I caught a few minutes of Slap Shot on TV the other day including the scene where the Chiefs goalie Denis Lemiuex explains what it is like for a hockey player to spend time in the penalty box (video). His closing words “…and you feel shame” seem applicable to so many things we do in life, including eating burgers. If you’ve spent any time in fast food joints (and I’m guessing if you found your way to this blog you have) you’ve probably ended up in a second or third tier place looking to scratch that burger itch. Depending how far down the chain you have allowed yourself to go, I’m guessing you will at some point end up doing the walk of shame out to your car, or back to the office or worse to your spouse or friends having to explain just how far you’ve fallen.
The chart above is my attempt to plot out my fast food burger experiences. There are places where I have gone, found the food to be amazing and then felt the urge to stand on the mountaintop and proclaim to the world that my taste buds have been sated and my soul has been strengthened by the manna from the g-ds. And then there have been places where I have almost instantly been filled with regret, embarrassed to mention how low I have dipped and yes – felt shame. I am taking a wild guess here by saying that I bet you have had those moments, too. For every story about hitting In-N-Out within 15 minutes of the plane landing in Las Vegas there is a tale that will never be told about a shameful trip to West Philly for a Baconzilla at Checkers.
I am hoping you will join the conversation by leaving a comment. I apologize that the “Leave a comment” button is a bit hard to find in this theme. Take a look on the top left of the text section below the picture and photo info. You’ll find the link there. Chime in. (Update: click here to leave a comment if it is easier)
A few parting thoughts…
I know that Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. are the same company but I really think they are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Now it could be the setting (my Carl’s Jr. experiences have obviously been on the West Coast, in California, Utah and Nevada – world’s apart from the Hardees in Harrisburg, PA that I walked out of last week) because the marketing shtick and food are pretty much identical. They really do seem to present the two brands much differently and I wish that wasn’t the case, because those of us on the east coast are getting the short end of the stick on this one.
Check out Hawk Krall’s recent trip to Krystal (here). For those who are quick to dismiss them as a southern knock-off of White Castle remember that WC was born in the midwest, not Gotham City. My earliest Krystal memories are from my time living in Mississippi, taking bonding drives with my dad in our convertible. One of the best lessons he ever taught me was about letting things out of your control slide off your back as we watched a sudden thunderstorm dump gallons of water on our car while the roof was open. He just sat their casually eating his burgers waiting for the storm to quickly pass. Like a scene out of a movie I remember opening the car doors and watching tons of water flow out. We both hopped in, the car started up and off we went. This being Mississippi the car was dried out after a few minutes of driving and he carried on with no sense of panic or concern. It was after all just a car. If something had gone wrong we would have dealt with it, but part of me thinks the time we were spending together inside eating and talking about baseball was more valuable than whatever else could have occurred (plus the electrical system probably would have been completely shorted in the first few minutes, but allow me to wax nostalgic won’t you?).
I placed McDonald’s just above and to the positive side of the middle on this chart because to me they are the control group. Their burger is the taste that I still compare everything to (thanks to Ray Kroc’s model of consistency breeds familiarity breeds happiness/brand loyalty).
What does nostalgia taste like?
For folks in the Philly suburbs, today it tasted like the idealized version of the Gino Giant they have been dreaming of since the regional chain named for one of pro football’s earliest off-field entrepreneurs, Gino Marchetti, ceased to exist in the early ’80s.
For those who braved the opening day crowds it must have truly seemed like “Everybody Goes To Gino’s”. Others, like me, benefited from the benevolence of co-workers who are lucky enough to have offices within Whopper-throwing distance of the new location on Rt 202 in King of Prussia (across from the King of Prussia Mall – either the Court or the Plaza, I can never remember which is which…the one I’m talking about has the Apple Store).
Is it possible that the Gino Giant would still taste the same after all those years? Like Lou Reed crooning in the Velvet Underground classic Sweet Jane “Those were different times” and indeed they were. The fast food landscape in 1982 bears little resemblance to today. Oh sure, many of the same players are at the top of the charts, but what is offered up now on their plastic trays is worlds apart. While the market leaders have continued to hone their successful strategy of peddling highly processed foods “designed” to ensure unwavering consistency of taste (while severely minimizing any possibility of food borne illness and/or human error requiring dumping of the product), upstarts like Five Guys and Elevation Burger have blazed a new trail with hand-formed patties cooked fresh (and with accompanying doneness variations). Where my memory, and this commercial, remind me that Gino’s originally strove to be in the first category, the modern day version aims to compete head-on in the new, more “upscale” genre.
The Giant is still the Giant, a pre-Big Mac era “Big Mac” (not sure if they beat Wright’s Dairy-Rite to the punch, or the countless other joints that back in the day slapped secret Thousand Island-style sauce on top of twin patties, shredded lettuce and double cheese) and I have to say that despite a 20 minute journey in the car, mine held up well. The meat itself was very tasty (two 1/4 lb beef patties), the sauce perfectly piquant, the shredded lettuce acted as unobtrusive roughage and the American cheese was extra-gooey. The Giant is served up nicely on a sesame seeded squishy roll and wrapped in paper (hallelujah!). Visually, it looks identical to a Five Guys cheeseburger , but I’d give Gino’s a bit of a nod because the burger didn’t come with that side order of meat coma which Five Guys always tends to bring on because of the amped up grease quotient (this isn’t necessarily a knock, because as we all know Vitamin-G is an essential part of every growing boy’s diet). The car ride and the fact that the place was mobbed and required workers to do everything in double-time meant it was less than photogenic by the time it arrived, but taste trumps all in this game. I am eager to sneak over in the near future to test out another and also try their fries and the item besides the Giant that they are most fondly remembered for, their fried chicken.
Welcome back, Gino’s. We honestly couldn’t have expected you not to change, but in this case change might be a good thing.
It bugs the heck out of me that the sandwich is called the “Gino Giant” and not the “Gino’s Giant,” yet the chicken version is called the “Gino’s Chicken Giant.” I am not grammaratarian (should be a word if it isn’t), but man it hurts my brain to type it without the “‘s.”
This 1971 commercial paints a terrifying picture of the effect drinking soda can have on children. The winded kid at the end telling us to hurry up and get to a store before all of the kites are gone seems ripe for Michael Pollan’s picking. Bonus at no additional cost to you – awesome mid-Atlantic region accents on the twins at the :10 second mark (love how they say “to go.”). And for those that might ask, that is not a younger me at the :21 second mark, though I do have those glasses and (before it began to recede) I had that hair.
The Commodore 64 was released in 1982, the year the Gino’s chain was sold to the Marriott Corporation and folded into their Roy Rogers’ business.Gino’s Burgers & Chicken 611 West DeKalb Pike (Route 202) King of Prussia, PA 610.265.5900
I’ve never been a “Bed & Breakfast” kind of person, always preferring the anonymous consistency of a larger hotel when traveling. I think part of the reason might have been that I never came across the right one. This summer we found it, tucked up the side of a mountain in Woodstock, NY. The amenities were nice, it featured all sorts of earthy-crunchy touches that my wife appreciated, it had great food and a truly nice owner, but the one thing that has stuck with me since our stay, and what has me thinking about returning, was the library in our room which featured a ton of old cookbooks. Odds are they were chosen as much for kitsch as they were for food dreamers, but their mere appearance hinted at a new culinary world for me and I have been on a mission to find some old cookbooks for our own book stacks. I finally had my chance a few weeks ago at our local library’s annual book sale and I felt like I scored big time with a copy of Betty Crocker’s Cook Book for Boys and Girls. Now, of course, the first thing I did was search for a burger recipe and I was rewarded with a few in this 1957 time capsule. The first one I cooked up is above and I must admit it looks like your basic hamburger, but it has a juicy twist.
The recipe is all of 3 ingredients long, but the results were pretty impressive.Combine in a bowl and then form into patties
- 1 lb. of ground beef (we used 85/15 grass-fed beef)
- 1/2 cup of evaporated milk
- 1 tbsp. salt
I know what you’re saying. Looks kind of boring, and on paper it is. I have never even considered using evaporated milk in a burger before and to be honest I wasn’t sold after combining the ingredients. The concoction had a really loose consistency and I panicked a bit and ended up tossing the patties in the freezer for a few minutes to firm them up for fear that they would disintegrate while cooking. Me of little faith. 6 minutes per side under a broiler set to high is enough for the higher side of medium (in reality I had them under for 8 minutes per side in hopes of getting a bit of a crust on them which resulted in an incongruously moist solid grey middle). Tossed on squishy rolls with a slather of mayo, mustard and a tomato, these retro treats were legit. The evaporated milk does impart a bit of creaminess to the burgers, but it is not off-putting. I think the selling point of these burgers is you can satisfy the “well-done” folks at your BBQ with a juicy burger – something they may never have experienced before (especially at 160°).
I have poured over tons of burger recipes over the years and have never seen evaporated milk on the ingredient list. Have you? It made me wonder what other ingredients have fallen out of favor. Thankfully I have a small stack of 50′s, 60′s and 70′s cookbooks now to cook my way through in hopes of finding out the answer to that myself.
Click here for extra pictures from the cookbook.
Retreat At TreeGap in Woodstock, NY (the original inspiration for this post).
The blog has been a bit quiet lately, due in no small part to some dietary changes around our household. My wife has committed to a life of vegetarianism and the rest of us are going along for the ride, sometimes begrudgingly, often times (believe it or not) excitedly.
Our once meat-centric diet has now been turned upside down. Our chicken parmesan is now eggplant parm (not even fried, Oy vey zmir), our hoisin chicken is now tofu’d up. Bok choy, kale, beets, collard greens and kohlrabi are now frequent visitors to our kitchen, and along with various seeds, end up in a dizzying array of smoothies, juices and soups.
The burger shown above came to us by way of CuisineNie, who borrowed it from the Cookin’ Canuck (recipe). This darn tasty twist on the traditional veggie burger draws “beefy heft” from a combination of black beans, brown rice, onions, jalapenos and garlic. A cilantro lime mayo and a slew of avocado slices gave it a nice creamy finish. It was completely filling and we used some of the leftover patties to make other variations which were equally as satisfying. (The mini peppers stuffed with quinoa in the background were pretty good, too. No recipe for those, just improvised with a bunch of ingredients from our CSA share.)
For those of you looking for burger reviews of the beef variety, have no fear. I will (and have) fall off the wagon, plus I have tons of photos and half-written reviews to get to. Stay tuned for posts on some great new burgers in Philly and the ‘burbs, as well as a few from our recent travels.
Well before Carl’s Jr. introduced their “foot long cheeseburger,” and certainly centuries before our bodies will have evolved to the point where we actually need a foot long cheeseburger, the folks at Joe Beez in Kingston, NY have been serving up these stunners to the joy and wonderment of locals and bleary-eyed burger blogging tourists alike.
“Conveniently” located amidst one of Kingston’s many commercial districts (Have metal fabrication needs or perhaps you are looking for a cap for your pickup truck? You can scratch that itch and more all within a stone’s throw of this joint), Joe Beez is a throwback to another time and place where manly men who bend metal with their bare hands (see above reference to nearby metal fabricator) would come each day for their requisite hectares of lunch meats.
Nearly 100 different sandwich options literally scream for your attention, leaping off handwritten, multi-colored construction paper signs tacked to the joint’s walls. They’ve adopted Carnegie Deli’s schtick of paying homage to celebrities by naming subs after them – Jerry Garcia, Bobby Flay, Heavy D, Winnie The Pooh and Dustin Pedroia are just a few of the notables. Whittling down the list of burgers wasn’t easy, but if they are going to make a claim with one called the “Real Burger King” then I felt I should see for myself how they hoped to ride to the title.
The bar stool-lined dining room is small and crowds up quickly during lunch time so we took our sandwiches to-go and cracked them open at a picnic pavilion outside the Kingston Zoo (which was surprisingly good and free to boot!). Splayed out on the table with it’s wrappings torn asunder, the R.B.K. revealed its true self – a gloriously freakish lovefest of burgers, bacon, “veggies” and cheese, all served on a darn nice sub/hoagie roll (which I didn’t expect outside of Philly) – without guilt or remorse.
Here is your shopping list if you care to to recreate this one at home:(2) 1/4 lb. beef patties, each patty sliced in half (cooked up perfectly on a flat top by the way) Cheddar cheese, blue cheese and Swiss cheese A rasher of bacon
Grilled onions Grilled peppers Frank’s style hot sauce Hot peppers
And, if you are in Philly you might want to try and grab a Wawa foot long sub roll. The Joe Beez version, produced by Kingston’s own Deising’s Bakery, is squishy just like Wawa’s hoagie rolls.
Slap all of that together and you’ve got yourself a mammoth sandwich which, weighing in at well over a pound. The drive to the zoo took just long enough for all of the ingredients to truly combine and congeal and the heat trapped inside the wrapper actually steamed the roll a bit, meaning all parts of the sandwich were texturally similar – more harmonious than homogeneous. After several days of near forced vegetarianism on our vacation to Woodstock, NY, this sandwich satisfied all of my meat cravings and actually proved too much to eat, at least in the presence of my children who may (or may not) wish for me to be present at their future graduations and weddings.
So does it deserve the title of “The Real Burger King?” Probably not. That bar is just way too high and at a minimum would require a more focused approach to the burgers, which when separated from the pack and eaten alone were only about pub grade, due I think more to cooking skill than quality or heritage of the beef. Where this burger does excel though is in delivering a heaping amount of food without sacrificing taste. This is no easy task and maybe there should be some title in the monarchy reserved for the rare few that can achieve this feat. If I lived in Upstate New York this would be a routine stop (mercifully they do offer smaller versions of their sandwiches, too) and it is easy to see why Joe Beez consistently earns rave reviews for being way more than your average sub shop.
Joe Beez stands staunchly counter to the whims of popular opinion in our country by continuing to offer a burger called the “Big Ben Rothlisberger” (ingredients roll call: burgers, ham, bacon, capicola, 4 kinds of cheese, peppers, onions, ad infinitum). This absolute clusterf**k of a sandwich seems even more fitting now as its impact on your body is akin to crashing a motorcycle if not clearly identifying yourself as someone with incredibly poor judgment (nutritional or, ahem – otherwise).
Now here is the dilemma…under what possible circumstances would you ever find yourself in Kingston, NY (if going to Joe Beez is not enough to convince your wife)? Let me offer you some suggestions torn straight from our recent vacation itinerary. The Saugerties Lighthouse is incredibly cool and the 1/2 mile hike through the marshlands is the perfect balance of effort and payoff. Bard College, just across the very bridge that breathes life into Kingston, has a Frank Gehry designed theater and a huge piece of modern art by Olafur Eliasson called “The Parliament of Reality” which alone may be worth the trip upstate. Big Pink, the namesake of The Band’s 1968 debut album “Music From Big Pink” is less than 1/2 hour from Joe Beez and with the benefit of GPS and a favorable tail wind you may actually find this house. Stop by and spend a moment wondering how Bob Dylan and the boys ever found this place while even mildly impaired.Click here for additional pictures Joe Beez 40 South Manor Avenue
Kingston, NY 12401-3628 (845) 334-9501
(2) “Krust” pastries from Golden Krust (Jamaican meat patties without the meat)
(1) “Baconzilla” from Checkers
1. Flip your “Baconzilla” over and remove bottom bun, replacing it with one of the “Krust” pastries.
2. Flip the burger over again then take the top bun off the “Baconzilla,” replacing it with the remaining “Krust.”
Like a Rastafarian cousin of the legendary Luther Burger (a bacon cheeseburger served on a Krispy Kreme donut) with a bit more heft. Perfectly stratified layers of sweet, salty and savory.
Ensuring that the burger and pastries are warm is key which means that you will need to identify a Golden Krust and Checkers in close proximity to each other. Thankfully in Philadelphia this is not that difficult. The easiest spot to pull this off is in North Philadelphia near the Olney Septa Terminal (pick up your Golden Krust at Broad & Olney and then drive 2 minutes further north to the Checkers at 5600 North Broad Street). You can also grab your GK just up the street from the Tower Theater in Upper Darby and then grab the Baconzilla at the Checkers at Lancaster and W. Girard). Not in Philadelphia? Check out each joint’s webpage for locations – Golden Krust – Checkers/Rally’s.
Although tall in stature, the concoction does press down nicely and despite appearances is not unwieldy to eat except for the flakiness of the “bun.” Eating one is shame-inducing (a la KFC’s Double Down), but you only go around this world once so you may as well give it a try.
The “Krust” alone is a decadent item, with an amped up taste no doubt owing to some shortening, and mouthfeel akin to baklava. As previously noted in this blog, the “Baconzilla” is in my mind, the undisputed heavyweight champion of fast food burgers. A mind-altering melange of turbo charged beef, as much bacon as the preparer either feels like or remembers to put on, an equally random amount of cheddar cheese sauce all topped with ketchup and mayonnaise. Normally served on a perfectly acceptable fancied up burger bun (think Wendy’s larger burgers if you don’t have a Checkers near you), the “Baconzilla” lives up to its monster themed name.
The grilled cheese sandwich leftover in the “Baconzilla” bun is a worthwhile meal in itself. The remaining cheese mixes perfectly with the leftover ketchup and mayo to create an oozy, cheese whiz-esque neon orange sauce.
Question For The Comments Section:
Aside from the ubiquitous KFC/Taco Bell combination, which two fast food joints would you like to see team up? What magical creations would they create? (FYI, the comments link has moved to the top left of the post, in the section next to the post title.)
Flushing, NY 11354-5429
The three sweetest words in the English language may just be “Free Bacon Upgrade” and that is exactly what I encountered at Joe’s BestBurger in bustling Flushing (Queens), NY last week. Until the end of April (hurry!) they are offering free bacon with your double cheeseburger combo and the perfectly cooked pork planks gild the lily on what has to be one of the best fast-food style burgers you can grab on the East Coast.
I am going to consciously try to avoid the name of the West Coast place that has the same “keep it simple” style and coy “secret” menu because I think at the end of the day it is a frustrating and fruitless comparison. Let’s face it, as much as those of us on the right side of the continent can opine about…oh heck, I’ll just use their initials…INO, we just can’t get it. Every so often some of us can hop on planes and head westward to get our fix, but the majority of the time we have to search out reasonable facsimiles and Joe’s completely nails it for me.
I have a satellite office just a few yards from Joe’s (just passed the guy selling lamb on a stick for $1 – well worth it, too – ask for it spicy) and I always make it a point to drop in for a burger when I am in town. Freshness is a mantra at Joe’s which is initially confounding because the place looks like a cookie cutter fast food joint. Our subsconcious has been trained to expect our meals in 30 seconds flat, piping hot from below pink-ish hued heat lamps, when we encounter this much formica and a battalion of uniformed cashiers and cooks. What Joe’s does is take the best parts from the fast food concept (uniform product, consistent branding and competitive pricing to name a few) and then delivers a hell of a product.
Burgers go on the griddle after you order them and baskets of fresh cut fries wait to dip in the bubbling oil pools until you’ve made up your mind between them and the equally worthy onion rings. The made-to-order cooking means it takes about 3-5 minutes to get your food, but that is time well spent loading up on frothy chocolate soda from one of two soda dispensers (a name brand cola dispenser and another one offering a variety of Joe’s own branded soda).
Burger construction isn’t an afterthought at Joe’s. For my bacon double cheeseburger, the cook prepared the cold bottom bun with a thousand-island style burger sauce, then rests a bright red tomato on top which is then flanked with a piece of lettuce. Each wide and thin (1/4 lb-ish patty) is topped with yellow cheese and a slice of bacon, then one is stacked on the other and carefully balanced with the top bun. The gooey meat stack is then lifted off the griddle with a nice supply of glistening grease still hanging on for the trip to meet its cold cousins before being wrapped up in wax paper and placed on the tray. With the aforementioned fries this is a burger worth driving a couple hundred miles for.
I know what you’re saying, “If this place is so good, why aren’t people raving about it 24/7?” I think this place is under-hyped because quite frankly there are thousands of better things to eat in Flushing. No knock on Joe’s, it is top-notch, but the variety of authentic and exotic Asian food available in a relatively small footprint is mind boggling. Choosing to eat a burger, even for a burger lover like me, means wasting a limited opportunity to eat something else amazing. That said, I encourage you to try Joe’s (or at least engage in some major league gluttony to take in a few of the other offerings in the neighborhood – both above ground and below ground) if only because they aren’t opening an In-N-Out on the east coast anytime soon.
Hungry for more? Read A Hamburger Today’s take on Joe’s from 2005.
Phillies fans take note, Joe’s is maybe a mile away from Citi Field, home of the Mets. Two Sunday day games are scheduled for later in the season (8/15 and 9/12), both 1:10 starts, which means it is perfectly reasonable to sneak up for the day to catch a game and some burgers.
I’m not a huge fan of college basketball, but tourney time lights a little spark in just about everyone. Living here in the burbs outside Philadelphia, I annually adopt a small rooting interest for the Villanova Wildcats as they march towards the Final Four. Since I can’t talk X’s and O’s when it comes to hoops, I’ll offer the only advice I can for those interested in the tourney- a recommendation for a good burger spot to catch the ‘Cats opening round game against Robert Morris on Thursday. Game time is 12:30pm which means you can probably time your office escape perfectly to catch a good chunk of the game and grab a bite to eat. For those who feel the need to be close to the hub of activity (and can’t make it to Providence, RI), for my money, the best place to go close to Nova is The BRGR Joint in Bryn Mawr.
Safely within stumbling distance for the college crowd on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, daytime finds the place exceedingly quick and not overly crowded – with two ridiculously huge TVs normally pegged to a news channel, though I’d be willing to bet they’ll be airing the game. The burgers are akin to Five Guys, though thankfully much lower on the grease scale. I usually order mine with a fried egg on top, but can vouch for the quality of most of their topping combinations (tons of toppings like 5G or Elevation Burger). They’ve recently introduced two new burger/fries/soda combos (a one patty “lil” cheeseburger with fries and a drink is $5.99 and a two patty “regular” cheeseburger with fries and drink is $6.99 – with egg or bacon an additional $0.99) making things even easier on the wallet. Special kudos for the fries at BRGR Joint. They are on par with the burgers taste-wise and come in regular and sweet potato varieties. If you are coming with a friend you’d be wise to order one of each (and maybe a third order with their chili ladled on top).
The tattoo motif of the dining room belies the true demeanor of the place, which is exceedingly friendly. These are true burger folks who know their stuff and are sincerely interested in delivering a great burger experience every time you stop in. Each time I go I try to bring a new person with me and I know others are doing the same – this is the kind of place you really want to see succeed because they seem to have their hearts in the right place.
So plan your excuses now and I’ll probably see you at BRGR Joint around 12:30 Thursday, just in time for tip-off.
The BRGR Joint
1011 W Lancaster Ave
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
Hours of work but an incredible payoff. Light and airy, these eggy buns are hearty enough to stand up to the juices of your burger and most importantly they are delicious. I’m loathe to give Martha too much credit (for fear that she will become even more omnipresent in our home life), but this recipe is really straightforward and within reach of pretty much any level baker.
Hat tip to (and recipe via) Serious Eats click.
Recipe made (12) 4″ round rolls, only (11) of which made it to the cooling rack. The scene around the first roll out of the oven was akin to one of those Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom shots of a pack of lions eviscerating a wildebeest. It wasn’t pretty but damn it tasted good.