Hopdoddy Burger Bar isn’t your average burger joint. It isn’t even your average gourmet burger joint. They specialize in hand-crafted beers and Black-Angus hamburgers, but also in the local community — for every 25 bags of compost and recycling taken to the curb, there is only one headed to the landfill. Customers come for the food first, but are immediately a part of a sustainable system.
Chalkboard signs highlighting the work and care that is put into their food and their community hang high above head and there are well-marked signs designating both compost and recycling bins. Photographs by local artists hang sparingly on the walls and bright green chairs pepper the open spaces. The restaurant itself uses a walk-up system. Diners enter the restaurant and are greeted by a host and given a number. While the guests move through the line the host hangs the number on a table, thereby relieving any worry of finding a table in a busy restaurant once the order is placed. During a lunch or dinner rush, guests are treated to tastings of fries, and milkshakes, and, in each store, they pass samples along the bar and may order a drink to sip while they wait.
“We want them to enjoy the entire experience,” says Tony Pollock, general manager of the Anderson Lane Hopdoddy, “and part of that is waiting in line.”
The seven beef burgers on the menu are sourced from a humane-certified ranch and are part of a “never, never” program: never any hormones, never any antibiotics. Hopdoddy’s other burgers include lamb, tuna, turkey and hemp. The Llano Poblano is their most popular, but the classic cheeseburger outsells everything else. “Everybody loves a cheeseburger,” grins Eddy Tamez, general manager of the South Congress store.
If you’re looking for something a little more daring, the El Diablo is topped with jalapeños and habañeros, but Hopdoddy has managed to create a slow, mellow heat that doesn’t overwhelm the diner. Paired with the Soco Sweet Tea, now served with a raspberry puree, a guest can wash away the heat in a single draft. The drink alone is refreshing and light. Downright sparkly, really!
For the gluten-sensitive foodie, Hopdoddy offers a gluten-free bun delivered weekly from Bonadea and baked in-house. “Eight months ago a woman came in and she was crying,” shares Tony. “I went over to her to ask if she was ok. She said she hadn’t eaten a burger with a bun in 10 years.” The gluten-free bun is substantial and holds up well against a burger’s juices; it has some chew to it and a little crumble.
Also for those diners avoiding gluten, Hopdoddy has a large gluten-free alcoholic selection to choose from including a cider beer to an assortment of wines. They’re still looking for the best gluten-free beer, but none have passed muster thus far. There is also a fountain of all natural sodas.
Hopdoddy works closely with local farms and vendors to procure the best, freshest, and most ripe produce in the Austin area. “If Farm to Table calls us to say they have some great watermelons right now, we figure out how to incorporate that into a special,” says Octavio Benavides, kitchen manager of the Anderson location. Currently, they have a Sandia Rose drink made with gin, lemon juice, watermelon juice and rosemary-infused simple syrup. The libation is brilliantly sweet and refreshing and the rosemary garnish elevates it to pure refreshment. It’s a little bit like biting into a a watermelon surrounded by fir trees.
Hopdoddy makes nearly everything in-house from the limoncello to the barbecue sauce; the coffee is ground when you order it and they don’t use sugar in any of their condiments. They strive to meet every customer’s standards in both food and service. “We tell our employees to have fun and enjoy themselves. It’s important to us that they do,” says Kim Evans, who will soon be a corporate trainer for Hopdoddy as they expand into the Dallas area in the fall.
The food here is sophisticated, but casual; the burgers are layered with flavor profiles that are familiar, yet grown up. The Primetime hamburger is made with American Kobe beef (Texas Akaushi) and is topped with Brie, truffle aioli, arugula, caramelized onions, and steak sauce. The zing of the Brie and the hint of truffle support the robustness of the beef. This isn’t your average backyard burger. You feel like a boss. The crowd includes businessmen, college students and tourists alike, and true to Austin everyone comes as they are.
Hopdoddy is the joint venture of Chuck Smith and Larry Perdido, the pair that operate Moonshine (they also partnered on the now closed Saba Blue Water Cafe on 4th St.). They first opened Hopdoddy’s doors in October of 2010 on South Congress, and recently a second store on Anderson Lane in the West Anderson Lane Shopping Center. Larry designed the original menu and currently collaborates with a small team for seasonal specials. Pricing is as casual, yet sophisticated, as the menu, ranging from $5.50 for the Classic Burger to $12 for the Primetime and Ahi Tuna burgers. Caesar and spinach and arugula salads are also available for less than $10 and the large fries made from Kennebec potatoes is big enough for two for $4.50.
Whether the food or the mission is the big allure, Hopdoddy has the corner market on thoughtfully crafted eating.