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Evidence that the buns are indeed baked in-house.

Image: Alice Levitt

Like all red-blooded Americans, I grew up mildly obsessed with Fuddruckers. Admiring the hanging carcasses while I waited in line, turning in a wood coin at the bakery for chocolate chip cookies straight from the oven and using a pseudonym for the counter staffer to call when my order was ready to see how she'd pronounce it were all definitive elements of my childhood. It's no coincidence that I grew up to train as a butcher—everything about Fuddruckers, including dead cows, seemed more amusement park than restaurant.

Chief operating officer Peter Tropoli says that the carcasses had been scrapped in favor of beef ground at a central facility well before he joined the company and the wooden tokens are now available at only a few locations. Buzzers have replaced the live announcements that each guest's food is ready. I, apparently, am super old. But that doesn't mean I wasn't filled with childlike delight when I tried the locally owned chain's special new burger.

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The Game Changer, $9.99.

Image: Alice Levitt

Last week, Fuddruckers announced that a new partnership had made the brand the official burger of the Houston Astros. To promote the collaboration, the chain debuted a burger called the Game Changer. The name refers to more than baseball. Usually on the culinarily conservative side, the new brand's latest sounds like an ode to excess: It's a Nolan Ryan Beef patty topped with half a Black Angus hot dog, chili, cheddar cheese and beer-glazed onions.

When I read the description, I figured it could go one of two ways: The Game Changer would either be surprisingly delicious or an ill-advised horror show. Fortunately, it's the former. Weighed down by its glut of toppings, the Game Changer is definitely a knife-and-fork burger. The beef itself, from the Alvin-based company owned by former pitcher Ryan and his son, Reese, (another son, Reid, is president of baseball operations for the Astros) is leaner than the typical Fuddrucker's patty, but gets plenty of flavor from the juicy, char-edged dog and cumin-redolent chili. The sweet, nutty onions stick to the burger with the help of the yellow cheese. Basically, it's everything good about a chili-cheese dog, but with real cheese, a griddled challah-style bun and the base of a good burger. And somehow, it doesn't taste bloated or overwhelming.

You know what would be overkill? Pairing the burger with some house-breaded chicken tenders and following it with a chocolate-covered macaroon. But I did that, too, and I'm not sorry.

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