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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Old-School Awesome at Bernie's Burger Bus

Address:  (Bellaire) 5407 Bellaire Boulevard and 2643 Commercial Center Boulevard #320 in Katy
Website:  Bernie's Burger Bus
Bus Route(s):  2 Bellaire or 49 Chimney Rock/South Post Oak
Vegetarian?  Considerate.  Offers a veggie burger option, fries options, and a salad but is not a vegetarian restaurant.

What better way to start a new food blog about restaurants on Houston’s bus routes than with a restaurant that started out as a food bus?  Yes, you read that correctly.  Not a food truck, but a food bus—a school bus, to be exact, which gives this restaurant its theme.

Chef Justin Turner began his food ‘truck’ business in 2010, cooking food out of a school bus.  All of his food, including the breads and the condiments, is made from scratch, either by himself and his staff or by local people.  He has even begun bottling small batches of his condiments and selling them at Whole Foods.

In 2014, Bernie’s moved into its first brick and mortar restaurant, located on Bellaire Boulevard, and they have been serving scratch-made burgers and fries there, ever since.  They opened a second location in Katy in the fall of 2015 and plan to open a third location in The Heights.  In March of 2016, Turner won during an episode of Chopped on The Food Network that featured four contestants from Houston.  He hopes to someday open a restaurant that is not focused on burgers, but that’s a bit down the road.

The Ambience
Bernie’s Burger Bus honors its roots by using its original food bus as a kitchen in its restaurant.  So you enter the restaurant, which is on the south side of Bellaire, and the first thing you see is a big, yellow school bus behind the tables and chairs, parallel to the bar.

Bernie's Bus

The hostess at the front door will offer you the choice of sitting inside the restaurant at a table, in the screened-in, open-air patio, or at the bar.  In the summer, you will naturally want to sit inside.  If you sit at the bar, the bus/kitchen will be to your back. Along the far wall you will see a row of school lockers, covered with stickers.  There are also stickers all over what would be the front door of the bus, most of them related to food in some way.

School lockers at Bernie's

Door stickers on Bernie's Bus

You’ll get a laminated menu that looks like the black and white cover of one of those school essay notebooks that are now in vogue, and then it’s drool to your heart’s content.  This place sells burgers, one sandwich, and eight varieties of French fries.  Note—The French fries alone can comprise a meal.  The burgers and fries served here have been voted among the best in Houston.  I came here because I had to try that out.

I was served by the lovely and friendly lady who works behind the bar.  She took my order, and I was promptly brought a plate of Lunch Lady Fries and a Recess (grilled cheese) sandwich with two Electives (additional fillings), along with a Coke.  

I was so hungry that I dived into my food before remembering to take a picture of it, but the next time I visit Bernie's, I will photograph my meal and add it here.

What I Ate
Lunch Lady Fries come smothered in brown gravy and are topped with aged white Cheddar cheese, green onions, cheese curds, and bits of roast beef.  The first thing I tasted was the brown gravy, and it was perfect—with that browned-buttery, slightly peppery taste that makes your mouth water.  The cheese curds were Cheddar, and larger than I expected.  I had figured they would be like cheese crumbles.  No, these were gobs of cheese about the size of my thumbs.  Delicious!

The Recess was made with substantial sourdough bread—larger bread than your usual store-bought kind—and Swiss cheese, filled with caramelized onions that had been braised in Jack Daniels, and burgundy mushrooms.  The bread is made by Slow Dough, a local bakery known for its breads.

Hint:  Be careful of what kind of Electives you order.  While the tipsy onions and burgundy mushrooms I ordered were delicious and added to the sandwich, they also made the sandwich very heavy and, after a few minutes, a bit soggy.  I would recommend ordering these two Electives, at least, on the side and eating them with bites of your sandwich or burger.  To each their own, though.

This is very filling food, and I could only eat half of my meal.  I plan to return here, and when I do, I will probably just order fries, because I like to nibble.  I’ve also found that I prefer grilled cheese sandwiches made with plain old, store-bought toasted white bread with American cheese to gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches anywhere.

House Specialties
Frankly, most of the items on the menu are house specialties.  Bernie’s is known for its Lunch Lady Fries, Honor Roll Fries, and for its Detention Burger, which consists of two patties covered in Cheddar cheese, with caramelized onions and normal hamburger fixings, between two bacon grilled cheese sandwiches.  This whole enormous thing is served with a knife stuck in it to hold it together.  It costs $17.00 and is a real Dagwood sandwich.  Also check out their Mascot, a bison burger topped with goat cheese, arugula, and pickled red onions.

Bernie’s offers only one salad, to which you are invited to add electives.

The beverages offered at Bernie’s primarily consist of typical soft drinks, specialty lemonades, and wine or beer.  Their draft and canned beers are all local.  If you prefer imported beers or domestic beers from more distant places, they offer those in bottles.  Their happy hour is held every day, from 3:00pm-6:00pm.

Primarily, Bernie’s desserts are shakes, which cost between $5.00 and $7.00.  They also do an ice cream sandwich and a root beer float.  They are fond of adding mix-ins to their shakes, something that I’m not a fan of.  But I suppose I shouldn't knock it until I try it.

Bernie's is somewhat pricey.  A meal for two people could easily cost in the range of $45.00-$50.00 if they both order the full beverage, burger, and fries.

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