… But it’s what’s in between that gives Rodeo Goat its kick

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MAJOR MAYOR WITH MAYO | The Mike Rawlings burger at Rodeo Goat, like other items on the menu, succeeds with unexpected flavor combinations. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Executive Editor

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GIRL SCOUTS BEWARE | A Thin Mint shake out on Rodeo Goat’s colorful, spacious patio in the Design District.

I don’t usually offer up a full-length review two weeks after a restaurant opens, but I made an exception for Rodeo Goat for two reasons: First, because it is across the street from my office and has been taunting me with its “coming soon” sign for months; and second, because it’s a burger joint. Not to disparage, but the menu (largely imported from the home base in Fort Worth) is well-fixed, the décor ain’t gonna change and the service isn’t exactly why you go to a diner like this in the first place.

Though that’s a point: It could be. On my trips, my waitresses have been friendly, prompt, informed and, perhaps most notably, enthusiastic. You get the feeling these folks know they have a good product and they enjoy sharing it with customers who may be unsuspecting of the delights that can exist between two buns.

But let’s not get completely ahead of ourselves. There really is more to Rodeo Goat than just the burgers.

Take, for instance, the sleeper cell of the menu … right there under “appetizers” but with no description or words suggesting what’s in store: “the Steaming Pile.” It hardly sounds appetizing, but then again, the name on the door says “Rodeo Goat,” which conjures a filthy nag with an ornery attitude and a hide tougher than Michele Bachmann’s publicist. Forget that — it’s not important. What matters are the flavors.

The ingredients are trailer-trash gourmet: Disks of habanero tater tots deep-fried and garnished with goat cheese, housemade bacon bits, gooey melted cheddar and topped with a fried egg, served in a State Fair cardboard boat. If it sounds like a cardiologist’s patient generator, I assure you, it is just that. The description alone should send a raw organic vegan running to Snuffer’s to order cheesy fries by comparison. This is the kind of dish for which we have the National Institutes of Health. It is why, I suspect, gym memberships spike within 100 yards of a Rodeo Goat.

None of these are bad things.

Then again, “fried on fried on melted cheese” hardly smacks of heart-healthy eating. But honestly, what do you expect from a “steaming pile”? What you might not expect is how surreptitiously sophisticated the combinations are: soothing herbaceousness from the goat cheese, the luxurious goo that is a well-prepared sunny-side-up huevo, a hint of heat from the tots (they come with a side of ranchero dressing, but ask for a selection of dipping sauces — or even some of the Tabasco or Sriracha mayos — and the staff will happily comply. “You don’t need to be monogamous to any of our mayos,” my waitress told me). Get the steaming pile before the meal, not as a side — you’ll want your palette to reset before the main course.

And the main course, natch, is burgers: More than a dozen by my count, including some turkey and vegetarian kinds that, no offense, I was not interested in: This is beefeaters’ country, and I was on safari.

In the tradition of a deli, the burgers have names, sometimes incorporating local celebs. I passed over the Billy F. Gibbons (vegan!) and the Brad Sham (jalapenos and barbecue sauce) and went straight for the mayor. The Mike Rawlings ($10.75) lured me with its unlikely pairing of candied bacon, Irish whiskey-infused cheddar, blackberry compote and mustard. The alchemy involved caught me unawares: The sandwich was both chewy and crunchy, sweet and spicy, greasy but not falling apart the second it touched the bun (I used only two napkins!).

Speaking of which, can we all just agree to be considered a truly delicious gourmet hamburger, the burger itself must be at least as greasy as the best man at an Italian wedding? But that doesn’t give license to the bun to collapse like Russian currency. Brioche buns are too eggy, lacking the gluten ratio to maximize its service in delivering the patty to your mouth. Rodeo Goat’s are just right, slathered in butter and grilled, providing the undergirding necessary to withstand your mouth’s assault.

It won’t take a long time to consume, anyway. Voracious accurately encapsulates the observed consumption style (go hungry), owing in part to the freshly ground meat and excellent sear on the patties.

The Rawlings wasn’t the only candidate to get my vote. The salted sow ($10.50) — a mix of beef and Italian sausage patty, topped with sliced prosciutto, tomato slab, chunk of mozzarella and basil, with balsamic mayo — is misnamed. It should be called the caprese, since that’s exactly what it is. How does the cross-pollination of summery-fresh Italian appetizer and grilled meat work? Disarmingly well; the burger itself is softer and sweeter, and the burst of cool from the mozz doesn’t fight the warmth of the burger so much as complement it.

The remainder of the menu impresses on its own (the Thin Mint milkshake was awesome, and the selection of local beers will delight taphouse addicts), while the spacious patio will be perfect for happy hours when the weather warms slightly. We can wait. Heck, it took this long for Rodeo Goat to cross the Trinity, and we’ll be forever thankful for that.

Rodeo Goat, 1926 Market Center Blvd.
Open daily for lunch and dinner. RodeoGoat.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 30, 2015.