By Jason Gatsby, TSB Chow Hound
In the last few years the “burger trend” has made a considerable impact in North Texas. Chains have begun to saturate the market, as the local burger joints have gotten lost in the mix, struggling to generate an assortment of new customers. MOOYAH Burger, Smash Burger, Village Burger, Twisted Root, Five Guys and most recently In-n-Out are the contemporary additions of restaurants dedicated to the “all mighty hamburger.”
The simplicity of the hamburger is no longer as modest as it once was. “Cheese or no cheese?” My father would yell across the backyard, standing behind a grill engulfed by flames. Now it’s bacon, grilled onions, avocado, mushrooms, and the list goes on.
Each restaurant has their niche, that certain “je ne sais quoi” that differentiates them from next guy, and Square Burger is no different.
Appropriately named, Square Burger is located in the always-charming downtown square in McKinney. Co-owners Craig Brundege and Brandon Horrock are no strangers to the restaurant business. Horrock, a former chef turned general manager, directs the front of the house while Brundege orchestrates the menu from the kitchen. Brundege is a classically trained chef, originating from the culinary mecca of San Francisco. After working in array of critically acclaimed restaurants including Wolf Gang Puck’s “Five Sixty,” he and Horrock opened Square Burger in June of 2010.
Square Burger’s storefront coincides with the fashion trends of the 21st century while embracing the historic architecture of the Square. Clean white walls with sea blue tile behind the bar flaunting 30 beers on tap and wood furniture are welcoming to any patron.
When Horrock is present, Square Burger functions like a well-oiled machine. But as the old adage goes, “when the cat’s away, the mice will play” the restaurant can be in disarray.
The host(ess) is gracious and considerate, considering long and crowded waits can be hectic and disconcerting. During the weekends, Square Burger is often filled with waiting patrons, but don’t fret, the host(ess) will take down your cell phone number so that you’re not restricted to the confines of the vibrant restaurant.
The majority of servers are relatively young. And even though they are cordial, their inexperience and indifference can be frustrating at times. They occasionally forget that side of ketchup you asked for, or the thought never crosses their mind to clear the empty plates that have been sitting in front of your party long enough to catch flies. If you order dessert, the server often has to be reminded to bring utensils, which rarely arrive prior to the dessert being delivered to your table.
Brundege’s culinary expertise is evident on the menu with his distinct flavor profiles. The menu predominately stays the same, but Brundege does implement seasonal products in facets of the menu. Don’t be mistaken; this is no ordinary hole-in-the-wall burger joint. Brundege’s accompaniments of prosciutto di parma, onion marmalade, and homemade Rasputin Imperial Stout BBQ sauce are delicious examples of his talent.
Square Burger supports the localvore food movement, receiving their grass-fed beef from Local Yocal butcher shop, located down the street, and their bread from Empire Bakery.
Grass-fed beef is a great concept, but unlike corn-fed beef the burgers can be dense and a bit on the dry side. Additional fat or richer cuts of beef during the grinding process could potentially make their burgers more succulent and juicy.
Regrettably, Square Burger does not have a website, so finding an example of their menu can be difficult. Starting off your meal with their “Macaroni and Cheese with Asiago, Ham and Fresh Spring Peas” ($9), or “Franconia Dunkel Glazed BBQ Ribs” ($12) is a smart way to satisfy your initial hunger pangs. The Mac-n-Cheese is different, and hands down better, than your everyday Kraft blue box special. The distinct flavor from the Asiago gives it a sophistication that adults will love. The peas add not only a punch of color, but a bite of sweetness. Unfortunately, the ribs can be inconsistent. The majority of the time they’re fall of the bone tender with a sweet glaze to cut the richness, but on one occasion, being served tough ribs that weren’t heated all the way through was unappetizing to those at my table.
The salads are light and refreshing. Sometimes a line cook may get carried away with the dressing, leaving the greens wilted and soggy. For fans of goat cheese, the “Panko Fried Goat Cheese Salad” ($8) is a must try. Lightly fried goat cheese with a crispy panko crust accompanied with watercress, arugula, shaved fennel, sweet roasted beets, with a citrus vinaigrette is a menu item you might find at a four star restaurant, and this one is every bit as good.
Ohhh, but yeah, on to the main attraction of the restaurant – the burgers. There’s something for everyone, including a “Spicy Tuna Burger”(one of my personal favorites) with a sesame soy sauce and spicy chili aioli, ($12) and a “Smoked Salmon Burger” with a yogurt dill cream sauce ($11). Be sure to specify “done-ness” as the Tuna Burger is best consumed when it is seared rare to medium-rare. All burgers come with a fried to perfection dill pickle. Sides of sweet potato or regular fries, onion rings or strings can be added al-la-carte. ($5) The shoe-string sweet potato fries, boasting a mixture of salt, sugar and a hint of cinnamon, are crispy bites of perfection.
The Bleu-Burger ($9) was the perfect balance of sweet and succulent. The caramelized onion marmalade goes perfectly with creamy bleu cheese on a toasted ciabatta roll. If you’re feeling ambitious, the “Mushroom-Border Burger” ($10) is heavy enough to leave you satisfied for days. The mushrooms, avocado slices, bacon, and caccciotta cheese will make up for a slighty dry burger. Both burgers we sampled were cooked to perfection, just as the diners specified.
Specials are labeled on a massive chalkboard that displays beers on tap, wines, chef’s features, and deserts. For what seems like the last year, entrée specials have had little variation from the center-cut pork chops, lamb chops, and pan-roasted chicken, and Local Wag “Prime” Ribeye,” all served with the same side. I would like to see something new, along with a different side for the different flavor profiles of chicken, beef, pork, and lamb.
When ordering desert, keep it simple. Order the trio of ice-cream sandwiches. An assortment homemade ice cream and cookies is simple but delicious. The peanut butter cookie and grape jelly ice cream sandwich was a good play on PB&J, but the ice cream tasted more of vanilla than Concord grape jelly.
There is no underestimating the significance of Square Burger’s presence in McKinney. It’s a gem, and McKinney is fortunate to have a gourmet burger restaurant to call their own. But as time passes, complacency makes me nervous – how about a burger with a fried egg on top? I’m fearful of quality beginning to slip from their grasp if they don’t continue to aspire to be the best restaurant on the Square.
Over All: 3 Stars
Food: 3 stars
Beverages: 3 stars
Service: 2 and a half stars
Atmosphere: 3 stars
Price $$ to $$$
FOUR STARS = Extraordinary; THREE STARS = Excellent; TWO STARS = Good; ONE STAR = Fair; NO STARS = Poor
$ = Inexpensive: entrees $10 and under; $$ = Moderate: $11-$17; $$$ = Expensive: $18-$24; $$$$ = Very Expensive: more than $25
Photos from top:
Sweet Potato Fries
Ice Cream Sandwiches