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).
It’s pretty hard to break too much new ground in describing the often-praised burgers at this roadside throwback so I won’t even try. I’ll just let the picture speak for itself and direct you to some great reviews elsewhere (NYT – Hamburger Heaven), including the listing that originally piqued my interest over at Roadfood.com.
What I can add is this – I have never had a fast food-style cheeseburger with as much flavor as this one. It seems incongruous because there doesn’t appear to be much to this equation. Just a 1/4 lb(ish) hand-formed beef patty cooked up fresh right before your eyes then crowned with perfectly melted yellow American cheese and a cadre of exceedingly fresh toppings all wrapped up in a squishy white bun. Nope, no magic there, but somewhere along the way this burger picks up a depth of flavor that blew me away. In an era of ever-increasingly complex burgers, it takes a basic set-up like Red Rooster’s to remind me what it is I truly enjoy about burgers – the powerful taste of simple, fresh ingredients. No secret sauce, no proprietary blends, no artisan baked rolls, no celebrity chef, no trendy decor…nada. Just pure happiness on a paper plate.
If you are heading upstate out of New York City (perhaps on your way to Joe Beez in Kingston) look for this candy-striped A-framed hut, it is truly a worthwhile stop. Grab one of their stellar milkshakes and if you have time, fit in a game of mini-golf and then rue the fact that when your parents were kids places like the Red Rooster were a dime a dozen.Click here for an additional picture
Red Rooster Drive-In 1566 Route 22 Brewster, NY (845) 279-8046
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
500 Thurston Ave Ithaca, NY 14850-2434 (607) 257-4649
You’d probably be excused for confusing Louie’s Lunch with Louis’ Lunch, the venerable Connecticut restaurant which claims to be the birthplace of the hamburger. Both have Ivy League links (Louis’ Lunch is in New Haven, home of Yale, while Louie’s Lunch sits on the north campus of Cornell in Ithaca, NY), both are mobile (Louis’s moved four times before settling into its current location and Louie’s has four wheels and thus can move at any moment – though there are a bunch of wires to unhook from the light pole and something that looks curiously like coax cable) and oh yeah, both serve darn nice, lo-fi burgers.
With lineage dating back to 1918, the current Louie’s Lunch truck sets up shop seven days a week to satiate the late night cravings of our country’s future doctors, lawyers, jock-rockers (Huey Lewis) and surgeon generals (oh yeah I’m talking about you C. Everett Koop). Until 3 am (except Sunday nights when they retire at the modest hour of midnight) students in various states of stress and/or inebriation can hit up this mobile c-store for cold drinks, hot coffee, energy shots, candy bars and of course – burgers.
Back in college at the much less educationally challenging (though no less hilly) Mansfield University, I discovered the Bo Burger, a griddled hamburger topped with cheese and a fried egg. To this day, no single dish has screamed “college” to me as much as this combination which I used to enjoy at the local truck stop affectionately known as Greasy Eddie’s, and so when I saw the Bo Burger listing on the starboard side menu of the truck I jumped at the chance to reminisce about my own college years.
Louie’s version featured about 1/4 lb of griddled beef, resting on some white American cheese and topped with a nicely cooked egg. Health departments be damned for their insistence that eggs cannot be runny, but kudos to the flat-top chef who brought this oeuf in just on the cooked through side, avoiding that rubbery, overcooked state. The Bo Burgers of my youth were served on squishy white buns, but this being Ithaca (home of Moosewood and macrobiotic jerky) my Bo was served on a whole grain bun flecked with oats…a bit odd, but good; almost allowing me to dream for a second that this burger was kissed by Mother Earth herself and thus filled with only healthful vitamins and minerals (reality check – it is in actuality a glorious greasebomb of a burger!).
Served with a smile by an actual Cornell student, I give this burger high marks for both quality and history. For years I have been fascinated by the idea of making decent burgers in a food truck and as mentioned on this site before, my own bucket list includes opening a mobile burger shop called “Burgatory” (ideally parked on City Ave in Philadelphia half-way between the Catholic Seminary and the Hebrew Yeshiva). Louie’s provides further proof that good burgers can come from just about anywhere and thousands of Cornell grads no doubt have fond memories of placing their own late-night orders at Louie’s window.
The Louie’s folks have done a great job of cataloging their own history on their web site. For more details on the various iterations of the lunch truck and pictures of through the years, click here.
This is the first of a four part series ingeniously titled “Burgers I Ate While In The Finger Lakes Region A Few Weeks Ago.” Future installments will include entries from a winery, a creamery and the epicenter of the gourmet vegetarian movement. Stay tuned.
“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.