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My Favorite Burger

May 10, 2010

My favorite burger joint went up in flames.  Perhaps that is one way to know that it was truly a great burger place.

In fact, it’s not even the first of my favorite burger restaurants to burn down.  When I was a kid, my grandfather would take me to Hamburger Choo-Choo in Huntington, NY.  It combined all the things a young boy should love: hamburgers, french fries, chocolate malts and trains.  And then instead of just fading away into anachronistic obscurity, it ignited.  Never again would I experience the joy of having my burger delivered to my seat by a toy train.

Perhaps the time I spent there in my formative years is what has given me this penchant for greasy burger halls that ultimately get consumed by the same fire that makes them so delicious.

Now I recognize it’s not really fair to hold onto the memory of something that no longer exists as your favorite anything.  So one could say that the issue of my favorite hamburger is still an open question.  But before I move on to try and find a replacement, I’d like to take a few minutes to tell you why I loved this one, and why it is still listed on my Yelp profile as “My Last Meal On Earth.”

I have mentioned the Original Joe’s only once before on the FUSSYlittleBLOG in the context of my odd New Year’s resolution of only eating one burger per month.

And I did precious little to explain why I loved it so much.

First you have to understand the restaurant itself.  It used to be a gem.  This was fine dining in the 1930s when San Francisco’s Tenderloin was the theater district and not the ‘hood.  Royalty and heads of state would dine there.

And the place remained unchanged for seventy years.

Here was a restaurant where the waiters still walked around in tuxedoes, where you were given heavy silverware wrapped in a fine linen napkin, and where one could order classic cocktails before they were trendy, because here they never left.

The centerpiece of all of this was The Original Joe’s Hamburger Sandwich.

It’s a magnificent creation that is all about meat.  It is not about toppings, and it is most certainly not about flair.  The starting place is a massive amount of ground chuck, which a waiter once told me was ground fresh in-house.  This waiter confided that while he himself wouldn’t order a rare burger anywhere, he would have no qualms at all about eating one here.

The meat fills up a quarter of what the menu describes as an “Italian-French loaf,” which is long like a baguette, but with a good bit more girth.  You may be thinking, “That’s a lot of bread.”  Well, cleverly, and with seventy years of experience on you, the kitchen wisely hollows out the bread, creating a cozy shell for what was likely a half pound of meat.  Did I mention that the inside of the roll was buttered?

I’ll count butter as a garnish.  The only other garnish was some sautéed onions.  There was nothing remotely alive or verdant on the plate.  No tomato.  No raw onion.  No lettuce leaf.  Not even a pickle.  Not even a decorative sprig of curly parsley.  And the burger didn’t need it.  It didn’t even need ketchup.

These guys weren’t fooling around here.

The only other thing that did come on the plate was a mound of thickly hand cut fries, which always needed more salt.

Most people I took here would eat half the sandwich and wilt at the prospect of eating another half.  Not that it wasn’t delicious, but it was just that huge.  And filling.  Plus, San Franciscans aren’t generally known for eating large portions of fatty ground beef.  I would devour the whole thing.  And if they would let me, I might even have a few bites of my friends’ leftovers.  I couldn’t bear to see any of that beefy, juicy meat go to waste.

All of this for $8.50.  I brought everyone I could.  Once I even brought my entire department from Young and Rubicam.  There wasn’t a lot of work done that afternoon.  We all felt like we could use a shower and a nap, but everyone agreed the burger was splendid.

I am glad I had the chance to thoroughly enjoy the Original Joe’s before the fire closed its doors on October 12, 2007.  Still, maybe it will reopen.  Some seem to think so.

It would save me from having to find a new favorite burger place.  Given my track record, I can’t imagine any business would be pleased with that distinction.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 11, 2010 9:36 pm

    I have two favorite burgers. They are both homemade. One is about 1/3 of a pound of ground beef grilled over lump charcoal. IT gets finished and goes on a Prinzo’s hard roll with cheese, bacon, lettuce and tomato. Maybe some Dijon.

    The other is at my in-law’s spot on the Sacandaga Lake. My father-in-law made a grill out of some extra metal and some stainless steel. You light a full bag of Kingsford charcoal and let it get hot. The you put the stainless steel griddle over the charcoal to heat up. After an hour, the cooking surface is screaming. Put a quarter pounder on there and the sizzle is instantaneous. The outside gets a delicious crust. Drop on a piece of cheese an put it on a cheap white bun. Nice day, view of the lake, good burger, grab a beer – life is good.

  2. Richie from Nisky permalink
    June 9, 2010 11:14 am

    Huntington Choo-Choo, eh? In my hometown of Glen Cove we had Hamburger Express. You sat at the counter and ordered your burger and a Coke. When your burger was done they would send it around to you on a flatcar in an O-gauge Lionel train. Ah, the joys of being a feckless youth in the Sixties!

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