When I found out Chef Luis Colon was the chef behind Lubbock’s newest Broadway Street pub and eatery, Bier Haus, I was excited. Colon, a San Antonio chef, has had a lot of good press down South around his Folc restaurant (R.I.P.). It was rated three stars and touted as one of San Antonio’s best. In 2016, Texas Monthly, the “self appointed arbiter of all things culturally Texan”, the 10-time National Magazine Award winner, the premier food and drink publication of this great state named Luis Colon’s Folc burger the best burger in the state. (Hold on to your salt shakers) That burger is now available in Lubbock… Theoretically.
Knowing this makes it all the more painful to have seen the Tommy Bonner saga unravel. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, surely the story does. Local restaurant (Bier Haus) owner bans patrons (and later apologizes) with tattoos visible above the neck because he fears gangs will rush to claim the establishment as narcotics trafficking territory. By banning their common branding feature (neck, face, and head tats) he will have eliminated the threat… Theoretically. I’m not sure where he was getting his intel about that stretch of Broadway Street but I’m pretty sure the porch swings on the patio across the street from H.G. Thrash wouldn’t be the Syndicate’s first choice for expanded market share in Lubbock. I’m not sure if he saw the scene at Chimy’s one weekend and misconstrued the huddled masses of short khaki short wearing, salty or southern-branded pigment dyed t-shirt donning, tall white tube sock clad baby-faced soches and thought them a roving band of murderous hoodlums. Or if he happened into The Local one weekday afternoon and mistook the 25 year-old day-drinkers as something more mischievous than man-children who aren’t accepting phone calls from their mothers until after finals week when they must again shamefully divulge another round of academic probation. I get it, these kids are drug-prowling little ruffians. But these days, youths don’t have to hang out in dark alleys or crack-houses for their next vial of Mary Jane. When it comes to illicit substances of choice for millennials, there are doctors and Colorado road trips for that. Who are the tattooed pushers Bonner is crusading against and why does he think they’re clamoring to sell to girls with pony-tails wearing t-shirts several sizes too big? Am I right?
Hell Yaaassss, I am.
The first time I ate at Bier Haus was on a Saturday around noon and it was very good. I tried the Bier Haus Burger and the All-American. The Bier Haus is a double cheese burger with a fried egg atop. The patties are thin here but they have that nice griddle-smashed flavor of an old-fashioned style burger and come dressed with the house sauce which is like a creamy, vinegary, ketchup. The buns here are extra special. They come out pillowy and soft almost like a King’s Hawaiian bun, but a little less sweet. Picking the burger up is pure joy as it imprints perfectly to every crease of your hands. It comes exactly as it should, nice green leaf of lettuce across the bottom to protect that delicate bun from the onslaught of juiciness you’re about to wage against it. The red onions are the perfect thickness and there are just the right amount. Pickles: check. American cheese, of course. There’s also a good amount of sauce added to the underside of the top bun—exactly as it should be. The fries are thick cut steak fries, which is my favorite kind especially if they’re seasoned well. These were ok. They were somewhat under-seasoned, similar to the burger. It was a five-star meal, perfectly executed minus the seasoning. Now the service left a bit to be desired.
“Wow, what kind of bun is this?”
Waitress: Hmmm, I don’t know. I love them.
“Are they made here?”
Waitress: Good question.
“What is this sauce?”
Waitress: I don’t know.
Great, do you want to ask someone… Or should I?
I did. The buns aren’t made there and the Bier Haus sauce is a “vinegary thousand island sauce”. Both are excellent.
My wife had a firsthand look at the “Squatters” restroom downstairs. And apparently the budget for convenient hardware went toward the “Charging Tree” outside, because she informed me that there was no toilet paper in the dispenser—just a free-range roll placed on any suitable surface. The soap dispenser was off the wall, sitting in the sink, and there were no paper towels. The “Standers” restroom seemed fine to me.
After such a delicious first time experience, I wanted to follow it up. The second time I went for the Folc Burger. The Best Burger In Texas. The burger that caused Chef Luis Colon to ration burgers out of his upscale American restaurant once demand got so high. The burger’s popularity upended his entire market. People weren’t ordering the lauded pea toast, hay-marinated carrots, or New York Strip with bone marrow anymore. They were all ordering the burger. The only burger on the menu. The burger that you can now get on Broadway Street in Lubbock, TX… Theoretically.
So I order the Folc Burger, this time on a Wednesday night. This time the service was great. The Folc Burger comes with a brisket patty, fried egg, and pork belly. I ordered it pink and it came perfectly cooked, but again very bland and under seasoned. The pork belly was a little tough and rubbery, which usually means it’s been under cooked. The egg yolk was pre-ruptured and barely hanging on the burger, meaning all the care and consideration given to the perfect construction of the previous burger, with the lettuce placement to preserve the bottom bun, was out the door. I put the burger back together best I could, picked it out of the egg yolk, half the bun already sopping, and tried to keep it together. Not the burger, that actually stayed together fine. But my feelings were a wreck, expectations dashed. This is not the best burger in Texas. It’s not even the best burger in Lubbock. This time the fries had no seasoning and the Grapefruit Chilton I ordered to combat the 100+ degree day had been scorched by the heat, too. Maybe it sat at the bar outside for too long or maybe it was under-iced from the start. Either way, by the time it got to me, it reminded me of iced dishwater. An ice-melted brine with essence of dull citrus.
I want to love this place and I especially want to give it a fair shake. So I went a third time. This time at night. We ordered the fried mushrooms, pork schnitzel, and fried chicken. When you order the fried chicken they tell you: “The fried chicken is going to take about 20 minutes, is that ok?” You’ll say yes, because you want to hang out anyway and 20 minutes isn’t long to wait for delicious fried chicken. But then all your unchicken food will come out in like eight minutes and you’ll be sitting there staring as you wait another 10-20 minutes on the fried chicken. Theoretically, they’d start the fried chicken, then once it was half way done, they’d start the unchicken so they could both come out hot to one table at the same time… Theoretically. Instead, what they should be asking if you order fried chicken is, “Are you both ok staring at each other over a plate of hot, fresh food for say 15 or 20 minutes as it cools, while the other waits for the fried chicken?” Because in my experience, that’s what will happen. The fried mushrooms were good, although under seasoned, The schnitzel was flavorless and the chicken was overcooked to the point of being dried-out and drawn-in. At least the margaritas are good.
You’ve probably figured this much, but Mr. Bonner ain’t from around here. He and Chef Colon both still live in the San Antonio region. According to Bonner’s Facebook page, he’s from Juarez, a place where one is used to looking over their shoulder. A place where there were 160 homicides in June alone. A place where sicario is more than a movie playing at Tinseltown at 3:45pm, 7:50pm, and 9:50pm this weekend. To him, Zetas are numerous, intimidating, and can be awfully startling. Similar to ZTAs here, but startling for reasons beyond the shock of seeing over-applied makeup. Surely we can forgive his indiscriminate paranoia and his obtuse sense of the area, he’s not exactly a local. Likewise, surely Chef Luis Colon will forgive him for turning an incredibly large audiences’ palette sour before the place had even served one of his curated dishes. And surely the aimless undergrad patronage of Broadway Street will forgive almost anything for a set of swings adjacent an outdoor bar, a mobile “Charging Tree”, and a few Adirondack chairs on Astroturf under a speaker blaring generic Red Dirt Country. If it weren’t for the atmosphere, this place would look like Conor McGregor in the late rounds of the Mayweather fight: wobbly and desperate for something to lean on. But the Broadway Street crowd is actually the perfect companion when you’re feeling a bit woozy. Hell, they’ll even hold back your hair.
Which brings me to my theory about Bier Haus. Despite all Chef Luis Colon’s skill and creativity in the kitchen, the Folc Burger just doesn’t travel well if the trip in question is so far out of his reach- i.e., from San Antonio to Lubbock. Despite all Bonner’s efficiency at alienating people in neighborhoods he’s apparently never been in, Bier Haus is going to do just fine. The quality of the food and service maybe like El Chapo’s prison cell floor: perfectly solid one day and hole so big you can drive a truck through it the next. But the facts remain, the patio is a great hang. There’s a guy in charge there, who I can only assume is the GM because he’s always there, who is really attentive to customers and seems to really care about the place. And thanks in large part to the forgiving, unscrupulous foot-traffic, Bier Haus has a little time to get it right, and maybe one day it will live up to its potential.
Better hurry though, it’s only a matter a time before the kitschy Gardski’s lore and Best Burger Chef fumes dissipate.