Of all the sins that can be visited upon a hamburger, overcooking is the worst. A close second would be loading the hapless sandwich with stuff that most reasonable people would never dream of, like funeral potatoes.
Actually, that second sin is none of my business. It’s between you and your confessor, whoever that may be. Also, since I recently tasted a burger topped with funeral potatoes at Fat Jack’s Burger Emporium and Tap House and found it quite palatable, I should just shut up and let you pile on as your whim dictates. As for the original sin of overcooking, I never saw it committed at Fat Jack’s.
If deciding what to leave OFF a burger is your problem, Fat Jack’s is not the solution. The list of add-ons is deep, from a fried egg to kimchi. The bun is a sturdy brioche (made by Vosen’s of Salt Lake City), so it can withstand some abuse. Just try to remember you’re building something that should be able to fit in your mouth.
That was a problem with My Mexico ($10), one of 10 designer burgers whose toppings are chosen for you. I finally gave up and used a fork, rather than have the whole assembly — perfectly pink beef, pepper jack cheese, fried egg, peppered bacon, fried jalapeños, avocado, corn salsa, chimichurri mayonnaise, cilantro, lettuce, tomato and onion — fall disassembled into my lap.
It was still messy, but tasty, although when there are that many toppings, I find the flavor of the meat gets lost. And it is good beef, sourced through the Niman Ranch network, which claims its animals are raised humanely and never fed antibiotics. It also supplies the restaurant’s chicken.
Fat Jack’s boasts a commitment to quality with other ingredients as well: In addition to Vosen’s, the restaurant uses cheeses produced in the Heber Valley and sells beer from such craft brewers as Uinta and Wasatch as part of its sizable beer menu, 100 in all.
While the restaurant is attached to the Holiday Inn Express, it is not part of the hotel. It’s a casual place, with sturdy wood tables and chairs and a small bar at the front. On the side fronting West Temple, there’s an overhead door that can be opened between the small patio and the restaurant, which allows more customers to enjoy the weather. My favorite place to sit would be at the small counter on the patio because you can watch life on the street.
Somewhat wiser after my first visit, I went straight for the fork with the Frenchy ($9.29), a classic combo of medium rare beef topped with ham, brie and caramelized mushrooms. This lovely protein complex was supported by a bed of arugula, sliced tomato and red onion, while a schmear of spicy honey mustard accentuated the ham. I could taste the beef, along with everything else, in this one. Magnifique, to put it simply.
The meat really shines, however, in a classic burger ($7.59) for which you choose the toppings. Items like cheddar, tomato, lettuce, pickles and avocado are traditional for a reason: They accent the beefy flavor. And, I might add, make the burger easier to pick up and eat.
But who could resist, at least once, the Mormon burger ($9.29)? Yep, that’s the one with funeral potatoes, that comfort casserole built with potatoes, cheese, sour cream, etc. A little layer of that on top of a burger, also adorned with cheddar cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato and onion, adds an interesting flavor and texture. It’s no more bizarre than putting pommes frites (really skinny crisp fries) on the Seoul burger ($8.29), along with house-made kimchi, a fried egg, spicy mayo and cilantro. That was also interesting, and tasty, but messy.
We were disappointed to learn that the Seoul burger was the only way to get pommes frites. We had to make do with garlic fries ($3.49), which were not very garlicky; onion rings ($3.79), which boasted a light crisp batter; and sweet potato fries ($3.49), which were too thick for my taste but actually tasted like sweet potato. The regular fries ($2.99) are a bit thinner, but not as crisp as the frites I really wanted. The menu is à la carte, so fries and other side dishes have to be ordered separately.
You could avoid the whole fry conundrum by ordering the generous house salad ($8.79), loaded with tomato, cucumber, radish, red onion, corn salsa and a little chopped bacon. Then you could order a veggie burger draped in melted pepper jack and wrapped in lettuce ($8.49) and be a virtuous, (mostly) clean eater. It’s a good veggie burger, tasting mostly of black beans, but it was missing the promised avocado.
Or maybe just get your veggies in the mushroom Swiss burger ($8.29). It boasts lettuce, tomato and onion, along with caramelized mushrooms, Swiss cheese and a swipe of rosemary-flavored mayo.
Fat Jack’s offers other sandwiches, such as pastrami ($9.79); an excellent grilled cheese with cheddar and pepper jack ($7.49); and a chicken club panini ($8.29) that comes on crisp sourdough and includes bacon, avocado, lettuce tomato and chimichurri-spiked mayo.
The tap house offers more than a dozen beers on tap, most of them locally brewed, and dozens more in bottles and cans, including selections from Epic and Proper Brewing, both based in Salt Lake City. If beer with a burger isn’t your thing, there are a dozen respectable wines by the glass and/or bottle.
But you might prefer a milkshake with that Mormon burger. There are 10 flavors, from standard vanilla ($4.50) to more exotic offerings that include peanut butter banana ($5.50) or toasted marshmallow ($5.50), billed as the “unicorn” of milkshakes. I have to admit, I have not seen that on a menu anywhere, but perhaps I wasn’t looking.
Servers are casual and friendly, but couldn’t always answer our questions, such as why some menu items were labeled with a heart.
Fat Jack’s is kid friendly in that it has high chairs, crayons and a kid’s menu that includes chicken tenders, sliders, grilled cheese or chili (all $6.99 and served with a side and drink). But if you need an emergency diaper change, you’ll have to go next door to the hotel to find a bathroom with a changing table.
Since Fat Jack’s is not part of the Holiday Inn, you can’t park in the hotel lot. You’ll have to find street parking or a pay lot. I’m guessing most of Fat Jack’s customers will be conventiongoers at the nearby Salt Palace, guests at neighboring hotels or downtown worker bees. The restaurant also offers catering.
A number of fine Salt Lake City restaurants offer gourmet burgers, but they all cost more than Fat Jack’s. And they certainly don’t offer the beer selection. If you want quality beef, and permission to do whatever you like to it, Fat Jack’s might be worth a visit. If you lose control and overload your sandwich, you can always repent.
Fat Jack’s Burger Emporium and Tap House ★★½ (out of 4 stars) Food: ★★½ Mood: ★★ Service: ★½ This locally owned restaurant offers 100 beers and a menu of gourmet burgers that are cooked to order. Standouts include the Frenchy, with ham and brie, and the mushroom Swiss burger. Or you can build your own burger from an extensive list of add-ons. A selection of 100 beers, including a good number from Utah craft brewers, more than complements the menu. Location • 206 S. West Temple; 801-890-5155 Online • www.fatjacksut.com Hours • Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 9 p.m. Children’s menu • Yes Prices • $$ Liquor • Beer and wine Reservations • No Takeout • Yes Wheelchair access • Yes Outdoor dining • Yes On-site parking • No Credit cards • Yes