Novemburger: Snack Bar

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 16: Snack Bar
1224 S. Congress Ave. 445-2626,
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday-Friday. 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 11.16.11
The Snack Bar patio along South Congress has developed almost as much as the Snack Bar itself since the restaurant opened in 2009 in the former longtime home of El Sol y La Luna. It’s set like the terrace at the home of a modernist young couple with a fondness for electric teal and avocado green and desert plants, which lie in a row like a xeriscape display in the planter box by the sidewalk above a long cushioned banquette. Watch the headrest.
The burger: Snack Bar does a sharp job pairing with local growers, artisan ranchers, brewers and coffee roasters. The selling point for a burger at Snack Bar is the restaurant’s affiliation with Antonelli’s, an Austin cheese shop opened in 2010 by Kendall and John Antonelli. They’ve built a brand name for adventurous cheese lovers, and their reputation looks good on your burger.
Gruyere from Antonelli’s tastes nice on this burger, nutty and tart and lightly oily. It doesn’t have to work hard with beef this good, a tight grind from Niman Ranch, cooked a grade beyond the medium-rare I asked for but otherwise flawless. It’s served on a dense, bakery-quality bun with lettuce, tomato and pickle with the smells-bad-tastes-great quality of on-site pickling.
Any concerns you might have had about Snack Bar being too precious to fill you up, too cool to be full, rest at ease and waddle on out after a plate of this. With fries, the burger is $10 at lunch, $12 at dinner.
Fries or rings? French fries are a recent addition at the Snack Bar, as the owners explained in Twitter post Nov. 11 announcing their new Fall menu: “I realize, w/ a name like Snack Bar, one would assume we had French Fries. But no, this is a monumental step. I have a fear of deep fryers.”  No need for you to fear, though. These are fries that play it safe, cut thin and fried crisp in the style of fast food, with a dusting of herb to remind you that you’re not at the drive-through.
No onion rings, but the option of a local, seasonal vegetable on Wednesday gave me the rare chance to have roasted turnips, cooked simply with oil, salt, pepper and green onion. $5 is high for a small bowl of root vegetables, but I’ll write it off as a premium for the sourcing aesthetic that brings sharper focus to the rest of the Snack Bar experience. The dish came out 10 minutes before the rest of the food, but the staff reheated it when I asked, and it came back hot, with more turnips. Magic.
From the bar: Snack Bar must want so badly to have a mixed-beverage license, if their cocktail menu bears any witness. That’s how you account for the Bloody Maru, a $5 Bloody Mary with sake playing the role of vodka, built out with spicy tomato juice, celery, lime and salt that somehow works, especially on this patio that feels like the land of perpetual brunch, especially in the lazy November breeze.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)