Tuesday marked the launch of the much-hyped, much-delayed opening of East Side King’s newest and first ever brick-and-mortar restaurant at the Hole in the Wall. This development no doubt has local foodies foaming at the mouth as revered Austin chef Paul Qui unveils new menu selections at the location. But in the midst of all the fanfare over dressed-up ramen noodles and things that are hard to pronounce, it is easy to overlook the lost crowning culinary gem of the Drag, the Hole Burger.
It has been months upon months since I’ve enjoyed the greasy cuisine at, if not my favorite, then certainly the most conveniently located watering hole that I frequent. Many an ill spirit have I nursed back to health with a basket of salty fried okra washed down with a cold Lone Star. Nothing quite cured the “I just bombed that exam” blues better than a pitcher and the Tuesday buy-one-get-one burger special shared with my sweetie. The pains of a long and frustrating closing shift at my nearby retail job were blissfully whisked away by queso-smothered tater tots split with co-workers.
Like a fleeting lover, one day I awoke to find that it was all gone. Never to be heard from again. No goodbye, no parting words, no promise to reunite someday. Heartbreak ensued. I have searched high and low to find a burger to fill the void, but all lack the perfect formula of taste, location, laid-back atmosphere and budget-friendliness offered by the Hole dining experience. My efforts have been in vain; nobody utilizes bacon salt quite like the Hole in the Wall chefs.
My hope was briefly rekindled when I caught wind of rumors that food would be reappearing at Hole, but was extinguished again when murals touting “East Side King” showed up on the building’s south wall. I had never actually tried the food from the trailers of the same name parked behind a handful of hip East Sixth Street dive bars, so I had no negative opinion about the food. Yet somehow, I couldn’t get excited about the new arrival. Maybe my tastes aren’t refined enough to crave crafty Asian-inspired street food while I’m drinking cheap domestic beer by the pitcher and listening to the Rolling Stones on the jukebox.
Upon examination of the menu of the newest location, my doubt remains. It features a sampling of just about everything I never wanted to try as a kid, including Brussels sprouts, beets and squid ink, plus a slew of other ingredients that aren’t bacon salt or queso. If I wanted bean sprouts and cucumber kimchi, I’d turn to Whole Foods, not Hole food. For $8 you can delight in what college students have been stockpiling for pennies on the dollar since their parents cut them off — ramen noodles. Granted, unless you have some fukujinzuke or benishoga on reserve in your kitchen, your ramen will likely pale in comparison. Nothing a little Sriracha sauce can’t fix, right? But if you take advantage of happy hour or other drink specials, you might save enough money to splurge on the noodles.
Will I try Hole’s newest offerings? Eventually. Will I like it? Maybe I will. Will I ever admit to liking it? Unlikely, unless I can get some bacon salt on those fried beets.
Printed on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 as: Memories of old Hole still remain