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Hamburger Diaries: P. Terry’s Burger Stand

Tuesday, 1 June, 2010

This is the first review in the Hamburger Diaries. I’m still working on formatting the reviews and establishing an overall style. Please be gentle.

I had not thought out how to start the proper review section of Hamburger Diaries. I was hungry and the house was pretty much out of supplies. I elected to find a place, ideally a new or novel place, convenient to my favorite grocery. That place happened to be P. Terry’s Burger Stand, 4228 W. William Cannon Dr., Austin.

This is my third ever visit to P. Terry’s, making one visit to each of their three locations. The first was soon after the Barton Creek area store opened in 2006. This was an aggressive location adjacent to both Jack in the Box and McDonald’s and not so far away from local fascination Sandy’s, which practically shares a lot with Whataburger. With the world’s leading sandwich purveyor, two regional powerhouses and a tried-and-true local favorite within comfortable walking distance, I knew whoever had selected this location knew P. Terry’s was bringing a new energy to the burger business. Local value leader Short Stop vacated this very lot a couple of years before. Indeed, P.Terry’s building is modeled after that of the Short Stop it eventually replaced.

I don’t remember if I had their veggie burger or the standard angus-beef Hamburger. I was served very cold veggies, room temperature everything else, the bun was not toasted and not at all unlike the value-priced bun from any grocery store. I think I had fries but I don’t remember anything about them. Needless to say, I was not anxious to return.

The second store is on the lot which mere months before hosted the original Hill-Bert’s Burgers. I do not know any details of the deal, but Hill-Bert’s subsequently opened two additional locations, one mere blocks from their original location.

The building cleared away to make room for the second P. Terry’s was an original Cooler BC-08 Burger Chef which closed before 1973. Unlike at least two similar buildings still standing in our town, it was readily recognizable as an iconic Burger Chef. Suitably, it housed a beloved local burger joint. P. Terry’s then built a new facility recognizable as a tribute to the BC-08 and Cosmos II. Practical reasons may exist as to why the iconic burger joint had to be cleared away to build a tribute to it, but I cannot imagine what they may be.

A bit peckish in 2008, I found myself pulling up to the most recently opened P. Terry’s at that time. They were on course to become a local fad, or perhaps legend if they could keep it up. I really wanted to understand the appeal based upon my singular, underwhelming experience. The parking lot is not structured to permit automobile traffic. One cannot drive from one side of the building to the other without passing through the “Drive Thru”. The modest collection of Civics and Corollas that day were far too large and numerous for the marked parking spaces.

Somehow undeterred, I enter and order No. 3 Combo, double patty with cheese. Service was abrupt but acceptable. There was no wait at all until I ordered. I did not time my visit, but wondered whether my order had been lost and later considered simply leaving.

I was served completely generic, inadequately seasoned shoestring fries, a sandwich with cold, cold veggies and cold cheese. The bun was not toasted. The beef wholly unremarkable and bland. It was the Hamburger I would make at home if I could be bothered, and justification as to why I would not do so. I am supposed to like P. Terry’s because of the organic tomatoes, hormone-free beef and their special sauce. I care far less about any of that than the quality of the finished product on the tray.

With consideration to my previous experiences, I approach the latest P. Terry’s with some trepidation.

While under construction, the building resembled Yum’s double-brand restaurants. Indeed, I assumed it was one until signage went up. The finished unit resembles a family restaurant ca. 1960 more than a burger stand. The interior similarly trades on yesterday’s vision of the future. Spacious with high ceilings as an original Arby’s. The interior decor suggests pre-Beatles Americana, and is by no means busy or cluttered. This location is entirely new construction on a pad site at a shopping center built since the turn of the century. This comfortable and very slightly camp format may prove to be P. Terry’s persistent design. Placed in a very typical suburban strip mall, plenty of space and parking is available. However, you still cannot pass behind the building without going into the Drive Thru.

The menu is as simple as I remember. Your selections:

  • “all natural black angus beef”
  • double burger
  • “all natural ground chicken breast”
  • “a fresh veggie burger made with brown rice, crimini mushrooms, black beans, oats, onions, cheese and fresh parsley.”

Each is available as with a combo including a soft drink and the only size of fries. Onion rings are not available. Sandwiches are available bunless, wrapped in lettuce or with a whole wheat bun for 20¢.

P. Terry’s Burger Stand serves Coca-Cola products and Dr Pepper, “fresh squeezed” lemonade and shakes. The nature of the shakes remains unknown. Unsweetened iced tea is not available. No Ace K on the fountain. Dublin Dr Pepper is available on the fountain.

Please note carrying Dr Pepper on the fountain is very common in Texas.

My order was Combo No. 2 (single cheeseburger). No wait and abrupt service. Get ’em in and feed ’em fast. During a modest lunch rush my combo was served in seven minutes. This is entirely acceptable. You are given a receipt with a number with your cup. Serve yourself beverages. I’m not especially keen on self-serve beverages, but I am clearly in the minority on this. Only the cup is logoed. Everything else is served in generic white waxed paper. This is retro, ecomental and entirely serviceable. I did not notice whether to-go bags are logoed.

I am served a four-inch burger. The bun is toasted with a mere 5-10% caramelization. Cheese ideally melted, presumably on the grill. Cool veggies and ca. two ounces of piping hot, richly flavored beef. The only conspicuous flavorings are a little salt and pepper. Quite possibly the best tasting patty I have experienced in a quick-service environment. The burger is upside down, that is veggies are on the bottom, meat above and condiments between cheese and bun. I presume this is a P. Terry hallmark. The tomato slice is thick, conspicuous and not quite as flavorful as you might hope. Then again, it is organic. Whatever that means in the days of Organic Rice Krispies. The cheese is classically American and just a little sharper than you expect.

On their site they mention name-brand condiments which are not at all special. Truly, nothing else stood out, although the Sauce was not unlike mayonnaise with bit of tang. I will compare the finish to Frisch’s Big Boy made with tartar sauce rather than Bob’s et al thousand island dressing.

The fries were not the generic shoestrings I remembered. They claim fresh cut, and I have no evidence to the contrary. Skin-on, soft shoestrings which were, by my standards, insufficiently seasoned. The predominant flavor was oil with a little sea salt. I presume they were not absolutely fresh out of the vat. The intact skin did give something of a crunch. The problem with fries like this is that they cool very quickly. These were no exception. I do not add condiments to fries.

The entire experience was perfectly competent and reasonable; a vast improvement over previous visits to other P. Terry’s Burger Stands. However, it was only competent and reasonable. P. Terry’s has no character. Whatever humanity one finds there looks and feels like it were deliberately created to convey the idea. The menu board is the primary example of this. It only appears hand painted. The dining area is starkly white and chrome with just enough style to appear insincere. That same dining area is also the very cleanest I’ve ever seen near the end of the lunch rush.

They have created a formula. I can find no fault whatsoever in this formula. Everything is perfectly adequate, excepting the fries but I’m willing to accept I got a mediocre batch. It happens. I cannot believe I’m saying this about a Burger Stand, but there is no passion. When you walk into a successful quick-service restaurant you are walking into the physical manifestation of a vision. When you walk into P. Terry’s you are walking into a heavily focus-grouped formula.

I will almost certainly return to try the Veggie Burger, which some may consider their signature sandwich. It is only curiosity. If P. Terry’s was right down the street from work, I could see popping in for lunch from time to time. It’s not really for me.

That said, something as Camry as P. Terry’s Burger Stand will do amazing business wherever they open around Austin. I don’t know about anywhere else.

Meal cost: $5.20 with tax

  1. Graeme permalink
    Tuesday, 1 June, 2010 18:25

    An excellent start! I look forward to many more of these. Given the quality of the review by comparison to hacks like, I can honestly say I would bankroll a roadtrip if I were to win the lottery!



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