Can you feel it? The epicenter of the burger world seems to be shifting lately. NY and LA, the old guard as it were, are making way for the new – as in New Mexico. Late last year, the New Mexico Board of Tourism launched an interactive map to help visitors find the finest purveyors of the state’s indigenous Green Chile Cheeseburger; and the reigning intercontinental heavyweight champs of the burger blog world, A Hamburger Today, recently launched a series featuring burgers from The Land of Enchantment.
Ever since George Motz introduced the world to The Bobcat Bite in Hamburger America (youtube video) I’ve been craving an authentic Green Chile Cheeseburger. Sure, I’ve tried canned chiles to create my own at-home version, but something is missing. Unfortunately, several factors are working against me as family/job responsibilities coupled with the fact that I live in Philadelphia make a quick visit to New Mexico an impossibility. I needed to get closer to the burger so I figured I’d go the vicarious route and talk to a native.
New Mexico’s most famous living resident might very well be Marc Maron (I’m just going to assume we’ve all forgotten about Bill Richardson, right?). Host of one of the most popular podcast’s in the Apple iTunes Store, WTF, Maron seemed like the perfect guy to ask what makes a Green Chile Cheeseburger so special. A few days ago we finally connected and talked about burgers and being a foodie, and along the way he was kind enough to recommend a few of his favorite burger joints.
Burgatory: So what can you tell me about green chiles?
Maron: Green chiles, well that is what New Mexico is known for. You can get it in a can, Ortega’s or whatever, but it’s not the same as fresh roasted, Northern New Mexico green chile…at chile time…you can get it along side the road, they harvest it then roll it around in these giant roasters so the peels fall off then bag it. My stepmom Rosie, she’ll freeze a ton of it…it’s a very specific flavor and it really only happens there. It’s pretty great…
Burgatory: Are they spicy?
Maron: It can go any way…you can get it really spicy or you can get mild but there’s still that underlying flavor that is pretty unique.
Burgatory: When you think green chile cheeseburgers, which place comes to mind?
Maron: I grew up eating at the Frontier Restaurant and I go there every time I am back. They make a great green chile stew and they also make a pretty great green chile cheeseburger. It’s not your chichi, two inches thick, Kobe beef ‘bit of business’, it’s a flat patty like you get at a diner, maybe a 1/2 inch thick, all of them are consistent, they’re all made fresh but it’s not a gourmet burger, but they put a wad of green chiles on the top and then they use shredded cheddar cheese. So it definitely has a unique flavor to it, nothing tastes like Frontier. But if you’re going there expecting some sort of rare to medium-rare, drippy, bloody burger so you can be a snob about it, that isn’t going to happen. If you want a dirty, green chile cheeseburger, that’s the place to go.
Burgatory: So is Frontier your favorite burger joint? I know you split your time between the east coast and the west coast…
Maron: Well there are different kinds of burgers…you’ve got your fast food type of burger, or diner type of burger or you’ve got your fancy burger.
I try not to get too involved with it, but I definitely love In-N-Out Burger out here (in California). Again not a great burger in terms of grade of beef or thickness or that kind of stuff, but for a dirty fast food burger – the best.
Burgatory: Do you consider yourself a “foodie”?
Maron: I like to cook and generally I’m not out there pushing the envelope with cooking, I just have a knack for it and I’d rather cook than eat out. I find cooking very meditative and it captures my focus and I do it to step down all of my anxieties. We have very little control over most things in life but if you get going with cooking at least you have control for a half-hour. I come from an eating disorder laden family and I think it’s my way of acting out against my chronically skinny mother.
Burgatory: I know you’re a fan of the Food Network and you even did your own web series “The Angry Chef,” (youtube video: Jonny Cakes – NSFW) was that your idea of what a Food Network show starring Marc Maron would look like?
Maron: Yeah, I would have liked to have done it there. I didn’t really pursue it much because I’m not much of a cook and they kind of take themselves pretty seriously over there…
Maron: Yeah, the lit cigar thing would probably bother them and maybe some of the language would bother them…I think the angle of the Angry Chef (youtube video: Minestrone – NSFW) was to cook your hostility and anger out of you…that while you are cooking you talk about what’s bothering you and get it out during the cooking. You can get pretty aggressive during cooking, which they sometimes do on the shows but they don’t really take a therapeutic angle, they take a cooking angle.
Burgatory: And there’s not a lot of talk about ex-wives?
Maron: Well I am sure that there are plenty of those guys that have plenty of that to talk about, but they don’t have the guts to be honest, all they can do is honestly cook and I even question that sometimes…you don’t ever see those guys prepping food, do you? No. Do they ever throw a bone or a thank you to the 6 or 7 culinary students that want to be chefs in the back diligently cutting Emeril’s onions? No.
Burgatory: Are there any parallels between cooking and comedy?
Maron: I used to talk about how I missed being a grill cook back in college because there is a sense of reward that is fairly quick with some cooking. When you flip an egg successfully, you know you did it, so there can be a relatively immediate gratification element that I think it shares with comedy if you are doing it right.
I can’t thank Marc enough for taking the time to talk. A lot of the conversation we had isn’t represented above and at some point I will probably put up the entire raw audio, but it is a tough listen because of the quality of the sound via Google Voice. Marc tours the country often and he has a slick website with all sorts of worthwhile info and merch. His coolest relationship might very well be with justcoffee.coop, a Madison, WI based coffee roaster that offers a WTF Blend coffee which is ridiculously good.
Editors note: I am honored to present the first guest post ever here on burgatory.com. Penned by good friend and world-class BBQer, baker, chef and eater, Jim Caccamo, this post is guaranteed to make your mouth water and have you running to a map to figure out exactly where Missouri is (we know it’s there somewhere – in the middle, right?). Look for Jim’s own blog about Technology & Ethics kicking off later this fall.
Beef In a Pork Town
I’ve spent the past twenty years living in beef towns. Chicago, with its Vienna Beef dogs, and Philadelphia, with its devotion to the Cheese Steak, certainly have their charms. But I grew up in the land of bar-b-que–Kansas City, Missouri. Now, I don’t know much about my new home here on the east coast, but what I do know is that few people from Philly know much about my home town. For most people around here, KC is one of those generic places in the thousand mile “flyover zone” between here and the west coast. If people have a sense of it, they think of it as a cow town.
Of course, it’s not a cow town. When I was growing up, it had a population of more than 2.5 million people. The stockyards had long given way to 4 professional sports teams, ballet, opera, and world class art museums. That, and we ate pork, not beef. Bar-b-que, to be specific. There were some good burger places, no doubt. Winstead’s made thin, melt in your mouth burgers. Town Topic did the perfect all-night-diner burger. But Kansas City was a bar-b-que town, with pork ribs at the top of the luscious hickory-smoked, mopped, and rubbed heap.
Today, the city’s food landscape has changed. Don’t get me wrong, bar-b-que is still king. But the city has undergone a dining-out revolution, and now there is a veritable royal family of great restaurants that serve excellent contemporary American cuisine, local favorites, and foods from around the world.
Into this mix comes Blanc Burgers + Bottles, a burger place in the Westport neighborhood that opened in 2006. Blanc is an independent boutique-burger restaurant that focuses on quality. Their menu is trim, focusing on burgers, fries, and beers. The beer selection is great, with a variety that is balanced between local, national, and international microbrews. They do a few appetizers and some great “adult” milkshakes (see later).
But the focus here is the burger. Their beef burgers are half-pounders made from a custom blend of tenderloin, ribeye and NY strip steak. They are going for the taste jugular. The buns are baked daily at a local bakery. They make their own pickles. They do hand cut fries and sweet potato fries, and local brew Boulevard Pale Ale battered onion rings. To top the fries, they make their own ketchup, whole grain mustard, and chipotle aioli, all of which are vibrant and flavorful. They do offer bison, pork, turkey, mahi mahi, and lentil burgers, but I didn’t try them, so I can’t help you there.
A strange confluence of events this evening as I was getting ready to do some maintenance on the blog. I took a look down at the website hit counter and noticed that it had crossed the 9,000 mark en route to 10,000 (and maybe more). I had kind of told myself that when we hit 10,000 I’d feel this experiment was a success. It got me thinking about how this blog started and then a ping came from the mail program and my Google Alerts set for “burgers” showed a story (1,2) about Beef Burger in Greensboro, NC…which in actuality is how this whole blog started.
While late night websurfing a few years ago I came across a website dedicated to a burger chain called “Biff Burger.” This site stunned me in its simplicity and the depth of information it held on this burger chain from the history books and started me thinking how many other stories were out there. Fast forward a bit and sites like A Hamburger Today and the site/book Hamburger America pretty much fill the niche for this type of info, but I thought there were probably a few stories that could be told and so I set up shop @ burgatory.com to tell them, toss out recipes, report burger news and generally learn how blogging works from the back-end.
Each summer we load up the family truckster and hit the open road searching for hole-in-the-wall burger joints and salt-air beaten clam shacks. Last summer we pointed the car towards Greensboro, NC to visit “Beef Burger,” one of two remaining locations of the original “Biff Burger” chain. I’ve been sitting on this post for ages due to lack of inspiration, but the fact that the pictured burger can be yours today and tomorrow for a mere $0.59 is reason to pull it out of the draft folder and send it live to offer my opinion.
1040 W Lee St
Greensboro, NC 27403
A while back I stumbled upon a website dedicated to a burger chain called “Biff Burger.” After years of driving past one of the last outposts of this chain on the way to college I searched for info in hopes of planning a trip and sadly found out that the restaurant had by then closed. And, with its closure, the Biff Burger chain was down to only two locations (one in St. Petersburg, FL still using the Biff Burger moniker and one in Greensboro, NC now called “Beef Burger.”) Having blown the opportunity to enjoy a burger at a location within reasonable driving distance from home I vowed to get to one of the two remaining restaurants when the opportunity presented itself…and thus the itinerary for this year’s burger vacation was set…we’d make our way to North Carolina.
Located in an industrial section of town, across the railroad tracks from UNC-Greensboro’s campus (and home of the ridiculously great hot dog and ice cream joint Yum Yum), Beef Burger still draws in the crowds. Polite and orderly, folks line up inside the tiny lobby which no doubt was outdoors at some point (and thus much less claustrophobic) and feast on traditional American roadfood fare.
I ordered the SuperBurger combo with a Cheerwine (yet another reason why the South rocks -from a culinary standpoint) and settled into a formica booth to enjoy the fruits of the laborious drive (Philly to NC via Pittsburgh/West Virginia). By sheer will alone that burger had to taste good, and it did.
As C. Catherman notes on his tribute site, Beef (ne Biff) Burger’s signature feature, the Roto-Broiler:
…was an ingenious specially designed broiler which gave Biff-Burger the leading edge over many other Drive-Ins during the day in which fast-food hamburgers were common. But the burgers at Biff-Burgers weren’t just your “ordinary” hamburger. The burgers at Biffs had a unique char-broiled taste which were unlike any other. Every original Biff-Burger sign, regardless of design used, indicated “Roto Broiled”. The “roto-broiled” process was indeed Biff-Burgers signature to fame and the reason why so many people enjoyed their burgers!
With the gift of hindsight I must honestly admit that the burger was nothing earth shattering. It didn’t rise to the top of my own personal list of best tasting burgers, though the thrill of the chase more than made up for that. The broiler certainly helped provide a unique flavor to the burgers and I can see why Mr. Catherman and hundreds of others are still partial to this cooking method.
The carousel of meat effect was pretty amusing and my daughter and I stared at it for a while before she made her way outside to the coin-op human version on the sidewalk (that is her in the corner of the pic). The lower level of tis ingenious machine toasted the buns and that was a plus, too! Brought together in a styrofoam container with a decent side of fries and the aforementioned sugar-shock inducing soda, this was burger escapism at its best. A real retro experience worth searching out, even hundreds of miles away.
If you want to learn more about Biff Burger/Beef Burger, I implore you to check out C. Catherman’s site. He truly has a love for the history of the chain, a keen eye for detail and a photographic memory about his experiences at the restaurant.
As we get closer to 10,000 hits (I know – not much for a real website, but heck…my mom would be proud if I took the time to explain to her what a blog was) I will dig out and repost some of the old stuff that I am particularly proud of and finally (I hope) finish a story I have been working on for a few months about the greatest hamburger icon of the 20th Century (seriously)! Thanks.
“If you are what you eat, then I’m a hamburger.” - Dean Friedman
In 1980, on the heels of several hit songs (“Ariel” US Charts #26 in 1977, “Lucky Stars” UK Charts #3 in 1978), Dean Friedman penned an ode to those most crush-worthy of women, the girls who serve you your fast food.
Take yourself back to that simpler time when your folks sent you out of the house for the afternoon with a couple of bucks and you headed straight for a fast food joint. Hormonal and giggly and poised to eat greasy fast food, shy boys everywhere had to combat one of their greatest fears…talking to a girl who just happens to be the cashier at the Golden Arches. Friedman’s song,” McDonald’s Girl” transcended the novelty of its title by delivering saccharine sweet vocals over lines any teenage boy could identify with.
I count my money and then I rehearse what I’m gonna say. “I’d like an order of fries, a quarter pounder with cheese, I love the light in your eyes. Will you go out with me please?”
Like many people, my introduction to “McDonald’s Girl” and ultimately Dean Friedman was via the Canadian rock band The Barenaked Ladies. Long a staple of their live shows, they recorded it only once for Canadian radio station CFNY, but plenty of versions have circulated as bootlegs…here is one (note it was usually performed as a cover with another cover song tucked inside…bonus points if you know the band/song!)
McDonald’s Girl- Cover version by Barenaked Ladies (audio via youtube)
Thanks to the wonders of the Internet I caught up with Dean for a truly entertaining chat about “McDonald’s Girl” and, what else, burgers.
Dean shared a great story about working at the historic Palisades Park, manning the grill at the park’s burger stand “Harry’s Hamburgers.” With a forged birth certificate, the then 13 year old Friedman moved up the amusement park ladder from the Penny Arcade to the famous burger stand where he revealed a little known sales secret. Before the park opened he and his coworkers would load up the grill with burgers and then close all of the vents, creating a massive cloud of delicious, burger scented smoke which would rush out of the burger stand when they opened the front windows…”smoke would billow out into the park so the first thing people entering would smell was Harry’s Hamburgers.”
Years after his time on the midway, Dean headed off to college in the Bronx at City College, where one of his professors was the legendary David Bromberg. From the college cafeteria to the Burger King down the block from his apartment, Dean told me that “Burgers were a staple of my diet, they sustained me.”
Friedman’s career gathered traction after college and he began putting in time as a touring musician. The life of a singer/songwriter on the road far from resembled the legendary antics of the touring rock bands of the time (I forgot to ask if he ever threw a TV in a swimming pool, but I am going to guess he didn’t). “Life on the road was full of small rewards,” noted Friedman. “A bacon deluxe cheeseburger post-gig” at a roadside diner between towns was routinely the payoff for a great gig and another day living the dream.
His 3rd album, Rumpled Romeo, was chock full of songs about love and yearning, and “McDonald’s Girl” married those themes together perfectly (with a side of fries). The genesis for the song came when Friedman was 15 years old. Living on a kibbutz in Israel for the summer, Friedman mingled with older kids who were doing their stint in the army like all Israeli citizens are required to do and he especially took notice of a particularly beautiful girl, fresh from training wearing a weapon over her shoulder and sporting a “tight fitting polyester uniform.” That image, and a steady diet of late night burgers were spark enough for Friedman to write “(I Am In Love With The) McDonald’s Girl” with the lines:
I am in love with the McDonald’s Girl She has the smile of innocence oh so tender and warm. I am in love with the McDonald’s Girl She is an angel in a polyester uniform.
“McDonald’s Girl” was banned by the BBC for its overt mentions of a corporation (and unlike The Kinks “Lola”, which was re-recorded to swap out the words “Coca-Cola” for “Cherry Cola”, removing mention of “McDonald’s” from the song was impossible and thus it never received airplay in Britain where Dean had enjoyed a strong following.) Unhappy with Friedman’s inability to deliver another radio hit (thanks to the songs censoring) he was dropped by his label. Looking back on it now, this setback paved the way for Friedman to take his career and life in many different directions, eventually returning to recording an album again in 1998.
These days Friedman routinely plays sold-out tours in the US, UK and Ireland. Asked about his current burger eating habits, “I can’t remember the last time I ate at McDonald’s, but I have a habit of buying frozen White Castle burgers which are good for desperate late night snacking..
Arnold’s Drive In
1805 E Main St
Mohegan Lake, NY 10547
(914) 528-7777 A take-off on the Happy Days eatery, this Arnold’s features roller skating car-hops and according to Dean “the most delicious burgers.” .
NY Firehouse Grille
50 Welcher Ave
Peekskill, NY 10566
(914) 788-0808 .
Thanks to Dean for participating in this story.
File these videos under “guilty pleasures.” If you are curious why Dean is compared favorably to 70′s/80′s contemporaries like Billy Joel, Paul Simon and Randy Newman go ahead and click. The first is the original UK hit version and the second video is an interesting remix of the same song 25 years later.
Newark, NJ 07105
282 Kearny Ave
Kearny, NJ 07032
Was lucky enough to sneak up to the Eagles playoff game on Sunday at the Meadowlands and with minor arm twisting was able to convince our crew to pit-stop at the Hamburgao on Lafayette Street in Newark’s Ironbound District on the way home from North Jersey (you know, to let the traffic die down a bit).
Way back in 2007, food and tech blogger Jason Perlow wrote the only post ever needed about this place and so I’ll spare you most of the details and encourage you to check it out on his site – the photography is to die for and you will probably have the same reaction my wife and I did upon reading the post – we hopped in the car that afternoon and drove to Newark!
I ate the “Cheese Egg” which is a cosmically disorienting combination of Mozzarella, ham, corn kernels, potato sticks (yes, like mom used to pack in your lunch), lettuce, tomato and mayo all placed on top of an 1/8lb or so grilled burger. This sandwich (and most of the other similarly topped offerings) is much more than the sum of its parts. What on paper looks like a laundry-list of things that should not go together (at least not in the American palate) comes together in a delicious gooiness that takes an admittedly ho-hum burger patty and elevates it to mythic status. I enjoy introducing these Brazilian burgers to others because they are so different that it makes you rethink everything you know about one of the simplest foods in the world. One of my buddies picked at a piece of corn from his burger and looked at it mystified wondering how anyone could even dream of such a concoction – thankfully somebody did.
Again, go read Jason Perlow’s post and admire the great pictures at the tail end. If you don’t already read Jason’s Off The Broiler blog you should (and you really should have back before his diet! Jason knows good food and is a great writer to boot. He has never steered me wrong and he is responsible for introducing me by way of his blog to my all-time favorite pizza joint Trattoria Sorrentina).
Hamburgao is a mini-chain with 3 locations (none close to you – but all worthy of dropping what you are doing right now and hopping in the car while gas prices are still low). And as a special bonus for all of you Eagles fans, now is a great time to visit North Jersey because the burgers are great and the Giants fans are humble!
Like most burger lovers, I eagerly awaited the arrival of George Motz’s burger guide “Hamburger America” earlier this spring. When my copy arrived from amazon I did what many others probably did, I looked for the places I have visited to see how they held up to George’s lofty standards.
Of the burgers I was happy to cross off the list, I was most surprised to see his choice of Charlie’s Hamburgers in Folsom, PA. Not because it isn’t good (it is GREAT!), but rather because it seems to get very little love from the burger community. His inclusion will no doubt bring that to an end, and the folks at Charlie’s deserve the attention and the extra business (just not on Tuesdays!!).
I am sure there were some tough decisions made when putting the book together and a few entries don’t include pictures (either of the restaurant or the burgers). Truth be told, Charlie’s isn’t much to look at from the outside, but your mother told you not to judge a book by its cover. I’ve included the above “missing” picture for the curious to show what the cheeseburgers look like. Ok, apologies for the bigfoot-esque photo courtesy of the iPhone (btw, how could they not improve upon the 2MP digital camera in the new 3G iPhone…makes me feel better about the price drop and the “faster” downloading). As you can see, it is just a simple burger wrapped in wax paper, cooked with care and packed with flavor.
Thanks to George for writing such an amazing book (and blog). Our family vacations are now set for the next 20 years! And thanks to Charlie’s and the other 99 burger joints included in the book, your pride in producing the finest burgers has made a lot of people very happy.
Surf on over to Dana McCauley’s site if only for the picture of her Gourmet Brie Burger. Offered as an ode to her dad on Father’s Day, her post features the seemingly “manageable” recipe for what has to be an amazing burger (plus an option for the same burger wrapped in bacon).
She also offers up some incredibly worthwhile tips on how/when to apply cheese to your burger.
Top burgers with sliced cheese only after they are cooked to the desired internal temperature. Adding cheese too early can lead to tough, greasy cheese.
She’s written several books as well, including one called Dana’s Top Ten Table which contains 20 burger recipes. The book is called Top Ten Table because she focuses on each of the Top 10 food items consumed by North Americans (have to say that, she’s Canadian…not that there is anything wrong with that!).
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.
The too cool for words weblog HeatEatReview brings word of a true “you got your chocolate in my peanut butter, no you got your peanut butter in my chocolate”-moment, crunchy-good supermarket Trader Joe’s is selling sliders (though not here in Philly).
The reviews aren’t stellar, but I can’t wait to get my hands on some.
Nice review of Central CT’s Shady Glen Dairy, home of the most amazing cheeseburgers you will ever set your eyes and mouth upon. Described nicely herein as:
With an ordinary slab of meat and three to four pieces of your everyday American cheese, both are combined to make something extraordinary. The slices of cheese are carefully placed as a mosaic on top of the meat patty as it sizzles, so that the edges untouched by the meat melt directly onto the grill. Contact with the hot surface allows the edges to turn chewy and crispy, and when dolled up with a bun, curves around the sandwich as if a clam was sticking its tongue out at someone.