I'll preface this whole article by saying that if you wanted to read an article about quality hamburgers, you're looking in the wrong place. I had a discussion with Andy of the Touch-Me-Nots last Friday and we got to talking about Steak and Shake, which kinda gave me the whole idea for this article. For those of you familiar with my mid-90's zine, The Sh!tty, you may remember me doing some kind of fast food article or article on the best burger at one time. I don't think all that much has changed.
For the most part, the best hamburgers are ones you get at local places, and not at your average fast food joint. I still think one of the best hamburgers I ate was at a Allen's Barbeque in Gurdon, Arkansas. We used to host a lot of training for other International Paper lumber mills there, and they would always order a lunch for me and the HR Generalist, since our offices were in the training building. This burger came with two half-pound patties, and two slices of cheese. It was a HOSS. Some of my friends from NE Iowa are probably asking, "What about the Gunder Burger?" There was a little crossroads just south of Postville, Iowa called Gunder. In this town at one corner was a little tavern called The Shanty. Not sure if it's still there. They would take your standard sized bun and put a one-pound burger on it. With or without grilled onions. I would say it was huge, but not anything special.
As far as fast food burgers I crave, there was a time back in '92 when I would go get a regular cheeseburger at the A&W in Ripon, Wisconsin with curly fries and a mug of root beer. The regular cheeseburger, if I remember, was nearly $2; way more than you'd pay for a standard cheeseburger at McDonald's. But still, it tasted really good. Especially with that root beer in a frosty mug.
The only other burger I really craved was the Whataburger. A lot of people who have tried it say it is too bready, or it's not enough meat on the burger. They're probably right. Both the Sonic and Whataburgers kind of have a flat patty the circumference of a Whopper, but they're not as thick as a Whopper. Almost, though. The thing I like about both the Sonic and Whataburgers is the fact you can get jalepenos on them. Whataburger also gives you 3 slices of medium sized tomato, and 4 pickles. Most places only give you 1 or 2 tomatoes, and 2 or 3 pickles. I always get the #1 combo with cheese and jalepenos. They put mustard only on a Whataburger. Just the way I like it.
The other bonus about Whataburger is their ketchup packets. This is the best ketchup packaging outside of having a squirt bottle. Fuck those little cups you have to fill 6 of, or opening 12 ketchup packets (with greasy fingers). They stock them right at your table. Peel the lid off and start dipping. If you go through the drive thru at Whataburger, and the manager is running the window, he'll try to limit your ketchups. Here's my key: Regular fry, 2 ketchups, Large fry, 3. Holmes tried to tell me I only needed 2 for a large fry one night in Pensacola around 2:30 a.m. I'm like, "Dude, I know how many ketchups I need for a large, gimme 3!"
As for more standard fare, if I go to McDonald's, I alternate between the quarter pounder with cheese ("Royal with Cheese") or the two cheeseburger meal. For Wendy's, I like the burgers on the 99 cent menu. For Burger King...well, to quote Vincent Vega, "I don't know, I didn't go to Burger King." Actually, their version of the Big Mac, The Big King, is pretty good.
Steak and Shake is a total rip off. The chain has started sprouting up everywhere around the country the past few years. A "steakburger" will run you close to $2, and as far as I can tell, the only difference between it and a McDonald's hamburger is that it comes on white china. There was one summer back in '88 or '89 when I was hanging out with a guy who was the manager at the one in Davenport, Iowa, and we went in and made some burgers at like 2 a.m. Nothing like making burgers in the dark. I remember loading those burgers up. If I would have paid for that thing, it would have probably cost me like $7 at the time. I also had my first "bacon cheeseburger" experience at that same Steak and Shake as a child.
Andy also passed along this Steak and Shake story to me: As a child while living in Houston, Andy noticed that the Steak and Shake sign had the word "Takhomasak" at the bottom. For years he thought that it might be a reference to a Chief Takhomasak or something. His mom had to explain to him that it was the words "Take Home A Sack."
You can share your burger stories or tell me your favorites in the comments section, if you're into that sorta thing.