feed the beast

Burger Gauntlet, Supersized: We Tried to Conquer a One-Pound Beast at Nick’s Place

by Hugo Esteban Rodriguez Posted: 08-26-15 | 2 years ago
2015-08-25 20.18.31

I have never spent any time in Philadelphia, or been anywhere in the entire state of Pennsylvania for that matter. I have, however, had a Philly Cheesesteak, and it was when I was back home in the Valley. A guy that had spent some time in Philadelphia opened a bar and grill down in the very tip of South Texas, and I just had to try this “Cheez Whiz” thing.

It was disgusting. It was amazing. And it has nothing to do with burgers, but you should still know that Nick’s Place in West Houston, right off of Westheimer Road, has Cheez Whiz available for their cheesesteaks.

But Hugo, this is about burgers.

Fine, fine.

So after a recent hour-long workout (in which I burned about 500 calories), I decided to throw away most of that effort by getting a burger, preferably from somewhere I hadn’t tried before. (That list is getting shorter and shorter, by the way, so thank you all for your suggestions.) And being the practical creature that I am, I decided to hit up Nick’s Place because it was near a Target I needed to stop by at on the way back. Plus some friends had highly recommended the environment and the food there.

I mean, why not?

Parking was an interesting situation. Making a right on to Rockyridge, we saw a massive a mount of cars lining the exterior of Nick’s Place. I was slightly concerned, considering I was genuinely hungry enough to eat Taco Bell, and my post-caloric workout needs probably would not have tolerated a long wait. But to my surprise, the bar was relatively empty, and we were sitting down and ordering drinks in under four minutes.

Photo credits: Hugo Esteban Rodriguez. There are more TVs in this establishment than there are in any small European country.
There are more TVs in this establishment than there are in any small European country.

There was a baseball game on, by the way — worth mentioning because the Astros were inexplicably destroying the Yankees, 9-0.

It’s easy to tell that this place has the potential to get packed on football nights. Which means if you’ve any interest in following college football, you could do much worse than Nick’s Place — there’s not only food and beer but also televisions all around you. This ain’t Buffalo Wild Wings, where if you’re not following the game of the week, you’re stuck craning your neck to check out the much-smaller flatscreens that may or may not be showing anything other than that weird poker/trivia game.

First mistake? Ordering a soft drink and deciding to split an appetizer with my girlfriend. (Jalapeño burger bites with ranch dip…delicious and filling.)

But I wasn’t there for a burger-appetizer. I was there for a major-league burger, dammit. I chose the Justice Burger with homemade mashed potatoes on the side, because it’s a “mammoth one pound burger with three kinds of cheese, mustard and pickles.” Have I mentioned I love cheese? I love cheese. I love cheese so much that I made my second mistake: Forgetting exactly how much one pound of food really is.

My girlfriend saw the burger first, her eyes wide:

“Wow, I think that’s your burger.”

Sure enough, it was. And, well…just look at the photo.

The burger is the size of a toddler's head.
The burger is the size of a toddler’s head.
I took a bite, managing not to dislodge my jaw through some clever neck-twisting and it’s then that the cheesiness hit me hard. Good cheesiness, cheesiness that envelops the seasoned ground-beef patty and sets off every positive taste receptor.
Still, I had to ask, why is it called the Justice Burger?
The waitress knows the answer, but decides to confirm it with owner Nick, who’s just come out of a back office. Nick is a jovial man who reminds me a bit of the Travel Channel’s own Andrew Zimmern. He approaches our table and tells us how a friend of his named a burger after a news personality. He decided to do the same for his own restaurant.
At that point in time, then-Houston Chronicle writer and current MLB columnist Richard Justice was hosting a radio show at Nick’s Place. Nick asked Justice how he liked his burgers, and lo and behold, the Justice Burger was born.  And it’s far from the only item on the menu with an interesting back story though, so if you head out there, feel free to ask Nick or the waitstaff about your entree’s story of origin.
After Nick left, I forced myself back to the delicious (yet harrowing) endeavor of eating the burger. Each bite is as tasty as the last (although it lacks the multi-faceted levels of taste like Tornado or Bubba’s), and it’s surprisingly not messy. This is a bit confounding, because a pound of beef and cheese should be messy, but everything stays neat under the bun.
Mashed potatoes on the background.
Mashed potatoes on the background.

The cheese on the Justice Burger is responsible, melted into the patties and the burger with care. This isn’t a place where they’ll take a slice of Kraft singles, microwave it for 15 seconds and place it on the patty. All good things.

But there is another mistake I made that night.

My third and final mistake: Getting stupid mashed potatoes for a side instead of something less filling. Three strikes and I’m out. I found myself slow to get to the bench, even. I wanted to take a stand against this burger.

I text a friend a picture, she’s concerned.

The Astros are now 15-0 after a six-run explosion in the seventh inning. I don’t recognize these Astros.
I don’t recognize myself. The burger’s defeated me, both in glorious taste and in spirit.
I am reaching Kafka-esque levels of existentialist thought.
The burger’s just barely half-eaten.
I wave the towel, I’m out.
The Yankees score a consolation run.
15-1, Astros — and there is a half-pound of beef and cheese just sitting in my stomach. Mighty Hugo has struck out.


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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