Willy's

Just the basics, thank you
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  August 20, 2014

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"THE COOP" at Willy's.

Sometimes in this world of culinary over-achievement, of luaus and foie gras and molecular gastronomy, sometimes we simply want to chomp into a nice, juicy hamburger or hot dog. Just that simple pleasure to relieve the teeth-tingling.

If you’re strolling down lower Thames Street one of those times, a place likely to draw you in is Willy’s. They mainly serve burgers and dogs, food so American you might find yourself saluting it, with chicken completing the menu, to remind you of those Sunday suppers at Granny’s.

It opened this spring where Asterisk used to be. A big, prominent lime green sign says it’s a burger bar and rotisserie, with their signature rooster next to the name to crow about it. It’s open to the street, with a scattering of café tables outside and plenty more in the sprawling room, each provided with napkin dispensers and condiments, diner-style.

I had my choice of six Angus beef burgers, from the Classic ($6.25) to the Bach Burger with goat cheese, mushrooms, and pesto ($8.75). If you want to pile on the protein, you can get two patties for $12. The kobe beef version is $14.25, and then they throw on a slice of beefsteak tomato. Both the beef and the chicken are hormone- and antibiotic-free.

The Texas Burger ($8) appealed to me. The patty apparently wasn’t thick enough to come out medium rare as I had ordered, but the toppings made it delicious: cheddar cheese, chili, and Frito-esque corn crisps for crunch. I was pleased with the burger on a thick brioche bun, but it looked awfully lonely by itself on the large aluminum platter, pickle or potato chips being extra, as are french fries ($2.25/$4.25). Not a consumer-friendly policy for an eight-buck burger. But then, you have to pay extra for fries with the 12-buck burgers as well, so I wasn’t being discriminated against.

I could have had an ahi tuna or crab cake burger ($12.50). Or the black bean burger ($7.25) that Johnnie took home and praised for being so flavorful. It was garnished with lettuce and tomato, and there was also a goodly amount of chipotle mayo provided on the side. I took home a Chicago Dog ($4). It was worth the extra buck more than a plain one, since the toppings included relish and pickles plus tomato, cucumber, and onions, under a good sprinkling of celery salt.

If you want to be creative, you can design your own hot dog, piling on avocado or bacon, chili or cheese sauce, or even a fried egg, for $1.25 per item.

Johnnie had the rotisserie chicken ($13.50), half a bird with beautifully crispy skin, and loved it. Our server said the green herb sauce was the most popular choice, but she opted for chicken gravy, which she didn’t care for as much as I did, followed by barbecue sauce, which she found too sweet. The chicken came with twice-fried skin-on fries and a pile of shredded cucumber that salt easily rescued from blandness.

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