Thursday, July 4, 2013

Hamburgers and America. Happy 4th of July!

Nothing says Summer and Independence Day like grilling out with friends and family on the 4th with an icon of American cuisine- The Hamburger! In my cooking career I've probably made 20-30,000 of these things and it never really gets old, I still don't mind making them, and I still love to eat 'em (even though I can't right now because of my diet). So this week on The Brag I'll talk a little about mine and my favorites from the past & present. Maybe it'll even help me work through the pain of not being able to have one, but probably not. So here goes..

If you've never looked into it I'll fill you in. Even though many seem to say they've invented the Hamburger Sandwich one place in particular seems to have the greatest claim. It's Louis' Lunch in New Haven, CT, just ask 'em! Actually don't, they'll probably throw you out. Just take my word for it.. If you've never been I highly recommend it, if nothing else for just pure nostalgic value, but the burgers are great too!

Luckily my sister in law was getting married up in Cromwell, CT near her home in Durham so we got the chance to swing through New Haven on the way back to the in-laws in Pelham, NY to grab a bite! Just don't ask for ketchup, they'll throw you out for that too..

The three dudes work in a frenzy here! Notice the old school white toaster and the three original cast iron vertical broilers in the background..

Where the magic happens! One of the owners removing the meat from the clam-shell that is used to grill the burgers in the vertical gas broiler. He then "dresses" them with fresh sliced beefsteak tomatoes and red onion on the white bread from the toaster and serves them to the customers.

The finished product. Delicious!

Another place in the Tri-state area that people tend to make a point of visiting is the White Manna in Hackensack, NJ. Not to be confused with White Mana in Jersey City where Mike Tyson keeps his pet pigeons..While many people "flock" to (pun intended) White Mana in Jersey City the more popular burger stand is White Manna in Hackensack.So much so in fact that Gourmet Magazine voted their White Castle like sliders the best burger in America a few years back! We stopped here on our way back from my families old stomping grounds in Shrewsbury last time we were there.

While the ones at White Manna are good I prefer the sliders at the White Diamond in Clark, NJ more.. My friend Shane Goodwin turned me on to this place. It's one of his great childhood memories growing up in Rumson and stopping here as a kid. Maybe it's just the seasoning on the grill, who knows! They seem pretty similar to me and they're fantastic! Stop in if you get the chance, it's right off the Jersey Turnpike.

My absolute favorite burger place back east though (and the one that is just down the street from the in-laws house) is "Greasy Nicks" (aka Leno's Clam Bar) in New Rochelle, NY. In fact, we love it so much that we put a burger on out menu as homage to the original and we called it what else, but "The Greasy Nick"!

Yes, I do believe the rumors are true that Nick Leno is indeed Jay Leno's cousin. Don't tell 'em I told you though! Anyway, in addition to awesome burgers they do serve some of the best "full belly" fried clams around when in season. This place is right on the waterfront and it gets crazy when it's nice out. Good thing we visit in May or October so we always get a seat.

I think the secret with this one is the bread, but it's really hard to get past the fried onion and beefy goodness! you almost don't need any condiments here, although my wife drenches it in ketchup. To each their own!

Our restaurant The Little Diner in Vail Colorado serves all shapes and sizes of hamburgers during lunch. Like the rest of our menu some are traditional favorites, others are regional specialties from around the country and a few are proprietary inventions that were made intentionally (or not) by us to spice the menu up a little. One of those unintentional inventions is The Little Burger- pictured below.

This is the "prototype" created the night before we opened the Diner the first time. I basically took items I had available on hand to make everyone something quick for dinner after working all day to get the restaurant ready to open. It's simplicity and massiveness are awesome and it's basically a giant Bob's Big Boy or Big Mac. A double decker with the middle bread, two half pound Angus beef patties, four slices of American cheese, four slices of bacon, and special sauce. It's fantastic! And a gut-buster..

Here at The Little Diner I believe we do serve the best burger in Vail, CO. 100% all natural (hand made in-house) Angus Beef half-pound patties, artisan buns, the best cheeses and bacon money can buy, fresh vine ripened tomatoes, crisp lettuce, and quality condiments.

Our variety is great too! In addition to The Little Burger and the "classic" burgers (Hamburger, Cheeseburger, and Bacon Cheeseburger) we have the Patty Melt and the Avocado Cheese Burger to round out our traditional burger selection. After that we get into the more non-traditional burger selections that are more regional specialties. I guess since the Patty Melt and Avocado Cheese Burger were invented in Southern California they could be considered "regional specialties".. The aforementioned "Greasy Nick" with caramelized onions and American cheese, the Lumberjack with Taylor Ham from the Jersey Shore, the chili cheese burger, and the "Hatch" of New Mexico fame with diced green chiles and a fried egg on top all round out our menu.

While I love our burgers there are a few I just can't help but stop to eat when I'm in different parts of the country or Colorado. I love Whataburger when south of the Mason-Dixon, In-n-Out is a definite stop when in CA, NV, AZ, or UT, I eat Krystal (the southern equivalent of White Castle) when spending time visiting family in Tennessee (or on a layover at ATL), Good Times is great whenever I see one, Larkburger is great, and lately the burgers at Wendy's have been pretty awesome!

Another one I should mention is the "Black Label" burger at the Minetta Tavern in Greenwich Village (Manhattan). It is probably the epitome of what a burger can be, but I'm sure if you really wanted to you could watch the Anthony Bourdain- No Reservations episode to get the inside scoop so there is no reason to elaborate. And, as long as we're on the subject of high brow burger awesomeness the one at Peter Luger in Williamsburg (Brooklyn) is worth mentioning as well despite the fact that most peoiple go there for the famous Porterhouse. Last time I was there though I couldn't help but notice table after table ordering the burger at lunchtime, I guess the word is out! While neither is cheap they are well worth the money. If you ever get the chance- do it! They are both worth every cent.

The ones I miss the most though are the places I went to when I was growing up in Seattle. Dicks and Zeke's. It's a taste of home and my mouth will always water just thinking about them..

Yes, THAT Dick's, of Sir Mix-a-Lot fame ("My Posse's On Broadway" anyone?). Luckily last time we were back in Seattle a year ago May we were staying right across the street from the one on Lower Queen Anne so I could get my fix anytime day or night! This picture however was taken at the original Wallingford location we went to when I was little. My wife and I had to make the pilgrimage despite the fact there are Dick's all over Washington now.

Behold! Zeke's Drive-In! Just outside the hamlet of Gold Bar, WA on Route 2 on the way to Stevens Pass lies this diamond in the rough. Well worth the detour or a stop when skiing Stevens Pass, hiking Mt. Pilchuck, or Wallace Falls, this place never disappoints.

While the burgers are awesome (especially the "honeymooners special") it's kinda like Whataburger- the onion rings are really what you're after! These are by far the best ones in the world! Beer battered sweet Walla Walla onion goodness. I highly recommend sprinkling them with the provided Johnny's Salt though for the "full-on" experience.

Well, that's all for now! Hopefully you're not too hungry after this.. As Wimpy would say: "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today". ;)