feed the beast

Burger Gauntlet: Detention Ain’t Always a Bad Thing at Bernie’s Burger Bus

by Hugo Esteban Rodriguez Posted: 09-09-15 | 2 years ago
Photo Credit: Hugo Esteban Rodriguez / Hype Houston Redemption is ours. And Bernie's, we guess.

Can someone get tired of eating burgers? Is there a point one can get to, where they take a bite out of a burger and say no more? Is there a Peak Burger?

No. I love burgers. I love writing. I love writing about burgers.

This blog is going to continue until I run out of burger shacks, burger joints, bar burgers, burger bars, burger everything. Or until my editor gets tired of burgers. (Ed. note: Well, I also love burgers, so…Magic 8-Ball says “Outlook not so good.” Prepare yourselves for an indefinite amount of burger blogs, folks.)

But I can only “run into” so many burger spots on my own, so I decided to take to Facebook to determine where I would head next. Among the numerous options suggested within the Houston limits, and even those as far as Kemah and Seabrook, there was one name that popped up a few times: Bernie’s Burger Bus.

I was a bit reluctant to go the food truck burger route again, though. I’ve had Bernie’s Burger Bus a few times before — at least once at their roving Burger Bus when it would stop by Inversion Coffee and Art Houston, and a couple more times at their bricks and mortar location on Bellaire.

And to be fair, the burgers Bernie’s serves up are very decent burgers (although I’ve always thought their fries are much better). Still, I’m a contrarian, and haven’t always agreed with it topping so many of the best food trucks and best burgers lists in Houston. Good, but not that good. You know?

The fries are hella good.
The fries are hella good, tho.

But with the aforementioned praise via Facebook, I though what the hell, let’s try it again. Maybe I’ll learn something new.

I mentioned that the brick and mortar location of Bernie’s Burger Bus is just off Bellaire, but you’re better off coming in from Chimney Rock. You’ll find the burger haven located off to the side in yet another strip mall next to Red Wing shoes. Houston and its friggin’ strip malls.

I swear one day someone’s going to find the cure for cancer in this town and it’ll probably be in a strip mall. (Someone please tell me there’s a strip mall inside MD Anderson).

When I stopped by, I was feeling peckish and exhausted after a particularly grueling graveyard shift (and no make-up naps) the night before, so I hadn’t even bothered to try and look like a human being. I was only missing the belt on my head for a full blown Captain Quail cosplay. It didn’t matter, though. Burgers do not judge.

When you enter Bernie’s, one of the first things you’ll notice (aside from the fact that it’s in a strip mall) is that there’s a facsimile of a bus parked inside the establishment, and tables and booths surround that big yellow nod to Bernie’s roots with an expansive patio.

All image credit: Hugo Esteban Rodriguez
Like a cooler school cafeteria — with truffle fries.

I’ve got to give it to Bernie’s. They’ve got a massive burger menu — but it’s especially large when you consider that this restaurant started on a converted school bus — and each burger follows the school-related theme.

Unlike other places we’ve reviewed, there aren’t just the two options: Burger 1, with the works; Burger 2, the works, with bacon.

Nope, each has its own personality.

There’s the Cheerleader, the Pre-Schoolers, and the Hall Pass — and everything in between. There’s also the option to build your own burger, should you prefer to do that. Nothing is sacred.

And not just the names are interesting. The Pre-K paleo burger is a grass fed beef patty, roasted red peppers, “tipsy” onions, baby arugula, shredded romaine, cucumbers, roasted garlic tomatoes, and a duet of sauces. The Exchange Student is a house-ground lamb burger topped with smoked gouda cheese, herbed aioli, roasted red peppers, “tipsy” onions, and shredded lettuce. The others follow suit.

I thought very briefly about attempting the Detention Burger, but just contemplating that monstrosity gave me horrible flashbacks to when I was unable to finish a 1lb burger at Nick’s Place a couple of weeks ago, and quickly bowed out.

It wasn’t just from the price that overwhelmed me, though — it comes with a whopping $17 price tag — but the burger itself. The Detention Burger sounds disgustingly awesome: two crispy bacon grilled cheeses used as a bun for two cheddar cheeseburger patties, “tipsy” onions, and all the fixings from my regular burger, but I couldn’t.

Nope. Not today, Detention Burger.

I opted for the Principal Burger instead — a classic burger with your choice of cheese, all homemade mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, thin sliced onions, pickles, shredded lettuce, and slow roasted garlic tomato — and added a fried egg.

So many school-themed burgers…

Service was quick, and this beautiful burger went from bus to plate in about eight to ten minutes.

Oh, and did I mention Bernie’s ketchup, mayo and mustard are all made in-house? Because they are.

The mustard is solid, and the ketchup is just, well, eh…but it’s just okay. You should still try them.

I don’t know if it was that I’d only slept three hours the two days prior, or maybe just that I miss burgers after several days of not eating them, but this burger immediately hit the spot. It was cooked right.

This shit is bananas.
This shit is bananas.

My girlfriend agreed. She’d ordered the Hall Pass, a ground chicken burger combo, and was quick to point out it ranked as one of the best burgers she’s had.

“Crave-worthy,” she said. Three bites in, and she was already calling it as good as Tornado Burger.

I won’t be as as hasty with my deductions, but it was definitely a tasty burger, and quite unlike Tornado, Bernie’s doesn’t close at 3 p.m.

I managed to finish my burger without much pain. The egg, perfectly fried, manages not to splatter all over my plate and/or shirt — a rare but welcomed quality from an egg-topped burger — and while quite content, the burger was just enough. After that debacle at Nick’s, it’s nice to feel like I don’t need to be wheeled out of the restaurant.

Quite surprisingly, Bernie’s ended up being cathartic for my burger-weary belly. I feel like I can taste and enjoy burgers again. And next time, I’ll be ready to conquer that Detention monstrosity.

Hugo Esteban RC

"You can take the Mexican out of the Valley, but you can't take the Valley out of the Mexican. Writer, poet, interpreter."

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