Over on Facebook, my buddy Eric is jonesing for a double Whopper with cheese... which set me to thinking about Fast-Food Burgers.
I’ve had an off-again, on-again love affair with Fast Food Burgers for as long as I can remember. I’m old enough to remember when the standard-issue McDungheap’s burger cost one thin dime, and I still recall my first encounter with the Whopper foldly.
Burger King was still a fairly young operation when I first tasted of the Whopper. It was in North Miami Beach - BK was, at the time, a Miami-based operation - on NE 163rd Street, and that burger was a revelation to my 8-year-old self. To my young eyes, accustomed as they were to the thin, dried-out McDungheap burgers, it was humongous... and it had a fine, charcoal-broiled taste that McDungheap's couldn't touch with the proverbial ten-foot pole. Moreover, it came decorated with the Holy Trinity of hamburger condiments: ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise. (The McDungheap-burger, by contrast, would be dressed only with its traditional squirt of ketchup and slice of pickle.)
McDungheap’s, of course, had to strike back. There came the Big Mac, which upped the ante with an extra patty and layer of bread. I was not impressed. But when the Quarter-Pounder came along, that was something else again.
The Quarter-Pounder with cheese (in France, the Royale with cheese) was, at its heart, a thoroughgoing piece of crap. A plain bun, a steamed, grey meat-patty (albeit a full quarter-pound before cooking), a slice of half-molten American cheese-oid, a scattering of chopped onions, a squirt of ketchup - and yet, in some bizarre way, the Quarter-Pounder was greater than the sum of its parts.
When I drove a Good Humor truck in the summer of 1973 - the job from hell - the Quarter-Pounder was my go-to supper of choice as I wended my way back from my daily route. Sometimes I would devour two: a guilty pleasure.
Just a few years after that I found myself in Houston, where I used to roll for the Great Corporate Salt Mine’s bowling league (another guilty pleasure). On my way to the bowling alley after work I would stop off at Burger King and grab a Whopper. All too often, it was a double Whopper. This did little to help me retain the svelte figure I had when I entered the workforce.
For years, I avoided Wendy’s on account of their square burgers. Square burgers! Just like the ones that would come with our twenty-five cent school lunch back in elementary school, a thin grey patty with globs of Meat-Grease served on a (yech!) buttered bun. But one day in Houston, possibly out of sheer boredom or desperation, I tried a Wendy’s burger. Not bad! (Not great, either.)
She Who Must Be Obeyed still harbors a deep and abiding love for Whataburger, a venerable Texas chain that makes a pretty respectable hamburger sandwich. To me, the best thing about the Whataburger is the easy availability of jalapeño slices as a condiment. Yowza!
As for who offered the best Fast Food Burger, the Elisson fedora-tip has to go to Hardee’s - at least, the Hardee’s of yesteryear, once upon a time a brash start-up out of Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Whether they’re still any good is open to question, but back in the day they offered a tasty charcoal-grilled hamburger that was second to none. Not even the Whopper of yore could touch it.
Krystal, White Castle, Royal Castle and the like have their fans, but the only thing these operations have going for them is Cheepnis. Their burgers are dirt-cheap, possibly because dirt is a primary ingredient. In the world of hamburgers - like the world at large - you may not always get what you pay for, but if you always go with the low bidder, you’re gonna get more than your share of crap.
An aside regarding condiments: There are real regional differences as to condiment preferences. In the New York area, burgers come with tomato ketchup. That’s all: just ketchup. In Texas, on the other hand, the standard-issue Burger Decoration is mustard. Most other parts of the country, your burger will arrive wearing a combination of ketchup and mustard. As for mayonnaise, further your deponent sayeth not.
I don’t indulge in the Fast-Food Burger these days, especially since the best one in these parts - Back Yard Burgers - folded up shop a few years back. Their offerings really did taste like the burgers you might have grilled in your back yard over a nice charcoal flame, plump and juicy. Alas. But since I need to be eating Rapidly Prepared Comestibles about as much as I need a second asshole, I harbor no regrets at their departure.
What’s your favorite Fast-Food Burger?