Thursday, June 23, 2011

Burger joint of the week: Cotham's Mercantile

Posted By on Thu, Jun 23, 2011 at 8:15 AM

LEGENDARY:  Cothams famed Hubcap burger
It’s been half a year since I started posting these burger joint recommendations, and you’ve probably wondered one thing: why haven’t I covered the most famous burger in Arkansas?

Well, frankly… I was out trying all these new burgers…

Still, no burger tour would be complete without a visit to Cotham’s Mercantile in Scott. A landmarks for about umpteen million reasons, Cotham’s is where the powers that be meet the foodies and the food celebrities and the home folks. It because so popular that a second location, Cotham’s in the City, was opened.

So if you live in Little Rock, why in tarnation would you go all the way out to Scott to get a burger when you could have one right on Third Street?

Well, there’s the atmosphere, sure.

But there’s also the burger. I made an egregious mistake when I ordered a Hubcap the other day. I chose to stick with fries instead of onion rings. That shoulda been my undoing right there. While I waited on my burger to come out I watched one order after another delivered to tables… all with the big, inch-thick fat cut crusty sided golden rings of joy piled high to one side. I won’t make that mistake again.

At least I didn’t make the other mistake. I love fried green tomatoes, but I don’t care for Cotham’s because they’re too thin. And people keep telling me “no, they’re really thick!” but both times I’ve had them they’ve been rather thin and more cornmeal than tomato. Meh. Maybe I will try again.

That being said, the skin-on fries that came with my burger were good, nicely salt-and-pepper dusted and strong enough for ketchup. But you don’t want to hear about that.

You want to hear about the burger. And I’ll tell you this — the patty for the Hubcap burger is nice, seedless and fluffy. The patty is thick, deliciously seasoned with that Cotham’s special spice heavy on onion powder and a snap of thyme, griddle-crusted and cooked to medium well. The tomatoes and lettuce and pickles and onions are plentiful. But why in the world is the darn thing sold without a bottom bun?

I am jesting, of course. A bottom bun does come with the whole affair. But if you don’t eat yours all in one setting, it’ll disappear.

Really, it’s all in the way the burger is made. The American cheese (if you get your Hubcap with cheese) glues the patty to the untoasted bun on top. That means all of the vegetation (purple onions, tomato slices, ridgy hamburger dills and iceberg lettuce) gets placed on top of the mayo (the default condiment; you have to ask for mustard) which results in a big, fat, wet mess.

The solution to all of this is to eat the burger upside down. That’s what I do, anyway.

So is the Cotham’s Hubcap worthy of the fame it’s garnered? Well, I won’t deny it’s a good burger. My only real issue is the price — $9.49 for a cheeseburger with fries. Seems steep, even though it is a pounder. For comparison — Frostop’s Big Daddy is $7.95. The Rock at Arkansas Burger Company is $6.50 with a bag of chips.

Still… it is Cotham’s. There is a certain amount of reverence involved in making the pilgrimage, walking through the doors at the old Mercantile and observing the atmosphere that’s entertained generations of wayward food lover. Besides, it’s worth a peek at the napkin art.

You’ll find Cotham’s in Scott at the intersection of Highway 161 and Cotham Road, a few blocks east of Highway 165 and the Plantation Agriculture Museum. It’s about a 12 minute drive from the outskirts of North Little Rock. Open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday, til 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and closed Sunday. (501) 961-9284.

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