Novemburger: Hill's Cafe

Because 50 Burgers, 50 Days wasn’t enough, I’ll write about a new burger every day this month. And next. We’ll call that Decemburger.
Day 25: Hill’s Cafe
4700 S. Congress Ave. 851-9300,
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday. 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday. 11 a,m, to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Closed Sunday-Monday.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 11.25.11
A few years back, my colleague at the American-Statesman declared the Hill’s Cafe burger the best in the city. I designed an XL cover with radio host and cafe owner Bob Cole under the iconic Hill’s marquee, holding the burger and looking off into infinity. This is the first time I’ve ever tried that burger, an event I put off in part because an institutional chicken-fried steak experience here was disappointing, like a sensory trip to the school cafeteria.
The burger: Cole’s secret weapon at Hill’s is a kolache-style bun that sweetens everything it touches. It’s a weapon used by every two-bit burger warlord in town these days, and it usually hides some fundamental weaknesses. But Hill’s does a good job with the fundamentals on the Hill’s Old-Fashioned ($8.95 with fries plus 59 cents for cheese), especially a beef patty that tastes like it was grilled by somebody from the small town streetscape re-created in the courtyard out back. It’s finished with curly leaf lettuce and good tomatoes, brought out fast in a friendly, country-style dining room where the tea comes in pickle jars and the booths are named for local celebrities large and small: Gov. Rick Perry, Willie Nelson, Pat Green, Troy Kimmel.
Fries or rings? If only the chicken-fried steak were battered like these rings, we’d be in business.  They’re coated like a wool sweater in thick breading that sends up sparks of black pepper with every bite, as if a little cream gravy were built right in. The potatoes are cut steakhouse style, in seasoned, lightly battered wedges ready to burst in the middle. The waitress helped me maximize my sides like this: Add 99 cents to sub onion rings for the fries that usually come with the burger, then $2.25 for a side of fries.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)