give them a hand, anyway, for being hot and fresh. They’re utilitarian in the way you’d expect from a liquor-store lunch. Which is to say that you didn’t expect it to be this decent in the first place. Enjoy.
 
Also: At Spec’s you get to experiment with any soft drink in the cooler. Moxie? Sure.  It’s one of those vintage fizzy drinks from the 1800s, when they used to put mercury and cocaine in sodas to give them extra pep. What could possibly go wrong? Just kidding about the mercury. Moxie tastes like root-beer candy dissolved in dishwater. But it’s a $1.49 step outside your comfort zone, right? Like Reed’s Cherry Ginger Brew, a spicy-hot ginger ale with some real cherry tang to it from 22 percent fruit juice and 22 grams of ginger per bottle. I like the science here. Or at least the snake-oil show.
 
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)