Upscale, Sit-Down Burgers
Relish the variety and savor the flavors of Austin's burger bounty
Sputnik1300 E. Sixth, 628-1250
Sunday-Thursday, 11am-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-12mid
Randall and Donya Stockton, the owners of Sputnik (they also have a hand in the Legendary White Swan, Live Oak Barbecue, Beerland, Shangri-La, Liberty, and the Grackle) took their gastropub, the Good Knight, and converted it into a funky and rock-solid burger, hot dog, beer, and cocktail joint. It seats 45 people or so in a dark space decorated with luscious, scantily clad vintage pinup girls; oversize booths predominate, while a bar runs the length of the east side. A few tables are on the sidewalk out front, where you can sit and watch East Austin groove on by. The jukebox is one of the better we've heard recently, with Lou Reed, Forties bottleneck blues, the Beatles, Big Momma Thornton, and Sinatra doing a bossa nova version of "Baubles and Bangles" as our dining background music.
Chef Aaron Zeilsdorf does a stellar job with the burgers, using a quarter-pound 80/20 Angus chuck patty ground in-house and a delectable brioche bun baked in town by HearthStone Baking Company, to produce a burger that's a comfort food lover's dream. Burgers start with the most basic, the Eisenhower ($4.75; romaine, tomato, onion, pickles) and range upward to the Altered Beast ($7; a gooey cheddar cheeseburger loaded with grilled onions, chopped pickles, romaine, and tomato) – it's Sputnik's nod to In-N-Out's "Animal Style." Add an extra patty to any burger for a buck; add its fantastic house-made, applewood-smoked, thick-sliced bacon for $1.50; jalapeños or grilled onions for 50 cents; or cheese or a fried egg for 75 cents.
The unpeeled fries ($1.50) are hand-cut, blanched, and fried golden brown, and quite good. The thick-cut, hand-breaded onion rings are encased in a light-as-air chipotle and Fireman's 4 beer batter; imagine sweet-spicy, oniony clouds that melt in your mouth. Sputnik also offers sweet-potato fries for $2, and you can get cheese or chili-cheese fries as well ($2.25, $3.75). The all-beef kosher hot dogs start at $3 and go up to $6.75; don't miss Sputnik's version of a Sonoran dog – the Laika, a bacon-wrapped dog ($4.50; get it with chili, cheese, onions, and jalapeños for $7.25). There are rumors that fried chicken on the menu isn't far behind. Happy hour is daily from 3 to 7pm, and Sputnik offer sliders (two for $5, three for $7.50, in three different styles) during these hours only.
Sputnik should be locked into your East Austin orbit when you crave a well-crafted, high-quality burger done right. Roll your sleeves up and get ready, because it's gonna be a delicious and juicy splashdown. – M.V.