Freshly back in town from the grueling convention and Symposium tour, I wanted a meal with my favorite wifeyperson. Lunch seemed like a natural, so I shot her a note by Google Talk and asked if she would be free about then. She said sure, and could she bring Deniz? Well, the zoom-car really only seats two comfortably, but a third human can be wedged into the back, so I said yes. (Small children fit better.) Deniz is athletic and limber, so I was sure we could
force her into the seat by folding her like a pretzel make it. Besides, we weren’t going that far.
I wanted a burger. Nothing fancy, just a filling, properly cooked hunk of ground cow with the trimmings. I would have settled for my favorite drive-thru, Whataburger, but PJ had other ideas…
We loaded up and headed out, and within a few minutes (and after only one wrong turn) we found ourselves looking for a parking spot in the rough vicinity of Burnet and Northland in north Austin. This part of town doesn’t have a lot of parking spaces, since many of the businesses have taken over former residences or smaller firms. Like Phil’s Ice House. They’re in an old gas station and garage, it appears. A nice location, but a real absence of parking. (Don’t park across the side street, they’ll have your car towed away, I hear.)
We found a skinny slot around back and we squeezed in. Then we hurried to see what the crowd on the street was all about. A medical emergency? Nope. Car crash? Uh uh. Celebrity sighting? It could have been, with all the Hollywood escapees in these parts. But no, it wasn’t anything that exciting.
Turns out, even though we were early, the lunch crowd was already forming a mob, er, big line to get some of Phil’s fare. Sheesh.
We joined the crowd and eventually elbowed our way up to the ordering area. This place is tiny, I’m telling you! Decorated in eclectic, “Keep Austin Weird” style, the colors and activity were a true assault on the senses. The smells were inviting and soothing, especially since I wanted a burger and that’s their specialty.
In spite of their close quarters, they pump the folks through at lunch. There’s an indoor dining area, which was stuffed, and an outside area that had some open tables. There are rides for the kiddies too, so this is truly a family-friendly eatery. (A couple of them looked fun enough I considered giving them a try. I couldn’t stand the wait, though; kids everywhere!)
With only three of us eating, we couldn’t try everything on the menu. Phil’s has eight “standard” burgers, and a make-your-own. They also offer a mini-burger sampler basket, and you can even have a single mini-burger if you’re looking for a snack. If you’re not up for a burger, they offer a chicken sandwich topped with Monterey Jack cheese, a crunchy fish sandwich, a grilled foot-long hot dog and corn dogs, and Frito pie. There are a couple of kids’ choices, not so many that getting the yoongsters to choose is a problem.
Beverages include the usual fountain favorites, as well as bottled beer (domestics and Shiner, Corona, Dos Equis), beer on tap (Live Oak!), and several wines (Becker Fumé Blanc and Iconoclast Cabernet, Knife and Fork Shiraz, Lindemans Chardonnay). Not your normal thirst-quaffing lineup for a hamburger joint!
On to the burgers! PJ ordered her favorite, the Violet Crown. This sandwich features bleu cheese and grilled onions, and is served on a toasted jalapeño cheese bun. I went for the Rosedale, which includes Cheddar cheese and mesquite barbeque sauce. The bun for that one is the other bun choice at Phil’s, toasted sourdough. Tangy and tasty! Ms D has the Allandale, which is the classic American burger: Cheddar cheese, mayo and mustard, and all the usual
Other offerings include the Brentwood, which is a loaded bacon cheeseburger; the Crestview, with chili and cheese; the 78704 (named for the zip code of the other Phil’s location), also known as the South of the River Burger, which has a tasty combination of cheese, jalapeños, avocado and chipotle mayonnaise; The Jardin, which includes a slice of ham (a la San Miguel); And the Phil-a-Buster, which is a double-meat double-cheese burger. That one’s only for the competitive eaters in the crowd, given how large Phil’s standard burgers are.
No, I didn’t forget the sides. Phil’s has a novel standard offering: Mixed Fries. These plentiful sticks of goodness are a combination of French fries and sweet potato fries. Since sweet potatoes are supposed to be better for you, you can claim you’re eating healthy. Just in case you’re suffering any guilt about eating a large lunch, you see. (We’re simply trying to help.) You can order sweet potato fries only, or standard French fries. All of these are hand-cut and prepared to order. I chose the last possible option, the hand-cut onion rings.
These onion rings aren’t the huge, over-breaded goliaths that other places serve. Phil’s onion rings are thinly sliced, well separated and lightly coated with a seasoned flour-cornmeal breading before frying. One risk with thin rings, and the reason so many other restaurants won’t even try them, is it’s very easy to over-fry them. You’ve got to watch that fry basket like a hawk, and when things are going crazy in the kitchen and you’re buried in orders, it’s all too easy to let the rings go a minute too long.
Phil’s cooks don’t make that mistake. Even in the heat of the lunch campaign. These rings were very tasty, with a good onion flavor. Sweet, not overly breaded, and with plenty of crunch.
I got to eat about half of them, actually. Next time, I’m going to Phil’s alone so I won’t have to share my onion rings. Or maybe I’ll just get two orders.
Phil’s has only been around a few years, but in that time they’ve garnered several awards, including “Best Place to Take Your Kids” and runner-up for Best Fries and Best Hamburgers in the Austin Chronicle’s Readers Choice Awards.
In the same building you can get dessert. Amy’s Ice Cream, to be more specific. We couldn’t resist, although we maybe should have. I had Mexican Vanilla, with some walnuts crunched in. Outstanding stuff!
Overall, I’d put Phil’s Ice House in the top 2-3 burger places in Austin. (It’s my spouse’s favorite.) The food’s great, the choices are pure Austin in style (and name), and the atmosphere’s fun, curious and unique. If you’re after fancy, though, you’d better go someplace else. Ditto if you don’t want to wait with the crowds for a chance at the great grub…
Phil’s Ice House, 5620 Burnet Rd., Austin, TX 78756 (and in south Austin at 2901 S. Lamar) 512.524.1212 Dine in and Takeout, Open 7 Days a Week, Lunch and Dinner
Enjoy the (Austin Style Burgers) Heat!
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