[box type="note" fontsize="14"]Update: Things have changed at JerryBuilt, and we take another look.[/box]
It wouldn't be unfair to say that a great burger is one of my favorite things. There's something essentially American about the hamburger - it's portable, filling, and available in every big city and tiny hamlet from coast to coast. Some burgers are inexpensive, some are very pricey. Many are uninspiring; a few are extraordinary. The search for extraordinary burgers was one of the original motivations for creating this blog, and it's an obsession that continues to this day.
A few weeks ago, we attended a media preview of the brand-spanking-new JerryBuilt Homegrown Burgers location on Holcombe. It is the prototype store, and after chatting with the owners, I was thrilled to discover that a second location would follow shortly, this one being in the Woodlands.
When opening day arrived (no pre-opening events for this now seasoned team) we made a trek to the Woodlands Mall parking lot to JerryBuilt's new location. Unlike the standalone Holcombe location (in a converted bank building) the Woodlands store is located in a small strip center on the north side of the Mall's ring road. Parking is ample, and there's even shade; an important consideration around lunchtime in Texas.
The Woodlands store is a larger location, with plenty of seating. The interior has a similar design ethic as the gorgeous Holcomb location; clearly the owners care about proving a pleasant, family-friendly setting. Being a new restaurant in the Woodlands the place was packed; business types, teens out shopping, and plenty of families. The well-trained staff was handling the deluge of hungry diners with ease, we were impressed with the smoothness of the operation on opening day.
We ordered at the counter, grabbed our cups, and went to find a table. On the way, we spent some quality time with the Coke Freestyle machine, a hulking red behemoth that's touchscreen operated and a big draw with the iPad generation. Over 100 possible combinations can be concocted.
After filling our beverages, we headed back towards the seating area, and glanced into the open prep area. This is something we love about JerryBuilt - they're proud to show the world where and how they prep their food. We saw hardworking staff members laying out mounds of Three Brothers Bakery dough, ready to be baked into buns.
This brings us to a key part of the JerryBuilt philosophy: Great ingredients, locally sourced when practical. From the aforementioned Three Brothers dough to Niman Ranch beef to high quality produce, it's clear that JerryBuilt cares about putting a high quality product out for its customers. They go as far as to list the source of their ingredients on a blackboard wall in the main room.
As many high end burger places do, JerryBuilt cuts their fries fresh in house, but they take it one step further: They have a device that crinkle-cuts fresh potatoes. We don't know what sort of wizardry is behind such a device, but we approve heartily.
Attention to detail is an operational philosophy, and it shows everywhere you look. A highlight is an automated handwashing station at the side of the dining area. We saw preteen boys voluntarily washing their hands, a miracle as any parent can attest.
On our first visit to JerryBuilt, my bride was frustrated because there was nowhere to pour ketchup for her fries. She mentioned this to one of the owners, and lo and behold there was a dispenser by the new ketchup pumps, and it was stocked with tiny disposable cups to hold condiments. Many restaurateurs listen to customer feedback, but these guys were acting on it. Bravo.
We snared a good seat near the middle of the room, and in short order our burgers appeared. The packaging is unique - both burgers and fries are presented in small cardboard boxes, adorned with thoughtful sayings from sources as diverse as Albert Einstein and singer-songwriter Steve Forbert.
Looking inside, we were presented with a compact burger, carefully assembled from quality ingredients. The petite (by today's standards) quarter pound patty was placed atop the stunningly fresh veggies, nestled in the just-baked Three Brothers bun.
Biting into the burger reinforced the feeling of freshness. But it also revealed our lone disappointment with JerryBuilt... and unfortuately, it is a big one. We were underwhelmed with the flavor and texture of the beef. We noticed this first on our original visit to the Holcombe store, and wrote it off as a pre-opening snafu. But the impression was confirmed on two subsequent visits.
The Niman Ranch beef was cooked to medium well, and remained moderately juicy, a coup. But the texture was somewhat mushy, and the flavor of the beef was unappealing. Instead of the rich, beefy swagger we identify with the best burgers in town, we tasted a softer yet distinct flavor, one that we didn't find appealing. We experienced the same flavor on all three visits to JerryBuilt, so it must be by design.
Discussing the food at JerryBuilt with several friends who'd visited revealed a dichotomy of responses. Some friends loved the burgers. Others didn't, and all of those (including the Chronicle's esteemed food critic Alison Cook) commented on the flavor of the beef. Considering how seriously the owners of JerryBuilt are about listening to customer feedback, we have high hopes that this issue will be resolved promptly.
Other than this one shortcoming, we are very impressed by both the concept and the execution at JerryBuilt Burgers. We expect great things from them, and look forward to sampling more of their offerings in the near future.
JerryBuilt Homemade Burgers | 1335 Lake Woodlands Drive (in the Mall parking lot), The Woodlands 77380 | 281-367-2874 | JerryBuiltBurgers.com