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Owners Cindy and Mike Tangman like to say at Alamo Springs Cafe “everybody is nobody,” but their burgers are the best in Texas according to Texas Monthly. The out-of-the-way restaurant is drawing large crowds despite “doing everything wrong.” Photo by Phil Houseal


Details:
Alamo Springs Cafe is open from 10 to 10 every day but Tuesday. Live music Friday and Saturday from 7 to 10, and on Sunday from 12 to 3. Call 830-990-8004 or visit www.alamospringscafe.com.

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Burger dreams

by Phil Houseal
April 7, 2010

 

Who knew the lowly “hamburger” could elevate a restaurant to cult status, causing burgermeisters to literally beat a path to your door? Especially when you have “done everything wrong?”

That was the result of topping Texas Monthly’s list of the 50 Best Burgers in Texas. The Alamo Springs Cafe wound up ranked #3, and more important, landed on the cover of the August 2009 edition.

The effect?

“Outrageous,” was Mike Tangman’s one-word answer. Tangman, owner of Alamo Springs Cafe with his wife, Cindy, still shakes his head. “We went on a two-and-a-half hour wait for a seat for five weeks. It wasn’t a matter of us getting food out in time, it was a matter of customers getting a seat.”

The hamburger hajj continues, though not quite to the extent right after the magazine came out. But on sunny days, the out-of-the-way cafe is always packed. And the hits keep coming... in the latest edition of Ride Texas, a motorcycle magazine, Fredericksburg is named a top biking destination and again the Alamo Cafe burger came in #3 in a reader’s choice poll. Tangman is pleased with that ranking, as the #1 burger was at a restaurant in Dallas, and #2 came from a restaurant with four outlets.

So what makes the local burger the best?

“If you strip away all the toppings, you can see we have tasty, high quality beef,” he said. “It’s never frozen and hand formed, and not covered in fancy sauces. And... there are some secrets that I won’t release.”

Good as the burger is, the Tangmans don’t rest on their buns. Since I first wrote about their restaurant in 2006, the owners have tripled seating to 130, quadrupled parking space, added a second kitchen, and built a full size outdoor covered stage, with live music every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Feasting on a juicy burger and meaty fries, it’s easy to assume success was always assured. But Tangman remembers when he first tried to sell the idea of starting a restaurant at the opening to Alamo Springs, known up to now for sitting atop 3 million bats in the Old Tunnel bat cave.

“People told me I did everything wrong,” he said. “There were no demographics to support it, it was just another burger place, and the location - 15 miles off Main Street - was too far out.”

Cindy added, “And our wait staff was ‘unconventional.’ We have people who may have pink hair, a piercing, or a tattoo. But we look past those things. We are eclectic.”

So are their customers.

“You’ll have a judge sitting next to a biker sitting next to a movie star sitting next to a senator,” Mike said. “Everybody is treated the same.”

“That’s because everybody is nobody,” Cindy said, which also happens to be their bumper sticker.

Cindy tells how a customer once asked her what their unconventional slogan meant. “I said, well, tell me about yourself. The lady went through her resume, which was quite impressive. I looked her dead in the eye and said, ‘Well, here, you are nobody like everybody else. I don’t care who you are, get up and get yourself a drink.’”

Mike Tangman still feels those early, often lonely, days when they first opened their doors in 2004.

“I think back to sitting there on a Saturday night with no customers,” he said. “There were three of us... our chef, George Fuentes, Cindy, and me. We sat and dreamed what we needed to do to grow our business.” He paused and looked around the now crowded cafe, live music in the background, every seat filled with smiling, satisfied customers. “In our wildest dreams we never ever thought what happened would happen.”