50 Burgers, 50 Days: Wink Wine Bar

A burger a day all around Austin, plus an answer to the pressing question: fries or rings?
 
Day 14: Wink Wine Bar
1014 N. Lamar Blvd. 482-8868, www.winkrestaurant.com.
Hours: Opens at 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, closes at around 10 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, around 11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.
 
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 08.24.11
 
The burger: Trio of Wink miniburgers ($12). Is a white-tablecloth burger a proper resident of this list that rounds up generations of screen doors, drive-throughs and flattops seasoned like a blacksmith’s anvil?
 
Yes, because burgers are an egalitarian comfort, a level playing field for people who sell meat and bread. Not that I need to rationalize a trip to Wink, where I’ve had four-star experiences in the wine bar and the restaurant alike. The little burgers are available only in the bar, but trimmings from the day’s prime cuts of beef or game next door at the restaurant become the base of burgers finished with caramelized onions, brie cheese, a tomato and one perfect leaf of spinach.
 
A tip from one of the staff: Squish those silver dollar-size beauties down before you eat them. Her story? A guy on a date here bit down on one at its full height and the tomato shot out, landing right down the open front of his date’s white shirt. “You could go bobbing for tomatoes,” she said, so the story goes. So tell me again why I should squish those burgers down? And could we get a little club soda over here?
 
A tip from me: Order one more of those little burgers, only ask them to put a little piece of seared foie gras in place of the brie. It’s an affordable indulgence, a $4 burger with another couple dollars for the foie.
 
And here’s one more part to the story. During happy hour, which runs 5 to 7 p.m. Monday-Saturday, the food I just described is half-price.
 
Fries or rings? We’ll give the fryers a rest and have a chef’s-hat bloom of mac and cheese with actual black truffle. For one of my guests, it was her first walk along the truffled forest floor, and we both agreed that it’s hard to describe the taste, because you can’t compare it to any one thing. Like mushrooms, but deeper and darker. Earthy, but not “of the ground” like a root vegetable. It’s a feral taste, animal, alive. Supplement with a bowl of steamed mussels in  a butter and white wine broth or a cheese plate with brie and nutty Comté and fourme d’ambert blue with apricot marmalade, apples and walnuts. At $14, all three dishes are indulgences worth taking. At half-price during happy hour, no deal in town can touch them.
 
Want wine with that? Like a fast-food menu for oenophiles, the Wink Wine Bar puts its by-the-glass menu at your fingertips in 2-ounce tasting sizes, which lets you sample a Russiz cab franc from Italy that runs $13.75 a glass for just $4.25 to get a sense of that wine’s madman swirl of sandalwood and cola and dried cherry. Or a new-to-the-list lazy raisin ramble of an Austrian rosé from Zull for $3. Or a honey-brushed Monchof riesling from Germany for $$3.25. They’re just tastes, mind you. But great tastes to finish Day 14 of 50 Burgers, 50 Days.