How d’you Mooyah?

April 18, 2012

I have just finished dinner at Mooyah’s, Hot Springs’ latest entry into the chain restaurant market.

The verdict — probably the best fast-food hamburger I’ve ever had, and I’ve had Five Guys and In-n-Out. Back years and years ago, when Back Yard Burgers first started out, I thought they were the best fast-food burger I’d ever had; it’s hard to compare across decades, particularly since BYB is not nearly now what it was when the first franchise opened in Memphis.

Mooyah’s is a relatively new franchise brand, starting out just five years ago in Texas. Arkansas joins Texas, Tennessee, California and Connecticut (I see no geographic sense to the franchise marketing, but what do I know?) as the five states currently sporting locations, and Hot Springs is the only franchise so far in the state. It stakes its claim on the “better burger” fast casual segment, and caters to parents with young kids (big wall of chalkboard, with buckets of chalk) and teens (pub-style tables that seat a dozen or so).

Ordering is simple and fast. Grab a menu slip from the holder near the counter, write your name at the top, mark what you want and what you want on it. Turn it in, pay, and get your drinks, then wait — less than five minutes at dinnertime, I think — until they call your name and ticket number.

They do burgers and dogs, regular fries and sweet potato fries, soft drinks, and a fairly impressive menu of shakes. Plenty of available toppings for the burgers — onion strings, four or five kinds of cheese, the standard veggies plus avocado, bacon, and I’m not sure what all else. Fries are fresh-cut and fried, and are soft; the sweet potato fries, interestingly, have a top layer of cinnamon at the upper edge of the cup-style container they’re served in, but that gives way to a definite cayenne flavor toward the bottom. It’s a combo I’d have never thought of, but it works.

Burgers are fresh, never frozen beef, according to the owner, who’s a long-time friend. And they’re good. They’re about a third of a pound, juicy, nicely seasoned. Buns are baked in-house, in big ovens similar to Subway ovens, and come in white and wheat, with a substantial topping of sesame seeds. They looked good; I opted to have my burger sans bun, in deference to my gluten issues, and didn’t realize until later that they offered a version called the “iceburger,” which comes sandwiched between big lettuce leaves.

I had mine with onion strings, avocado, Swiss cheese, and A-1 sauce, which came on the side and which I didn’t use, the burger being well-seasoned enough without it. And the aforementioned sweet potato fries. I was moderately hungry, and it filled me up; I could’ve left a quarter of both the burger and fries and been well-satisfied.

Two minor quibbles, which are really the same quibble. Eat-in orders come in bags, the burger wrapped in foil-backed paper, or paper-baked foil, just like the to-go orders. That’s not a problem unless, as I did, you plan to eat it with a knife and fork (plastic, but substantial). You’ll slice through a piece of foil like that in a hurry, and I’m a little iffy about eating food that has touched a tabletop in a restaurant. I’d like a paper plate or tray for folks like me who opt out of a bun.

And it’s pricy. Two burgers, two fries, two drinks and a shake ran $28 and change. That’s not enough to keep me from going back, but it’s enough that I’m not going to go every time NS wants a burger. By constrast, a double Sonic burger, fries and a shake runs about $8. Now, it is not nearly as good, I will grant. But there are other pub-style restaurants around that I can get a burger and fries that rival this for less. Of course, then I’m usually drinking beer with it, so it comes out about the same.

In any event, you and y’mama ‘n ’em give Mooyah’s a try. It’s a welcome addition to the local restaurant assemblage.



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