Saturday, August 29, 2009

BREAKING NEWS: Bobcat Considering Bun Change

We stopped into the Bobcat Bite for our semi-annual Green Chile Cheeseburger fix and noticed that once again not much has changed. That is until John Eckre conspicuously approached me in the dining room with a bag of buns. "I want your professional opinion," he started and my heart sank. The bag contained 5 large, semi-hard rolls and were cold to the touch. John explained that the white squishy buns they currently use tend to disintegrate in the to-go orders. I can safely attest that the buns do nearly disintegrate even if you get them hot of the grill and eat them at the counter. It's just a fact of life - Bobcat burgers are a bit much for the buns.

"I like them because they actually taste like homemade bread," he continued. I think I made a face but I had to give them a try. John is a good friend but my expectations were low. I was SHOCKED to discover that the bun worked. The 9-ounce patty at the Bobcat is a beast but this test bun cradled the burger perfectly. After John had warmed the bun on a nearby griddle it was as soft as a white squishy and held up to the copious amount of juice a Bobcat burger produces.

Bonnie Eckre is not interested in a new bun but only because she fears change. I think she'll change her mind. This bun was made for the Bobcat Burger. Sometimes a little change is good (just a little). For now the white squishys are still in use (and understandably John is afraid to break it to his current bun supplier).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hamburger America and the Blue Moon Burger Bash

I was just asked to be a special guest at the Blue Moon Burger Bash, hosted by Rachel Ray, at the Food Network NYC Wine & Food Festival. They've asked me to bring my Hamburger America Slide Show to the event to be projected onto the tent's ceiling (you can view a very small portion of it here). The slide show contains hundreds of images of burger joints, burger people, and of course burgers. The collection is the result of over 10 years of exhaustive burger research. The show also contains all 200+ photos from my book.

The Burger Bash will also be auctioning off one of my large framed editioned burger prints (image TBD) and the proceeds will benefit the Food Bank for NYC.

I missed last year's bash (and the one in South Beach) so I'm looking forward to the event. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Now That's a Burger Tattoo

How committed to burgers and punk are you? Chicago expert burger taster Jay has proven his love of both by getting this kick-ass tattoo. The design is a cross between a very thick burger and the well-known Black Flag logo. Jay pointed out though that he cannot claim credit for the design - the 'burger bars' logo came from a spoof by comedian Neil Hamburger of Black Flag's seminal EP 'Six Pack'. Jay told me, "Black Flag pretty much changed my life. I'd long considered getting a Black Flag tattoo...This one just seemed too perfect."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hamburger America in Saveur

This month's Saveur magazine has 28 pages dedicated to burgers and yours truly gets a few mentions. They did a great job pulling together lots of talent and photos for the issue and are calling it the 'Burger Bible' (but don't expect anything that definitive). The layout is eclectic and covers everything from burger art to regional burger sauces. Pat La Frieda even gets their own sidebar. The mag asked me to submit 2 shorts pieces and one was chosen for this issue, a very brief profile of Sid's in El Reno, OK (the piece that got dumped was about the Double-Double Animal Style and will reappear somewhere else I hope).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Musings from the Wisconsin Burger Belt

It was only 11am when I had inhaled 2 burgers 'with' at the American Legion Post #67 burger stand which meant that I needed to think about lunch soon. Fortunately I was in what I like to call the 'Wisconsin Burger Belt' which extends from Madison to Milwaukee. Just off Route 94, which connects the two cities, are a handful of tiny Mom 'N Pops that serve classic thin patty wonders. There's Zwieg's, Wedl's, and the Post#67 burger stand just to name a few and of course Madison and Milwaukee have their share of great burger spots.

Local Expert Burger Taster Todd and myself plotted a course that would take us to Wedl's in Jefferson, then onto Madison for burgers at The Plaza and Dotty Dumplings, all for lunch.

Wedl's, formerly known as Peterson's, is in my book and serves burgers out of what must be the smallest burger shack I've ever seen. Back for my 4th visit I was eager to order one with grilled onions and looking forward to meeting the new owners. I'm happy to report that not only are the burgers unchanged and amazing, the Wedl family plans to hold onto the stand for many years to come. The Wedl's son Bert worked for the Petersons and is the heir apparent to the decades-old business. The stand is safe for now.

We made it to Madison and met columnist and friend Doug Moe at The Plaza. Fortunately, owner Dean Hetue was at The Plaza when we arrived and I was able to meet the man in possession of the secret recipe for the tangy white sauce that is slathered on their burgers (for the book, all interviews with Dean were by phone which only deepened the mystique). We savored the sauce, the burger, and moved onto Dotty's just up the street.

By the time we arrived at Dotty Dumpling's Dowry I was full. 4 burgers for lunch had caught up with me but I wasn't leaving Madison without a bellyful of Sprecher's Root Beer (on tap) and an order of the Wisconsin's proudest gastronomic quirks - deep-fried cheese curds. The are, when prepared well, heaven in a fry boat.

By the time I hit the road back to Chicago I was in a daze. My caloric intake was high but somehow that didn't stop me from pulling over for a chocolate custard with hot fudge at Culver's. There's nothing like creamy cold custard, even at this so-so burger chain. The Lower Wisconsin Burger Belt was great for lunch. Eventually I need to venture into the burger joints North of Route 94.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

American Legion Post #67 Burger Visit, Finally

A few weeks ago I made a trip to Lake Mills, Wisconsin for one thing only - a hamburger. It was a special trip because the burger I planned on eating is only served on Fridays in the summer. For this burger, timing was everything. Local expert burger taster and friend Todd did some 'research' on an earlier Friday and joined me on the trip. There's no phone at the stand so my visit was to be somewhat anonymous, that is until the awesome Doug Moe, friend and columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal, announced my impending visit in his column. It was clear when I arrived that Moe is a well-read columnist.

The American Legion Post #67 Hamburger Stand is a gem. Wedged between two buildings in a comfortable tiny town near Madison, the stand is walk-up service only with a severely limited menu. My kinda place. Hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and sodas were all you could spend your money on (with the exception of a must-have tee shirt that depicts a burger midway down a playground slide). I asked for my usual, which of course is the burger that everyone else is ordering. "The most popular burger is 'one with'," one of the stand operators Randy told me. 'One with' is simply a burger with stewed onions. Typical for a stand that has been around for over 83 years cheese takes a backseat and makes up only a third of all burgers ordered.

I asked if Todd and I could squeeze into the tiny stand while our burgers were being made and I immediately recognized a cooking method that is rapidly disappearing throughout small-town America - the Deep-Fried burger. That's right, the 5/1 pound burgers at Post #67 are deep-fried in a huge, shallow tank filled with canola oil. The fresh pattied meat comes in daily and over 2500 burgers are plopped in the hot oil on a busy day. The first went down fast so I ordered another. The hot oil soaks the soft, white-squishy bun and becomes a condiment to the peppery burger. A small table of ketchup and mustard sits on the sidewalk but I enjoyed mine unadorned, hot and oniony.

The stand is run by a rotating crew of 5 that are members of the Post #67. Most of the volunteers are retired military and are paid in burgers and beer. Not the kind of beer you take home, the kind you enjoy on the job. Intrigued, I asked past commander Don Hein, "When does the drinking start?" He told me bluntly, "Whenever we start working." I gathered from the other vets hard at work that in most cases they are way too busy bagging burgers to drink themselves into oblivion. And as Don pointed out, "You really can't come down here and get hammered."

Get your butt over to the Post #67 burger stand in downtown Lake Mills, WI, but make sure you visit on a Friday in the summer. Unlike I had originally reported, the stand is actually open from the first Friday in May to the first Friday in October, 10AM - 8PM or so. That's still only 23 days a year...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tookie's Is For Sale

Ever wanted to own a classic burger joint? Well you are in luck because Jim Spears, owner of the recently shuttered Tookie's in Seabrook, Texas, has put the restaurant up for sale. After the roadhouse closed with flood damage following Hurricane Ike Jim was torn on whether or not to sell or reopen. Jim, 68 with no offspring or family to take over the business, is selling Tookie's as a package deal that includes the structure, the name,  AND the recipes. That's right, buy Tookie's and get the secret recipe for the famous Squealer!

If you are serious about buying Tookie's call Michael Cooley at Keller Williams - 281-335-0335 or email him at Keep the dream alive.