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).
50 E Wynnewood Rd
Wynnewood, PA 19096-2013
I first posted about Elevation Burger way back in February so needless to say the anticipation has been building for a while on this one…and I am happy to report that Elevation Burger did not disappoint.
With a mantra of “Ingredients Matter,” what many have dubbed the “healthy Five Guys” opened their first store here on the outskirts of Philly over the 4th of July weekend. It took me a whole 2 days to get down there thanks to holiday festivities but lunchtime Monday was destined to be all about Elevation Burger.
Four of us from work headed over and I was not surprised to run into another burger-loving friend already waiting in the short queue ahead of us. Word seems to have spread fast as they had a decent lunchtime crowd already for their first work-day service.
I opted for the Cheeseburger, as opposed to the Elevation Burger (1 patty vs 2 patties) and was presented with one of the best upsell attempts I have ever heard…”We find men are more satisfied with the Elevation burger (double) as opposed to just the single.” Ah-hem. Innuendo aside, I still stuck with the single burger (a rare show of restraint) in order to justify getting a side of fries and a soda.
As you can see from the picture, the burger itself is aesthetically pleasing. It is clear that they spend a lot of time training their staff to present the product well and I appreciate when a burger joint does that (ex: Shake Shack or In-N-Out) as opposed to just slapping together ingredients. I ordered my burger with lettuce, tomato and “Elevation Sauce” which I was told was a creamy, light tomato sauce. Either an homage to INO or even Big Mac sauce, I found that the sauce really didn’t add too much flavor to the package. It didn’t distract or ruin the taste, just didn’t add that much. To be honest, that is my only complaint. The burgers at Elevation are 100% organic, grass-fed and free range and you definitely can tell that something is different about the patties. Well seasoned and served on a squishy bun with a nice hunk of cheddar cheese (non-processed!) my cheeseburger was a winner. The best part may have been the complete lack of that icky, weighed down feeling (strangely enough this was a negative factor for my co-workers). The absence of greasiness meant no strong desire for an afternoon nap which could help productivity back at the ranch.
As good as the burger was, I have to say the fries are even better. Fresh cut shoestring style and crisped up perfectly in 100% olive oil (no trans or saturated fats), these were probably the best fries I’ve had in a long time and everyone in the group agreed they were the highlight of the meal. A side order was enough for 2 of us to split, though in the future I’d easily order one side just for me because they were that good (perfectly salted, each one tasted like that idealized vision of a McDonald’s fry we conjure up but have only ever experienced maybe once or twice in our lives).
Bonus points for Pibb Xtra as a fountain selection. Having spent time growing up in the south, seeing Pibb Xtra, which is the “new” name for “Mr. Pibb,” triggered lots of nostalgic memories. And despite Mitch Hedberg famously maligning Pibb’s lack of advanced education (“Mr. Pibb is a poor imitation of Dr. Pepper. Dude didn’t even get his degree.”) I’d choose it every time over the much fizzier Pepper.
The menu also features fresh-scooped ice cream milk shakes made with Blue Bunny ice cream. I didn’t have one, but they were hand-dipping a lot of them and I am sure I’ll get around to that at some point (maybe Jess @ Fries With That Shake will beat me to it).
Located half-way between my work and home I am going to have to try hard to avoid filling up one of their “7 Club” cards each week. Congrats to the team that has been working so hard on getting this location open and good luck to them keeping the steady stream of people coming. Keep delivering a good product and they will (and the demos of this area seem ideal with a Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s in short driving distance the health-concious bent should play well).
“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.