Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Burgess Grill, Lawton, Oklahoma - 'Great Burgers and More'

The door swings open slowly, letting in a cluster of hungry customers and just enough light to give one an impression of the interior.  A peg-board sign, emblazoned with out-dated Coca-Cola advertising, declares the day's menu - the usual burgers, sandwiches, fries and onion rings - while a small, glass-fronted case displays a wide array of candy bars for those in need of something more sugary and less substantial.  Tall plastic bottles of ketchup and mustard stand sentry at each crowded table, with the attendant stubby, glass sugar-shakers and tiny vials of salt and pepper. Regular customers lean against the upholstered bar, perched on round stools covered in matching black vinyl.  A glass cabinet displays a selection of pies and, next to it, a coffee-maker percolates continually, making small contented noises and filling the room with a caffeinated haze.

It's a familiar enough description - one that could put you in almost any mom-and-pop diner in any small town in rural America.  But today, the town is Lawton, OK, and the diner is Burgess Grill. Like Meers Store & Restaurant, this is another local institution with a rich, small-town history - one that goes back to 1962, when Shizuko and Robert Burgess bought an existing downtown diner and christened it with their family name.  Burgess Grill has remained a family-run business in the forty years since, though Shizuko now runs it with the help of her daughter Dana.  Ask any Lawtonian for a lunch recommendation and you're likely to be directed here; in fact, it's so popular that the restaurant has expanded into the neighboring shopfront to keep up with the lunchtime rush.

Their menu is largely based on diner staples - burgers, sandwiches, chicken fried steak and a variety of pies - but they also serve more unusual options like beef fried rice and orange chicken, which many local patrons have assured me are very good.  Burgess has unusual hours (they're only open on weekdays and, I think, don't serve dinner), which made it impossible for me to visit before, but after hearing Matt rave about a burger he ate there, I added it to the growing list of places-to-see-before-we-leave.  Finally, we carved out some time for a lunchtime visit last week.

The storefront is unremarkable, but the interior is everything that a mom-and-pop diner should be - crowded, shadowy and full of rich, greasy kitchen smells and regular, local customers.  We arrived in the middle of the lunch rush and had to wait some minutes before a table was cleared, but this gave us ample time to take in our surroundings and also to peruse their lengthy menu.  I'm always tempted by Asian food, so the orange chicken sounded appealing, but I think I would have been foolish not to try one of their 'great' burgers.

The menu had a lot of interesting choices, including the Hodgepodgeburger (with cheddar, American, swiss and mozzarella cheeses, bacon, guacamole, grilled mushrooms and onions), the Italianburger (grilled onions, mushrooms, mozzarella cheese and pizza sauce), and the Kamikaziburger (jalapenos, jalapeno jack cheese, spicy nacho cheese, lettuce, onion and tomato), but in the end I settled on a basic Bacon Cheeseburger, while Matt opted for the Flameburger (house-made chipotle and jalapeno mayonnaise with pepperjack cheese, bacon, lettuce and tomato). For 60 cents extra, I added a mound of perfectly caramelized, slightly sweet grilled onions.

The wait was fairly long, but the waitress was polite and took a great interest in my photography for the blog- it will probably take me a while to get used to that!  In the meantime, we entertained ourselves by reading the menu (does anyone else like to do this when they go out? I love reading the various descriptions and seeing what's on offer). When the burgers arrived we were more than hungry, so I snapped a few quick shots of Matt's plate so that he could get to work.  The burgers were served with a side of potato chips and actually photographed quite well - note the brown-ringed, typical diner style plates:

The Flameburger 
Bacon Cheeseburger with extra onions

So, after all that, how did the Burgess burger stack up? More importantly, how did it compare to my longtime-favorite Meersburger? Well, I'm pleased and surprised to admit that the Burgess burger actually held its own against that tasty, gargantuan legend of a Longhorn burger.  I still maintain that Meers does the best bacon in the world, and their meat is much leaner, but I liked the wealth of options offered at Burgess and the possibility of added 'extras' like grilled mushrooms, onions or extra cheese.  Though each of these will cost you a few pennies (in true mom-and-pop style!), I think the grilled onions I added were well worth the cost.  I also appreciated the toasted bun and the use of dill pickles, as opposed to bread-and-butter which I almost always find to be too sweet.

Another difference between the Burgess and Meers burgers is that the former are much smaller, leaving us room to sample dessert.  I had heard great things about their coconut cream pie, so Matt and I shared a slice as a sweet finish to a delicious and filling meal (and all for under $15!). The pie really was very good - rich and creamy with a nicely crisped topping of toasted coconut.  The only letdown was the crust, which was dry and crackery - more reminiscent of Saltine crackers than of tender, buttery pie crust.  Of course, that didn't stop us from cleaning the plate!

I'm glad we made some time in our dwindling Oklahoma days to visit Burgess Grill. The food was good and the atmosphere entertaining; I'm always amazed at places like this that survive, and even thrive, in spite of obvious economic and commercial pressures.  Faced with competition from giant franchises on every corner, you have to admire the tenacity of restauranteurs who keep their quirky and character-filled locations going, on little more than reputation and the desire to serve good food at reasonable prices. It's a taste of the old-world, small-town Americana spirit and you can be a part of it - for the price of a bacon cheeseburger and fries.

Burgess Grill on Urbanspoon

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