Thursday, May 29, 2008

Happy National Hamburger Day

To celebrate this holiday that I'm supposed to know all about (but completely forgot until I got a call to be on this radio show today) I decided to do some more hamburger experimentation at home in the Hamburger America Test Kitchen. I had failed in the past miserably with the Jucy Lucy so I decided to try again. Not surprisingly, I failed again. The wobbling stuffed burger didn't explode this time but the cheese inside never melted and the core of the burger was cold and raw. Daughter Ruby and I decided to fall back on our old favorite and easy to re-create Oklahoma Onion-Fried Burger (pictured above). It was a success. So much so that we made another. Happy Burger Day to you.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Perfect Burger Image?

Over the holiday weekend we made burgers (duh) at my dad's house. I picked up both wheat and white squishy buns for the varying tastes in my family and noticed something VERY familiar on the packaging. You don't have to look too closely to figure our where my graphic artist (for the book cover) got his inspiration for the 'perfect burger image' it a coincidence?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Two Great Burger Books

Since there's a lull in the book signing action I thought I'd mention two of my favorite new burger book finds. Both are actually not very new at all but are great cultural American history books that you must have in your collection.

White Towers - by Paul Hirshorn and Steven Izenour
This photo essay is hard to put down. The text is short and the photos amazing. Architect Izenour was one of the brains behind the academic Learning From Las Vegas, a study of the language of Vegas architecture and signage of the early 1970s. White Towers is a compilation of corporate black & white stills of newly-completed White Tower restaurants across America from the 30s to the 70s. White Tower, like the burger chain it clearly copied White Castle, was a model of branded architecture in mid-century America. Many thanks to Adam Kuban from Serious Eats for turning me onto this beauty.

Selling 'em by the Sack - by David Gerard Hogan
The academic Selling 'em by the Sack is not a light read but it is a thoroughly rewarding one. The first chapter alone should be required reading for any proud American as it tells the story of the rise of fast food in the US. The book traces the history of the iconic White Castle burger chain in such minute detail that I had to read the book twice to catch it all. You will never look at a slyder the same way again.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Five Guys in Park Slope Brooklyn

The picture pretty much says it all. Five Guys is coming to MY NEIGHBORHOOD, only 6 blocks from my house. It's about time because the closest good burger to me right now is 67 Burger all the way up in Fort Greene.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Motz Burger Wins Burger Battle

Right away I was accused of a 'fix'. I was asked to be a judge at the first ever Burger Battle of the Boroughs but quickly declined because there was a burger in the competition from Harry's at Water Taxi Beach called the Motz Burger. Fran Grace, the organizer of the Queens event, asked me to be the evening's emcee and I gladly accepted. When the Motz Burger won I was stunned. Not because I thought the burger I designed for Harry was not worthy of praise, but because the competition was fierce.

Some of the city's very best burgers competed for the crown. The oft-praised Resto was there, as well as Brooklyn's amazing 67 Burger, BRGR in Manhattan (I consulted for them before opening), Flushing's tasty Joe's Bestburger, the Bronx' pizza outpost Coals (whose burger is not even on the menu!), and the Ditmas Park newcomer The Farm on Adderley whose burger looked amazing. The judges for the event were CBS News Food Expert Tony Tantillo, NYC-TV's Kelly Choi, the 'other' hamburger author Josh Ozersky, restauranteur and chef Terrence Brennan, and food author Arthur Schwartz. With the exception of Josh Ozersky none of the judges had tasted the Motz Burger before the contest. Further, the contest was conducted by blind tasting (each burger was given a number) so there was no way to match the chef with the burger. When Harry was crowned (see photo above) and the Motz Burger had won I immediately felt guilty because I was standing up there doing running dialogue as each burger came out for tasting. I only made one comment at the beginning of the competition about the reason I was not a judge to the crowd and never pushed the Motz Burger more than any other burger. I think Harry was almost in tears when the winner was announced and he looked kinda like Frank Black on the cover of Teenager of the Year with that silly crown on.

It is a damn good burger and Harry should be proud. There's really nothing to it either. Harry did the right thing and brought his grinder to the event (which no one else did). It's hard to beat a burger that's made from beef that was ground only 15 minutes before cooking. It was also the only burger that was never touched by hands after grinding. The secret to this amazing burger is to grind fresh beef, use a measured scoop to collect a 1/4 pound wad of the beef, place the wad on a hot griddle and press it into a patty. The result is a moist, loosely-packed patty that has a tactile quality like no other. The addition of Harry's chipotle-mayo sauce and a buttered, toasted bun complete the package.

The Motz Burger is seasonal and can be found at Water Taxi Beach in Long Island City, Queens. Click here for directions and come on down for a burger! The Motz Burger will be served all summer and during the NYC Food Film Festival which runs at the beach from June 14th-June 20th.

Congratulations Harry!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Crazy Week of Press

My first week home from the book tour has been nutty. On Thursday, late night, I was invited on the Joey Reynolds Show, WOR 710 AM in New York City. Joey, the legendary talk radio DJ, pushed the book, which was great, but wanted to talk about Skyline Chili (the chain in Ohio) instead for some reason. I don't think he had even seen the book until we were on the air. Listen to the wacky interview here where he says he's not sure if he can vote for Obama because it sounds too much like 'Osama'. I'd expect nothing less from classic late-night talk radio! If you scroll past the 20mins of diatribe you'll find a short interview with the hamburger expert. He was a tough guy to keep up with.

The next day I was scheduled to be on the Gayle King Show on Oprah's XM Radio Channel. I trudged through the pouring rain to Columbus Circle only to discover that programming 'forgot' that I was coming in and that 'uh, Gayle is in Chicago...'. I was not happy. According to my publicist I had the right date but the station expected me in June. I arrived home to find flowers and an apology, so all is well. Oprah Radio has offered other dates (in June) but nothing has been decided yet. I'm looking forward to talking to Gayle about burgers.

On Sunday morning, early, I went on the national Fox & Friends Sunday Morning show. Huge publicity and a quick, high-profile segment at the end of the program (close to 10am). The segment was shot on the street outside of their studio on 6th Ave and 48th St. Good friend, chef, and co-conspirator of the NYC Food Film Festival Harry Hawk came along to make the burgers for the camera on Fox's lame electric grill (barely got above 300 degrees). The beef came from Pat LaFrieda and I brought toppings for the burgers. Click here to see the clip. The anchor was Ainsley Earhardt and she was a great, very snappy, interviewer. She surprised me by taking bites out of the guberburger and the nutburger, a pretty brave on-air stunt (the shot above is proof that Ainsley took a bite of the nutburger, as you can probably tell from the red lipstick). I completely forgot to take a bite of one myself. There were lots of great graphics and shots of the book cover which made my publicist happy I'm sure. Sales of the book were clearly up as the rank hit 1,200 about an hour after the program. I also set a personal single-day website record Sunday with 36,000 hits.

More to come this week as I become the emcee of the Burger Battle of the Boroughs tomorrow night. I'll also be signing books and eating burgers.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Book Tour Days 9, 10, & 11

Day 9

The last 4 days of the book tour were the most successful, and the last 3 brought me to Oak Park, Milwaukee, Madison, and back to Chicago again. Thankfully things went better here than my visit down south as true fans and great friends came out to see me, hear burger stories, and get a signed copy of the book.

I woke up Friday to be on the Johnny B Mornings radio show on The Loop 97.9 FM. He does the Classic Rock morning drive so I was guaranteed a large listening audience. The interview was going well until he asked me what my favorite chain burger was. I've always been a huge fan of Steak 'N Shake and assumed the listeners loved this fresh-
beef chain as well. Within 60 seconds of the statement, a caller yelled, "Steak N' Shake SUCKS!" Oh well. At least I had the day off.

I made a pilgrimage to the oft-praised Hot Doug's for a classic Chicago hot dog (I needed to balance my burger intake for the week) and had some of their hand-cut fries cooked in rendered duck fat. Wow.

That night was the scheduled reading at Barbara's Books in Oak Park, about 1/2 hour from Chicago. I know they had advertised well so a hearty turnout was expected. At 7:30, there were two people to read to but within 10 minutes there were at least 15 people there. The turnout was still way better than Texas so far and those that attended asked great questions.

I was starving after the reading and wanted to keep the Chicago food thing going so I stopped at Al's Beef for a hot dipped beef sandwich. It was a good day for classic Chicago fare.

Day 10

Had to get up stupid-early again to get to Milwaukee this morning. It was a 2 hour drive and I was scheduled to be on the local WISN ch. 12 News for a 2 min. walk-on. It went well and I raced over to TMJ-4 for another brief walk-on. After my duel TV appearances I made it over 
to Solly's for a much needed butter burger with stewed onions and a side of Glenn's famous hash browns. Glenn showed me the butter he'll go through in, I believe, a day (pictured, 30 pounds). I met up with good friend and butter burger lover Rick Cohler who had driven up from Chicago to meet
me and go to my reading at the local bookstore. Glenn knew that we had a few hours to kill before my Milwaukee reading and offered to score us a private tour at nearby Sprecher Brewery. A guy named Jason gave us a tour and we sampled their excellent new Cherry Soda. Now I really felt like a mini-celeb.

The reading at Schwartz Bookshop went very well and I had the biggest, most enthusiastic crowd yet. Close to 40 people showed up and asked great questions and a few had even been to some of my far-out burger  joints. The reading was enhanced by a quick history of Solly's by Glenn Fieber himself. Glenn also offered free burgers to anyone who bought a book. Now that's my kind of incentive.

From Milwaukee I drove west to Madison, WI. I felt the need to stop at Peterson's Hamburger Stand in Jefferson because they are in the book and had recently changed their name to Wedl's Hamburger Stand. Turns out the Petersons had sold the stand to Bert Wedl's dad and nothing had changed but the name (Bert is the kid standing in the window of the tiny stand on p. 295). I did have time to sample the burger though and thankfully nothing had changed.

I made it to Madison with 15 minutes to spare before a scheduled book signing at Dotty Dumpling's Dowry so I did the only sensible thing - I went
 to The Plaza for a burger. The Plazaburger is like no other and has a sauce that I crave. I tried once to re-create the creamy, tangy goo but failed miserably. The only spot to enjoy this crazy concoction is in Madison, at The Plaza.

Over at Dotty's 15
minutes later I was met by a healthy fan base and a few locals interested in the book. I told stories to bar patrons, watched some NASCAR on one of the many screens at the bar, chatted with the affable Jeff Stanley (posing here with my nephew Garrett's own Flat Stanley) and sipped Sprecher's Root Beer (on tap at Dotty's!). A local bookseller was there and sold around 20 books. It was a good visit.

At 8pm, 13 hours from waking up in Chicago, I was on the road back. The brutal drive to Chicago was 2 1/2 hrs through endless darkness and I was exhausted. I also had to get up early again to go in Rick Kogan's WGN show Sunday Papers...

Day 11

The final day of the tour could not have come sooner. At Day 11 I am so wiped out that I'll need 11 days to recover. Going on Rick Kogan's early Sunday talk show was the perfect way to end the tour. No pressure, just a conversation between friends. Rick spiced up the show by having the 12 year old son of a friend of his do the interviewing. This kid actually asked great questions, ones that even the seasoned anchors all over the country had neglected to ask.

Wind and rain almost kept us grounded in Chicago but we made it back to Brooklyn and now it is time to rest. No burgers for me tomorrow. Maybe tuesday.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Book Tour Days 9 to 11 coming soon...

I'm recovering from the nuttiness of the last three days of the tour. I'll update tonight. Chicago, Milwaukee, and Madison were a huge success. In the meantime, here's a shot my wife just sent me of a classic 50's moment.  In the picture, my mother-in-law Sally is sitting in the middle half-way through her burger while my grandmother-in-law Patty ketchups another...

Friday, May 9, 2008

Book Tour Day 8

Made it to Chicago and met up with my family that had flown in for the week to stay with the inlaws. I was looking forward to some rest but had a scheduled 6am radio appearance (call-in) with Wisconsin Public Radio. The 1 hour interview was with a vegetarian DJ and I assumed they were set to skew me. Turns out the DJ fully disclosed that she was a vegetarian then went on to take calls from listeners about their favorite beefy finds in the burger-proud state of Wisconsin. I had a killer burger hangover this morning so it was a relief to not have to defend my burgerism at 6am.

I enjoyed the day off mostly playing with my 2 kids and catching up with the wife. The next event was the big burger blowout book party and signing at the Billy Goat tonight. It was a blast. Unlike the lame turnouts at my other readings, the Billy Goat party brought 40+ friends, fans, and family together for a real celebration. Sam Sianis was there, as was Bill and some of Sam's other offspring. Rick Kogan was there and read from his book about the Goat, A Chicago Tavern. Also in attendance was Jeff Ruby from Playboy magazine (the man who concocted his own list of burger faves a few months back), Bill DeShone, owner of Heinnies in Elkhart, IN (featured in the book) came west with Truth writer Marshall King, and Glenn Fieber from Solly's was there, down from Milwaukee. The shot below is of me, Bill Sianis, and Glenn.

I read from the book, Rick read from his, and a local bookseller was on hand to sell books. 
I requested that the bookseller bring more than they thought they needed and they brought 30. Turns out that they should have brought many more because they sold all 30 in 45 minutes. The woman selling books said the speedy sales was 'unprecedented'.

Tomorrow I'll be on WLUP-FM for a quick 10 minute call-in to the Johnny B morning drive show. I'm sure there will be a skewing planned on favorite burger spots in Chicago...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Book Tour Day 7

I barely slept 2 hours in Austin before my 3:30am wake up call came in. By 4:15 I was on my way to the airport to Houston. The stupid-early flight was planned to get me to a 7:45 appearance on the local Fox affiliate but they rescheduled for 9:30...My next escort Pam and I had 3 hours to kill in a town that sleeps late. No bookstores to visit, no shopping, and barley a breakfast spot open. We did find a great smoothie place - I needed something to flush the recent burger intake outta me.

My walk-on for Fox 26 TV became a taped segment against a mottled backdrop in the studio and took 2 minutes. After the only TV appearance for Houston, Pam drove me to a handful of bookstores to sign books. Pam was an excellent driver and had no trouble navigating the immense sprawl of Houston. It's a huge city and feels like LA with too much humidity. There was no time to visit my to burger favorites in Houston Christian's Tailgate and Lankford Grocery because I had to go to my scheduled noon reading. I didn't want to keep my fans waiting.

We made it to my next 'reading' at Brazos Bookstore, a tiny independent, and nothing was advertised in the windows. Just as we were getting out of the car, someone from the store came out and put a small sign on the front door announcing my upcoming appearance. We walked in to find that the 'reading' had turned into a 'signing'. Must be a Texas thing. I kid you not when I say that NO ONE walked into the store for the full hour that I sat there, with the exception of a local author that wanted to talk about stocking his book. He actually bought a book. I signed their stock of 40 books and high-tailed it to the airport. I was off to Chicago.

Book Tour Day 6

Landed in Austin at 11am with plenty of rest after staying at the lake in Gallatin, TN. I met my next media escort Olivia at baggage and we were off. Nothing was scheduled until 6:30 that night so I had basically 7 1/2 hours to kill. Olivia, an insane driver, drove me from bookstore to bookstore to sign books, but we spent most of the free time shopping. Austin has great shops and we hit 2 big western wear stores for fun. I picked up a few duds for the kids and bought myself a Wrangler snap-front cowboy shirt. We had lunch at my favorite Shady Grove in Austin for green chile cheese fries and stopped by Hut's Hamburgers to say hello. They had used none of the promotional stuff the publisher sent and didn't really care that I was there.

The scheduled interview at 6:30 was cancelled so my only commitment at that point in Austin
was to read at a Borders waaaaay out of town. The store was in a monstrous mall north of the city and was about 3 days old. Wires were crossed and my 'reading' turned into a 'signing' which was very bizarre. On a scale of 1 to 10 on the weirdness scale, this was about an eleven. They set me up at a table by the front door and told me to 'see if anyone wanted a book'. The whole ordeal was made weirder by the fact that there were no customers. I sat for an hour and maybe 10 people walked into the new store. Most wouldn't even acknowledge that I was sitting there and those that did thought that I was security and that I wanted to inspect their bags. My escort attempted to draw people in by pretending to want a book signed but the ruse never worked. ONE customer asked for a signed book. I read a passage from the book aloud to my escort and left shortly thereafter. Austin was a bust.

Cheese tots at Dirty's and a burger at Casino El Camino were in order so we finished the day eating. I had a local beer fave Shiner Bock and left for the hotel to get some sleep. The plan was to get up at the insane hour of 3:30am to catch a flight to Houston. This should be fun.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Book Tour Day 5

Woke up in Gallatin, TN this morning at the home of a friend. The house is on a lake (near Johnny Cash's old place) a few miles north of Nashville. I finally got some needed rest and woke to thick fog on the lake.

The first media stop of the day was a walk-on segment for Ch. 4 local news in Nashville. I met my publisher-assigned media escort Sharon nearby and made it to the station way too early. I was on a human interest segment of the news, wedged between a hair extension specialist and a woman who rescues dogs. Not the best match-up for burger stories. Regardless, the newscaster (Holly) was a great interviewer.

My next media was only minutes away but we were already late so Sharon drove 80mph to get me there. I got the rock star treatment when Sharon screeched to a halt in front of the radio station and I was whisked away by a producer. I was being asked a question by the host live as I snuck into the studio and slipped my headphones on. It wasn't until then that I realized the host was the famed Nashville political talk show guy Steve Gill. Steve likes hamburgers and loved the book. The interview was a breeze and they had ordered 12 (cold) burgers from Rotier's for the show. I ate a half knowing that later in the day i'd be eating a hot one.

From there Sharon took me around to local bookstores and I met managers and signed books. Most were happy to meet me and had great burger questions. We had lunch at the famous Nashville BBQ spot Jack's Barbeque at the West Trinity location. I may have had the best beef brisket ever at Jack's...

We made it to Rotier's finally where I had a scheduled interview with the big local paper, the Tennessean. After the interview (and my first burger at Rotier's not on French bread) a photographer shot a portrait of me holding a burger. I'm usually totally opposed to this kind of promotional stuff but the shot actually looked good so I shut up.

Next was the actual reading at the local big independent bookstore Davis Kidd. This branch of the bookstore was in a newish mall complex and was enormous. The store had set up chairs and books but only 3 people showed (not counting two of my friends and my escort). Thankfully, those three asked great questions but the reading was basically a bust.

I slept again up at the lake and packed my bag for my early morning flight to Austin. From one music city to the next.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Book Tour Day 4

There was no media planned for today and it was basically a day off for me. I decided to take the trip from Oklahoma City down to Meers to visit one of my hamburger heroes, Joe Maranto. On the way down I stopped at Chickasha to see the J&W Grill knowing it was closed. I could see through the window though that they had received the promotional materials the publisher sent and had a small poster up. 

I made it to the Meers Store around 11:30 and there was already a line out the door. Cars and motorcycles were parked everywhere and the restaurant was packed. Pretty impressive for a
burger spot so far out in the Oklahoma hills. Joe and I ate burgers (he had a small one, I had the 1/2 pound Meerscheeseburger with jalepenos) and talked about everything from global warming to politics to his new favorite movie The Great Debaters (filmed in his hometown in Texas). I'm still impressed by his gift for gab. I could have stayed all day but had to catch a flight to Nashville. He sent me on my way with two large bottles of Meers Gold, his new wheat brew, a local favorite called Chocktaw Beer.

On the way back up to Oklahoma City I was bombarded by pollen and my new allergies to the stuff were killing me. On top of that, there were so many bugs bouncing off the windshield that by the time I got to the airport the windshield was coated with bug goo. I tried to use the wiper fluid and it ended up creating what looked like pancake mix on the windshield.

Easy flight to Nashville to stay with friends in the country. Tomorrow, a big day that involves a visit to the local Nashville morning Ch.4 news, lots of AM radio, a photo shoot of me with a burger, and multiple book signings.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Book Tour - Day 3

Woke up today ready for the El Reno Burger Day Festival. After a visit to the hotel gym and a banana I took the short 30 mile drive to the heart of burger country. The festival shut down all of downtown El Reno an included a classic car show, multiple stages, burgers, and more. I was there to sign books and the festival had set up a tent for me and a local bookseller. I signed over 100 books and met a lot of great burger lovers. Our tent was downwind of the 800 pound onion-fried burger the festival cooks up each year and hands out free to waiting festival goers. After the signing, the guys from the bookstore joined me and friend Tom Palmore at Sid's Diner. Marty Hall was at the griddle feverishly cranking out perfect onion-fried burgers and could barely turn around for hellos. At the counter we were treated to some of the best burgers and coneys in the land. I did not however get to have my favorite shake in America - Sid's peanut butter chocolate milkshake.

Ended the day in my Vegas-huge hotel room watching NASCAR.  A great way to wrap up a day of burger-eating. Tomorrow a visit to the Meers Store, then off to Nashville.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

On The Book Tour - Day 1 & 2

It's already weird. Mostly because I don't know what to expect on this tour since I'm not really an author. I'm more accustomed to traveling and shooting TV commercials. This is totally different and I'm completely out of my element.

After 3 radio interviews (Martha and two others in Oklahoma and Wisconsin), my first 'reading' was 6 blocks from home at my local Barnes & Noble. A nice, soft start to the tour, a short walk to discuss the book with friends. 10 close friends showed up and about three strangers who probably just happened to be in the store. There was one legitimate fan who asked great questions and a cop pacing in the back of the room (kinda like the Nazis in Sound of Music waiting to take Captain VonTrap away - totally threw me off). That night, with the pre-travel jitters and last-minute packing I only got about 3 hours of sleep and had to get up at 5 to fly to Oklahoma City. My only media obligation was a 2 minute walk on interview at the local Channel 4 news so sleep could wait. I had to change planes at O'Hare and was delayed thanks to a thunderstorm. 

Lightning bolts, the works. On the Chicago-O'Hare leg of the trip the woman sitting behind me was chanting "6..6..6.." most of the flight. Very spooky until I discovered that she was playing sudoku. Made it to Oklahoma City with just enough time to change my shirt and run onto the KFOR-TV Ch.4 news. I love live local news because they are clearly working much harder than the big guys with small sets and loose production. I had to share a lav mic with the guy who was on before me (during the commercial break we did a quick mic swap). I was interviewed by old-timer and local TV and radio personality Danny Williams who asked me, "What's the worst burger you've ever had?" Regardless, the interview went smoothly and it was an honor to be seated next to this media icon.

I left KFOR and checked my email to find a nasty one from a jerk who called me a, "condescending New Yorker" based on what he read here in a Chicago Tribune interview by Chris Borelli. Unfortunately, I had a great time talking with Chris but he dismissed my book as 'stunt food journalism' and decided to skew the article towards a 'Top 100 list' instead of seeing that the book is equally about the people who make burgers and all of the nostalgia that goes with it. This, of course, resulted in a shitstorm of off-color comments on the Trib website calling me a 'moron', a 'clueless tourist', and a 'dill-rod' (Oooooo..) for putting the Billy Goat in my book. Not one of the 100+ commentors on the website had read the book so they are all clearly misguided. Also, only one had been to Top Notch it seems, also in Chicago.

I had dinner with good family friend Tom Palmore, artist an all-around great guy with great stories. He was the one who turned me onto a place in his hometown, Folger's in Ada, OK. They are in the book. The publisher put me up at a Marriott in a honeymoon suite that is Vegas-huge. Tomorrow, the Burger Day Festival in El Reno...