In this 32-page easy reader, Papa Bear and Brother Bear head off for fast food burgers at a restaurant curiously named “In And Out.” Since the 1960′s, over 200 Berenstein titles have been published so it was inevitable that one would prominently feature burgers.
Interestingly, an AP obituary of Stan Berenstain included the passage
… the Berenstain Bears, written and illustrated by Stan and Jan Berenstain, helped children for 40 years cope with trips to the dentist, babysitters, eating junk food and cleaning their messy rooms.
so this title is either a rare moral slip up on the part of the authors or further proof that the hamburger has transcended junk food status and shifted into the “food of the Gods” category.
The (human) Berenstain’s were Philly folks through and through, so it is quite possible that the title is a mere coincidence and actually just a play on the fact that the story literally revolves around a door (note the title is “…Go In And Out” not “…Go To In And Out”). Whatever the back story, the tale worked for our daughter who, when bumbling Papa Bear finally made it inside the restaurant and ordered two delicious looking burgers, uttered “wow, I’d really like one of those burgers.”
You’ve seen books from the Images of America series thousands of times at your local bookstore, airport, historic landmark gift shop, etc. (there are over 5,000 titles in the series already). They are paperback books chock-full of black and white pictures of historic towns, neighborhoods and fraternal organizations. The Burger Chef book is the first one dedicated to a fast food outlet and for sheer historical and pop culture value, the chain is a great choice for this treatment.
First time author Scott R. Sanders uses images he has gathered from Burger Chef co-founder Frank P. Thomas Jr. (who sadly passed on before the book was published*), several collectors and perhaps the largest collection of Burger Chef memorabilia, Schroeder’s Drive-In in Danville, Illinois, to move along the pretty compelling story of the chain. Running almost parallel to McDonalds (in philosophy, McD’s set up shop in the big towns and Burger Chef ruled small town America), the chain was a trailblazer in fast food technology and marketing and at one point laid claim to the title of fastest growing fast food chain in the country (and second-largest chain overall behind McDonalds).
As much as I wanted Stacy Perman’s In-N-Out Burger book from earlier this year to be some sort of cosmic event – offering up the secrets to success and worldwide burger adulation with a side order of history, Sanders builds a story here that I think is much more compelling. In less space and really only with pictures, he illustrates Burger Chef’s impact on the industry and in reshaping small town America (now whether that is a good thing is debatable, but with chains that have disappeared we can cut them some slack). The incredibly personal and candid photos used throughout stamp a real time and place aspect on the story, which ratchets up the nostalgia factor while easing you through the history.
Broken up into 6 sections, the book takes you from the birth of the franchise (like McDonalds, Burger Chef was born out of the technology that was used in the restaurant – in this case the Sani-Shake and Sani-Broiler designed by chain founders under the General Equipment Company flag), through its growth and ultimate demise, with stops along the way to gawk at store merchandising, promotional items and advertisements.
One of the most interesting sections of the book is about an ill-fated side venture from Burger Chef, the Pied Piper mobile food van. As shown below, the entire operation was run out of an early 60′s Volkswagen Van.
One innovation from Burger Chef that did stick was the “Fun Meal” which was introduced in 1973 and served as the template for similar offerings at other chains and continues on today as “Happy Meals” or “Kids Meals.”
I had the chance to speak with Scott about some topics not covered in the book.
The last Burger Chef closed in 1996, is there chain today making burgers similar to BC?
The hamburgers at Carl’s Jr. are flame-broiled and taste the closest to what I used to eat at Burger Chef. Burger King used to taste similar, but the flavor of their hamburgers has changed.
Asked if writing a book about burgers caused him to eat more of them…
I don’t think I ate hamburgers more frequently while writing the book, but I was often reminded of how much I missed eating hamburgers at Burger Chef.
Scott is an elementary school teacher in Alvin, Texas and I asked him how his pupils have reacted to the book…
Actually, I did a presentation about Burger Chef and my book for my school last spring, and the reaction of the students was amazing. They were fascinated by the story of the chain and they all wanted to go out and eat at one of the restaurants.
If you are in Texas, Scott has a few recommendations for burger joints to check out including:Bellaire Broiler Burger 5216 Bellaire Blvd
Bellaire, TX 77401-3902 The Spot 3204 Seawall Blvd
Galveston, TX 77550-7656 Whataburger
I (Scott) generally consider Whataburger to be the best hamburger chain in the area. Mooyah I (Scott) have started eating at a new chain called Mooyah that just opened here. To order, you fill out a card indicating your choice of hamburger and the toppings you would like.
Burger Chef is available at area bookstores, independent retailers, and on-line retailers, or through Arcadia Publishing at (888)-313-2665 or www.arcadiapublishing.com.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book at my request. I receive no compensation for your purchase and I am not related to Scott R. Sanders, but it is good to know there are other folks named Sanders who appreciate a good story and a burger.
Post holiday weekend and we’ve got an impenetrable wall of leftovers in the fridge from Saturday’s Passover Seder and Sunday’s Easter dinner. Tons of great food prepared by family and friends and lots of late night snacking and experimenting opportunities.
This burger was pretty much inevitable after the first bite of haroset at the Seder. On the Seder Plate haroset represents the mortar which the slaves used to build the pyramids in Egypt. The almost too simple recipe of chopped apples, nuts and wine is available everywhere on the web (see here, here and here) and is ideally prepared by your mother/grandmother. The version we had was just on the happy side of “too sweet” and as used here was the perfect burger topping.
The burger itself was an 80/20 mix of ground chuck and was produced using “The Great Burger” recipe from John Torode’s new book “Beef and other bovine matters.” The secret to Torode’s recipe (and how these burgers are served at his Smiths of Smithfield restaurant in London) is his use of Chinese oyster sauce instead of salt. His theory that salt dries out the burger too much and that this side-effect outweighs the benefits of the taste it imparts is an interesting one and I have to say I kind of agree. We grilled the burgers and I purposely left one patty on to the point of overdoneness and it was still juicy. More side-by-side tests are necessary, but I’m willing to buy into the logic. The oyster sauce doesn’t overpower the burger either. In the end it was much more subtle then the sniff from the bottle might have suggested.
At this point I am not sick of matzo…that will come soon enough though. Sadly, as anyone who has eaten a Hillel sandwich knows, matzo is not the best sandwich delivery vehicle, but even as it crumbled to bits with the first bite it remained the only logical choice for this burger and the rare bites that did include burger, haroset and matzo were perfect.
Our pantry will be filled with matzo for months (do they sell it in anything but 5 lb. boxes?) so this dish will pop up again in our house very soon…just have to make more haroset but that is easy and is a great use for any leftover wine you might have laying about.
By the way, the perfect beverage for this burger is of course Passover Coke. The local Genuardi’s supply was waning considerably the other day…load up while you can!
Next up is an Easter burger with cabbage roll topping on a potato roll! Stay tuned.
Found this in my daughter’s play kitchen the other day…as best I can tell it is a double burger with tomato and egg (with the tomato in between two burger patties…pretty revolutionary!). If this were available in a restaurant, I would order it! Can you say “proud poppa”?
A few month’s back my daughter received the Melissa & Doug’s Wooden Sandwich Making Kit, which features a myriad of sandwich making options. The folks at M&D must be burger fans because one of the “meat” options is clearly a hamburger (it even comes with a seeded burger bun) and most of the toppings work perfectly on burgers (in the real world). Tomatoes, lettuce and pickles are joined by ham, egg and two different types of cheese to offer hundreds of options for imaginary play.
At 3 years old my daughter has already carved out some fairly sophisticated burger tastes, having been dragged (along with mom) to joints up and down the east coast. From Shady Glen Dairy to Monk’s, Ted’s Steamed Cheeseburgers to Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage, she’s seen and sampled some of the best burgers around, so watching her play with this set and create her own “dream burgers” gives me a bizarre sense of pride. Thankfully mom is around to ply her with vegan/vegetarian food most of the time to avoid her truly taking after dad.
I can just see the Juno-inspired Hamburger Phone in her room when she is a teenager (if phones even exist by then).
If you have a little burger lover at your house, they might like this book.
It is one of our favorites and gets quoted at least once a week…”I’m not a burger, I’m a boy!”
Though at times it seems like New York City is the burger world’s epicenter, living down here in Philadelphia really has its advantages. Along with easy access to top level spots like Good Dog and Charlies Hamburgers, a quick drive in any direction (even north to Gotham) offers up some great burger opportunities. This night a few buddies and I headed 30 minutes south of the border to purchase our holiday stock of wine and beer in the fine state of Delaware and decided to top off the night with a stop at the quintessential burger joint- The Charcoal Pit.
I’ve been going to this place since I was a kid and have tons of fond memories of trips with my dad to grab a burger and a shake. My buddies had never been before but within seconds I think were convinced of its authenticity. Ripped straight from your most idyllic memories of Al’s on the TV show Happy Days, this 1950′s quick service spot features tight booths with individual juke boxes, great roadside architecture and one of the best neon signs around.
As the restaurant name implies the burgers are broiled over charcoal, providing a truly rare treat for the taste buds. What you end up getting is a flavorful burger that due to the high heat is more or less seared on the outside thus ensuring the insides remain juicy (and deliciously greasy). The burger is densely packed and no doubt retains a lot of its original 8 oz. size. The authentic grill marks appear to remind you that yes you have a grill in your backyard which hypothetically should allow you to cook a burger this good…but sadly you won’t be able to match it.
The Charcoal Pit is a mini-chain with four locations. The original North Wilmington location where we went is on the highly trafficked Concord Pike and was pretty close to the town where I went to high school making it a great hang-out spot (if only for the thrill of driving across state lines).
The Charcoal Pit is Delaware’s only entry in George Motz’s book Hamburger America and you’d be hard pressed to name another spot worthy of inclusion. This one epitomizes the term “real-retro,” with a half-century already under its belt and no reason to believe it won’t be around for our grandkids to enjoy. If you find yourself in Philadelphia, it is well worth the short drive to discover what the menu touts as the “…secret that has kept Delawareans craving…for over 50 years.”
Yup, somebody wrote it – so cross another possible topic of your list of books you’ll write someday. Andrew F. Smith (and an Advisory Board!) have put together an exhaustive list of everything that your mother said you shouldn’t eat, your doctor said you should eat in moderation and your inner voices tell you to eat daily. From A (A&W Root Beer) to Y (Yum! Brands – sorry, no Z), this is a great book to lose a few hours in.
On the burger front, this book lays out the history of most of the big chains we all know and love. The back history to many of them might not be as well known as the Ray Kroc McDonald’s story, so this is a great source for useless facts to impress your other burger loving friends.
To whet your appetite, here are a few:
- Hardee’s was founded by Wilbur Hardee in Greenville, NC in 1960. Hardee was bought out 1 year later by J. Leonard Rawls and James Carson Gardner.
- The first Happy Meal was launched in 1973 by the Burger Chef chain. McDonald’s launched their version in 1978.
- Popeye’s burger loving friend Wimpy has a full name – J. Wellington Wimpy.
- In 2002, McDonald’s outlets in Norway introduced a “McAfrika Burger,” which was pulled when protesters brought to light the rampant starvation among residents of the continent.
and on and on for 300+ pages. Smith also includes recommendations for additional reading, which has brought to light a ton of burger related reading that I have so far missed.
As for Mr. Smith – his bio lists him as “an independent scholar and speaker specializing in education, history and culinary themes.” He has written about popcorn, tomatoes and peanuts and was the editor in chief of The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Sounds like a cool gig.
It is a bit pricey on amazon.com ($68.00) but you may find it like I did, sitting sadly untouched at your local library.