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.
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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).
Almost a year ago I gave up watching TV. With only minor exceptions I have avoided the giant glowing orb in our living room, having instead spent my time in other more high-brow pursuits (like writing a burger blog). But when I do break down and turn on the tube I tend to gravitate towards the lowest common denominator (i.e. Cheaters). These forays back into TV land never go well and I always end up redoubling my resolve, having decided that all programs must be this bad (especially since Joey Grecco replaced Tommy Grand as Cheaters host/staff psychologist, but I digress). After tonight, however, my mind has been changed.
Last week while watching an episode of Man Vs Food (yes, it’s come to this…) I caught a glimpse of a burger whose toppings I have never seen nor imagined. Toppings that conveniently exist in my refrigerator 365 days a year, but whose combination and placement on ground beef has never even been considered.
Host Adam Richman dropped by Duffy’s Cherry Cricket, winner of Best Burger Bar in Denver (2008), and among the 21 different toppings (and myriad of combinations) we catch a glimpse of what I am calling a “Game Changer” for burgers (at least in our house because I swear I have never seen cream cheese offered as a topping at any burger joint anywhere).
What stared back at me from the screen was a humongous burger topped with a thick slab of cream cheese and a handful of chopped jalapenos.
Oh yes, cream cheese and jalapenos on a burger! Where have you been my whole life?
Cream cheese, like burgatory.com’s reigning best friend bacon, has the innate ability to “make anything better” and in this application is the perfect foil providing a critical antidote to the overbearing hotness of the jalapenos.
We grilled our burgers inside and once we broke through the seared crust the cheese commingled with the loose meat, filling pockets of empty space with a blast of dairy to offset the beefiness of our 93/7 grind. As if that weren’t enough, the cheese hit the trifecta by matching the pillowiness of the Martin’s Potato Rolls.
Denver natives have known about this topping combo for some time and according to the Cherry Cricket’s website, the cream cheese/jalapeno combo is the # 1 burger topping by a whopping margin. 80% of respondents called it their favorite, easily distancing such mundane fare as smoked cheddar and bacon or swiss and mushrooms. I worked briefly in the Denver metro and have extreme remorse recollecting that the only burgers I ever ate in the Mile High City were from Red Robin. But I can’t dwell on the past, especially because this one is so easy to recreate.
I’d provide a recipe, but it is too simple to get technical. Just do what we did and open the fridge, pull out the slab o’ cream cheese buried in there, chop up your jalapenos and when the time is right, apply generously and consider the game changed.