Straightforward food and simple pricing make this Lincoln Heights restaurant a low-stress hit
Cries of “Order up!” from the kitchen punctuate the chatter of soccer moms on cell phones (and the giggles of rug rats on teething rings) at Orderup, a clean, well-lighted, and very cleverly conceived restaurant in the Lincoln Heights shopping center. Quasi-corporate in its slick, graphic style, yet family-friendly in feel, Orderup is, in a word, nifty. And a breath of fresh air.
|From front, Orderup's popular Cheddar cheese hamburger; thin-crust pizza with sun-dried tomatoes, onions, and green bell peppers; chicken tacos topped with onion and cilantro; and fresh-cut fries. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)|
Here’s the skinny. Billing itself as a “Pizzeria, Burgeria, Taqueria,” Orderup serves the three foods America loves the most, with only salads, desserts, and occasional variations-on-a-theme specials as a distraction. Pricing is equally straightforward: The basic price of the big three and the two salads is $4.50 each. Desserts — a gelato, a chocolate-chip cookie, and a praline — are each $2. Wine and beer are $3. Sure, you can complicate matters by opting for 50-cent extra toppings on your entrée, but getting through the register is quick and painless. If it comes up under $20, you don’t even have to sign a charge slip.
Two times out of three, the delivery wasn’t as swift as ordering, alas; those order up! announcements need to come a little quicker than every 12 to15 minutes — at least this is the goal for most quick-service restaurants. But this is only a comment, not a big issue; the big issue is the food and, in addition to being nifty, Orderup is also tasty.
Orderup’s mission is to make everything in-house, within reason. For example, the personal pizza comes with a house-made tomato sauce and crust, as well as fresh mozzarella and parmesan. To that base, I added green olives and artichoke hearts (sundried tomatoes, anchovies, sausage, and capers were among the options not taken). My plan was not to eat the whole thing. My plan was subverted by a good, thin crust, a fresh-tasting, non-tinny tomato sauce (though I wished for more of it), just enough cheese, and a good scattering of the add-ons. Orderup has every right to be proud of its pizza; you won’t in the least miss the cheese-stuffed crusts, the dipping sauces or the other bogus enticements of the big-chain operations.
Big chains dominate the burger business, too, and Orderup should be congratulated for sticking to a straightforward model and doing it right, starting with an ordinary bun that’s saved from mediocrity by butter and a light toasting — just enough to achieve a slight crunch around the edges. The hand-formed patty is lean but beefy, and the chopped lettuce, tomato, and onion garnish, augmented by traditional, crinkle-cut pickle chips, doesn’t overwhelm its flavor.
A made-to-order side of fries comes in a paper cone neatly pinned together with an Orderup sticker, an abstract white arrow on a red circle. The skin-on potatoes were hot, fairly fat-free, and tasted of the real thing, but I was somewhat put off by a large percentage of broken pieces. The side Caesar was, on the other hand, absolutely exemplary. True, the croutons were cartoonish in scale (though their super size did emphasize the house-made aspect), but shredded (not powdered) Parmesan was a major plus, the romaine was fresh and crisp, and the dressing was appealingly tart and garlicky and just-right in quantity.
In other cities, tacos may also be a chain-dominated item, but in San Antonio, independent operators set the standards, creating a challenge for the new kid in a non-traditional setting. Orderup’s basic tacos come in beef or chicken variants, are served in fresh, flexible corn tortillas, and are liberally larded-up with chopped garnishes of tomato, onion, lettuce, and cilantro. I chose beef and found that — however juicy and flavorful the small beef bits — it was more like an easy-to-eat salad with beef accents, rather than our traditional meat-dominant tacos. I liked it, especially after adding some of the very punchy green sauce (the red is less assertive), but felt just slightly disappointed nonetheless.
Lincoln Heights Center
999 E Basse
Price range: $2-4.50
Orderup was experimenting with new wines by the glass when I visited. The blackberry and pepper-spiced So-Zin I tried was just fine with a burger; Jest Red and Big Moose Red were among other contenders, and Carmen seems to be the Chard of choice. (Note to management: Check out the Screw Kappa Napa, a good red with just the right tongue-in-cheekiness for your operation.) Yes, Virginia, wine and burgers are not strange bedfellows, especially at $3 a glass. I do draw the line, however, at a $2 chocolate-chip cookie, especially since it seems to be so-priced for the sake of consistency: It’s big, dome-shaped and chock full of chips, but I’d much rather have two 50-centers from Central Market, saving the extra dollar for more taco add-ins, such as grilled peppers or guacamole.
I didn’t try the $2 praline, but your two bucks will be well spent on the house gelato. Vanilla is always available, I’m told, but the seasonal special was pumpkin, a blend of that squash, sweet potato, and coconut milk derived from a Puerto Rican recipe. I loved it. There was just enough traditional pie spice, and the coconut milk added a lushness that was both unexpected and utterly seductive. Orderup may not do everything at the same, over-achieving level its format suggests, but the effort is close enough. May its tribe increase. And, as the website reveals that the owner is a fallen-away attorney, may more of that tribe defect to more socially useful (and personally rewarding) professions as well. •