50 Burgers, 50 Days: The Tavern

A burger a day all around Austin, plus an answer to the pressing question: fries or rings?
Day 19: The Tavern
922 W. 12th St. 320-8377, www.tavernaustin.com.
Hours: 8 a.m. to midnight Monday-Tuesday. 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. Wednesday-Saturday. 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 08.29.11
The burger: Tex Mex ($9.99). The forces opposed to sweet hamburger buns — count me among those much of the time — will find something to raise their picket signs against here. But let’s give the Tavern credit for being among the first to go unapologetically into that sweet kolache night. And this one is sweet but still dense and toasted, more than a match for the explosion of fillings inside. It’s like a biker holding a puppy. Sturdy and lovable and somehow not quite right. But what are YOU gonna do about it, burger boy?
The beef is OK, and there’s a lot of it. A half-pound, the menu says, and it’s cooked medium-rare as requested, but there are pockets of gristle and connective tissue that give it a beef jerky character at the end of the bite. The Tex-Mex treatment means it gets spicy pepperjack cheese and strips of cooked jalapeño pepper. A fitting payload for a bar burger. Heave the rest of the condiments overboard, including that fatty cold bacon and especially those languid yellow-green pickles.
Fries or rings? The burger basket comes with hand-cut fries for $1 extra, and I chipped in for a basket of onion rings for $2.99 more, which I could have saved because they’re not in the same league. The onion inside the hard shell is stringy and tough, and the breading overwhelms the enterprise. The fries are more subtle with their skin-on, rough-cut nature, but the oil could have been cleaner, because I was getting some acrid flavors. Maybe it’s a draw, where I wouldn’t want either one again.  What I would do is come again for a $3.75 pint of Thirsty Goat Amber, malty and cool, and the kind of service I want from a bar: absent mostly, but all there when the time comes. The rest of the time, I’m watching more TVs than I’ve ever seen in one place, all of them bigger and sharper than the best TV in my house.