Chef Bobby Couch has a stacked burger called The Otis ($7.95), named after a bartender next door; a vegetarian burger ($5.95) made with a house blend of grains; a basket of salty, hand-cut fries ($3.50); a snappy Coney ($4) covered in homemade slaw and meat chili; and the star of the show, a Depression-era fried onion burger ($4.75) of Sooner fame.
That's it — that's the menu. Paradox of choice, thy savior is Couch.
"Probably 90 percent of the people who come in here are like, 'Thank you for having a small menu,'" says the 40-year-old veteran of local restaurants like Nosh and the Craftwood Inn. "It keeps the headache away from choosing what you're going to eat that day."
Fresh off a stint cooking at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the new chef-owner is a tall, wiry guy with a big, likable grin and a compelling way of making his cozy dining room your cozy dining room.
It starts with about $15,000 in renovations to the spot next to the Zodiac bar, which resulted in a few reshuffled walls, some corrugated metal and just enough green and red paint to take you home. It could live anywhere, but directly harkens back to El Reno, Okla., where the cebolla chuck is king of the countryside.
"Chef Bobby learned his craft at the Mecca of the fried onion burger world — a humble joint known as Sid's Diner," reads a table tent. "This proverbial hole-in-the-wall has been featured on the Food Channel and in a variety of food and travel magazines."
Green Line Grill is next up, if you ask me. Its burgers start as hunks of beef custom ground by Andy's Meat Market on Platte Avenue, after which Couch himself adds enough fat to achieve a 70-30 ratio. Balled on the grill, they're seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic, then smashed with modified masonry trowels into a tangled mass of Spanish onions, resulting in a hissing duet when combined with the overhead Stevie Ray Vaughan.
"I start caramelizing on one side, and I'll flip it and sear the hell out of the backside, and then I flip it back over and let it ride on low," Couch says. "And it just catches everything; the flavor just melts in there."
Not that the chef would ask for temperature requests anyway, but these babies, cooked to brown every time around, are never dry. Some romaine, tomatoes, ketchup and mustard later, you're luckily looking at lunch.
Elsewhere, the Otis adds the squishy, homemade veggie patty — a mouthwatering Southwestern combination of quinoa, rice, black beans, peppers, onions, potatoes and spices that ranks as the only burger made of plants I've ever wanted to eat on purpose — to create a steaming-hot monstrosity with surprising complexity.
Cuts of Russet potatoes are rinsed in triplicate in ice-cold water, to remove the starch, resulting in dense, deeply flavored fries; while the hot dogs, from Koegel Meats in Michigan, come covered in a buffering layer of meat chili that floats a neon-yellow pickled mash of sweet El Reno slaw. Naturally, the bun is completely useless.
Revised bread is probably coming, though, says Couch, as well as some malts and "badass" soups for winter. There's so little I'd want to change about the place that any addition feels threatening, but it's hard not to trust chef Bobby Couch.
"Nobody will ever tell you that I cook bad food," he says, grinning. Simple as that.