Well, not actually from the Doodle. On our ramble through Connecticut burger joints 2 weeks ago we met 3rd generation Doodle owner Rick Beckwith in a hotel parking lot in New Haven to show him the book and discuss the future of his restaurant. It was a slightly bizzare, clandestine meeting but Rick told us that the new Yankee Doodle will be opening before the summer. I forgot to ask where (doh!) because the original location is being gutted apparently. The enormous support Rick has seen (and a lot of cash) has made the re-opening possible. Amazing. He also mentioned that he has received emails from all over the world and has had numerous conversations with the mayor of New Haven concerning, I'm assuming, the importance of a joint like the Doodle in the fabric of America. Or maybe the mayor is just jonesing for a double doodle...
It was supposed to be a diptych. The plan was to hit the reopened O'Rourke's in Middletown for a steamed burger then get to Ted's for another steamed cheeseburg during the same lunch. But on the way back down to NYC we (myself and expert burger taster Kris Brearton) found it impossible NOT to stop at Louis' Lunch in New Haven. Not often do you get to quaff 3 world-class burgers for lunch in one day. We did though, and we were better for it. At O'Rourke's we chatted with the visibly weary but engaging Brian O'Rourke (rumor has it that he's had 1 hour of sleep since the diner reopened Monday) and ate great steamed cheeseburgs made with medium-sharp NY cheddar. Brian visited our table and pointed out that, "Traditionally, steamed cheeseburgers should only be eaten with mustard and onion." I quickly removed my tomato and lettuce. After a ten minute drive to Ted's, we grabbed the only 2 stools left in the tiny diner. Ted's is now owned by Paul Duberek's nephew-in-law and the restaurant was super busy at lunchtime. After we sat, a line started to build at the door. We ate our excellent steamed cheeseburgs and were out the door in 10 mins. Soon thereafter, a hamburger tractor beam pulled our full bellies directly into Louis' Lunch. We were in the cradle of burger civilization for their historic 'Hamburger Sandwich', if not the first burger in America, clearly the oldest continually sold burger for the past 108 years. No one from the 3rd and 4th generations of the Lassen family were there but the place was packed and the wait allowed our stomachs to make some room. The drive back to NYC was marked by burger hallucinations and traffic. Regardless, I'd do it again tomorrow if I could.
I received two emails from complete strangers today (thanks!) telling me that the famed O'Rourke's Diner in Middletown, CT has reopened after a fire devastated the place in the Summer of 2006. The 18-month effort to rebuild was the result of hefty fundraising and local support (sound familiar?). Looks like a road trip is in order to get my hands on a steamed bacon cheeseburg patty. Central Connecticut is the epicenter of the steamed burger phenomenon and Ted's Restaurant of Meriden is featured in my film Hamburger America.
I received an advance of the book today, one of only three in America (the other two copies are with my agent and editor). It is beautiful. It is also pretty hefty and 300 pages long...April 7th is the big day.
I received an email today from Rick Beckwith, owner of the closed Yankee Doodle. He tells me things are looking good and the Doodle may actually reopen. He writes:
"Because of the overwhelming support from thousands of people a new and improved Doodle might open in the same location. Because of the support I'll be back...stay tuned. Thanks again for all your support and kind words."
The thousands Rick is speaking of are members of an enormous, impromptu facebook group called 'Save The Doodle' that, as of today, reached 3045 members. The Doodle has only been closed a week and already things are looking up for the half-century-old burger counter. Hang in there Rick.
My good friend and art genius Mac Premo could not contain himself and presented me with a shiny new cheeseburger belt buckle. He called the other day and said, "Are people still giving you tons of burger stuff?" I told him, "Oh yes," and he replied, "Well I'll bet you don't have one of these." I do now, thanks to Mac and the eBay store where he found the buckle. Turns out, the store is managed by none other than the Famous Hamburger Harry, the man behind the Hamburger Hall of Fame and the infamous Hamburger Harley. This is no chincy trinket. It's a solid piece of some kind of shiny gold metal, a seeded bun complete with dripping cheese, ketchup, lettuce, and two patties (there's even some oozing white stuff I'm assuming is mayo?) They'll be no mistaking my burger pride when I hit the book tour this April sporting my new heavy metal.
Wow what a difference a few days has made. The Yankee Doodle has been closed for only 4 days and owner Rick Beckwith has received an offer from Yale University for a new space, and a Facebook group started by Yale students and grads already has over 2,600 members. I appealed to Rick myself asking him to consider reopening (because my book is coming out in April and The Doodle is in the book). He promptly returned my email saying: "Because of the massive movement to save The Doodle it just might happen." What's really incredible is that the dudes that spearheaded this movement are not just interested in finding Rick some cash, they have already discussed working up a new business plan (did you expect anything less from Yale alumni?). From the Facebook page SAVE THE DOODLE: "We are working on a comprehensive and reinvigorated business plan to ensure the long-term viability of The Doodle." Absolutely amazing. I am moved beyond words and proud to be a burger-eating American when I see this stuff in action.
After hearing about the closing of Yankee Doodle, I decided I needed a burger to lift my spirits. For a long time now I've been trying to get to the Spotted Pig in my old West Village neighborhood to try their fabled burger. After a long, lunchtime wait with the vegetarian wife and her cousin Dan I can report that the rumors are true: this is one helluva burger. Made from a 'secret beef blend' by Pat LaFrieda the burgers were juicy, perfectly cooked, and dripping with just the right amount of creamy Roquefort cheese. The only downside here is that the chef tends to favor a bleeding burger over a cooked one. Noticing burgers at nearby tables being sent back to the kitchen for more heat I decided to order mine medium-well. The hunch paid off and my burger showed up, I kid you not, pink throughout. Cousin-in-law Dan ordered his medium and received a burger that was pink and dark throughout. Dan and I marveled at the crazy cross-hatch branding on the bun and wondered how they did it. The bun, at first glance, looked as if you could hurl it at someone and really do some damage, but turned out to be ridiculously soft and tasty. The price of this burger however will do some damage ($17), but it'll be worth it.
I'm still a bit stunned by the news that the beloved hamburger counter Yankee Doodle in New Haven has suddenly closed. Basically, without warning, 3rd generation burgerman Rick Beckwith decided that this past Tuesday the griddle at his grandfather's coffee shop would shut down for good. No more Double Doodles, no more fried donuts. No place (other than Louis' Lunch of course) to belly up and order a classic burger near Yale. As fate would have it, The Doodle is featured in my upcoming book as one of the most important hamburger spots in America. Rick - Do ya think you could give it one more shot?