With the closing of The Strip House and Samba Grille, it hasn't been a great week for downtowners. But there's at least one new restaurant in the area worth checking out.
Located just west of I-45 and the skyscraper district, The Refinery markets itself as a "burgers and whiskey" concept, and true to form a giant bar runs through the central portion of the mostly open-air establishment just west of downtown.
The walls have some oil and gas kitsch, but mostly this is a get-down-to-basics joint with unfussy tables and a solid menu of specialty burgers, Akaushi beef hot dogs, sandwiches (from grilled cheese to crispy chicken) and few standard healthy options. There's also a modest selection of local and craft beers (served in mason jars) alongside the serious whiskey collection.
While the burgers were perfectly decent, it was the sides that make me want to come back for more.
Based on a rule I call "the Texadelphia principle," I try the chips and queso at virtually every restaurant that offers them, because despite a lack of Tex-Mex bonafides you never know when you'll be pleasantly surprised. Refinery's chips and queso were more typical for a burger joint, with stale chips and a white queso that, while mild and not unpleasant to taste, was almost too thick to break into.
The queso was a rough start, but virtually everything else at Refinery impressed. My Swiss burger (sauteed mushrooms, onions and Swiss cheese, hold the mayo) came out medium well instead of medium rare, but the medium-thick patty still held some juiciness and the pretzel bun added a nice counterpoint of sweetness. The toppings were proportioned well, adding a strong dose of flavor without overwhelming the burger.
My friend's Standard Burger with onion, tomato, pickles, house sauce and a fried egg was also more charred than expected.
While the burgers were perfectly decent, it was the sides that make me want to come back for more. Waffle fries looked just like Chick-fil-A's except slightly thicker, giving them a soft-to-crispy potato ratio that came pretty close to ideal. The onion rings were also amazing, with thick, smoothly breaded exteriors. Sweet and lightly crispy, they didn't do that annoying onion ring thing where you take a bite and the entire onion insists on sliding out of the breading (my No. 1 onion ring pet peeve).
Refinery still has some stiff burger competition in the neighborhood, sitting firmly between downtown's Hubcap Grill and Lankford Grocery in Midtown, but for a casual place that serves decent food for decent money — above ground — there's a lot to like here.