The Austin Chronicle


Reviewed by Mick Vann, September 13, 2002, Food

Top Notch Restaurant

7525 Burnet Rd., 452-2181

Monday-Saturday, 11am-8pm

When you step inside Top Notch, you enter the world of "fast food" from the Sixties and Seventies, before chain restaurants destroyed our concept of what real food, served real fast could be. This is what someone of middle age grew up on, genuine food that makes no pretensions about what it is and isn't. For the Top Notch, its fried chicken, burgers, and the rest, cooked quickly with quality ingredients, served at a fair price, made by people who care.

Ray Stanish (who still pulls a few shifts weekly) bought Burkhart's Motor Dining (1963-71) in January of 1971 and immediately reopened as the Top Notch. His son James, the current manager, started bussing tables there when he was in junior high. Frances, James' mom and the owner, is likely to take your order at the counter when you enter. She is about 5 feet tall, has a voice like a bullfrog, and a heart of pure gold. All told, there are five family members who work the restaurant on a regular basis, and very little turnover in the other positions.

You can get curb service if you don't want to leave your car, but then you'd miss the subdued, spotlessly clean interior, mellow mood music, and the entertaining people-watching: an interesting mix of older neighborhood folks, professionals, and blue-collar workers. They are all here for the comfort food and the best fried chicken in town.

Top Notch's chicken starts with fresh, local chicken that's never been frozen. It gets a light coating of batter, and then is fried at a sensible temperature in quality oil that knows its way around a filter, giving you an end product that's light years ahead of chicken-chain offerings. The crust is smooth, crispy, and light golden brown, while the meat inside is juicy, tender, and flavorful. It's hard to find chicken like this these days ... really hard. You can get the chicken as part of a dinner, with fries, slaw, and Texas toast: $3.99 to $6.19, or as chicken only: $7.29 to $17.19.

Burgers are probably the next-highest draw, and Top Notch makes a mean burger. The Top Pick ($2.69) features a delicious flame-grilled patty with onions, cheese, and hickory sauce on a grilled bun. We're partial to the Longhorn ($3.85) with double meat, special sauce, and all the fixin's. The fries are thin and crispy, without all of the disco coatings you find everywhere today. The onion rings ($2.59) are real onions, hand-battered in corn meal, and perfectly cooked. These rings aren't the least bit greasy, and have the type of coating that grabs a hold of a dollop of ketchup and won't let go.

Chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, chicken-fried steaks, shrimp baskets, fish sandwiches and baskets, the Top Notch has it all, at very reasonable prices. You can even get a Weight Watcher's Special ($4.59) that has two broiled meat patties, toast, salad, and tea if you feel too guilty about eating the superlative chicken. Top Notch recently celebrated its 30th anniversary (and the $12.95 commemorative T-shirt is to die for!) and it's been around that long for a reason ... trust us.

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