Bun, beef patty, LTOP (lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle), choice of cheese.
The American Hamburger, it's pretty straight-forward, right? I mean, you can't screw it up; it's a slam-dunk...
It can be cooked in a pan, on a griddle, or even in an oven on sheet pans for hundreds at a time in a commercial catering setting, however, the BEST way of course, is on a grill. And by 'grill' I mean on a grate with fire underneath scoring lines onto our ground beef burgers. A charcoal fire, propane gas or wood are all good heat choices, but, it usually comes down to 'what's available...'
It's a simple, American classic meal, but, like America, we all have our own perspective as to what's "just a burger."
"So, can I get just a regular hamburger? I don't see it on the order form. You've got these burgers with names on them and ..." The young student stood there across the griddle from me attempting to make sense of too many choices. The three guys behind him rocked on their heels waiting for Justin to get with the program, so, they could get their orders in. Maintanence workers, bus drivers and custodians have a small window for lunch at the Community College.
"Dude, what do you mean by a regular burger? I mean, just like meat and a bun? No LTOP, fries, cheese...? I asked him, "Everbody has their own idea of 'regular.'
Justin, all of 18 years old, proceeded to answer a lightening round of burger accompaniment questions for his order.
"lettuce?" I asked.
"Yes." he confirmed.
"No, they're disgusting."
"Yeah, but, not too many..."
"On the side, I don't like them to get hot from the burger..."
"Ummm, yeah, cheddar and two strips of bacon, not too crispy."
"Hmmm...yeah. Where's the ketchup?"
"behind you at the condiment station; pour as much as you like. It is part of a student's Food Pyramid," I concluded.
Justin stepped back from the sneeze guard, grabbed a tray and wandered over to the condiment oasis, filling 2-oz plastic cups with ketchup, ranch dressing and yellow mustard.
The three workers waiting, had their burgers already sparked, since I saw them walking up. Their baskets lined with checkered paper and buns toasting. Each flipped their order forms into the clear, plastic receiving bucket and stepped back.
"Kelly, what's up man? How's Maintanence treating you today?" I asked. He's an impressive man; black and shiny as a lump of coal and all of 350 lbs if he's an ounce. His hair is closely cropped and has a face as round as a cast iron skillet. Swollen jowls push his thumb sized earlobes out to about 45 degrees from vertical. He doesn't smile.
"Fine...I can't stand managing people though," he grumbled, "Hey, I heard from one of my guys that you'd do a fried egg on a burger if I ask. 'Zat true?"
I told him hayul yes I'd do a fried egg, but, it's a buck upcharge. He just nodded to confirm the addition for over-medium with a runny yolk. Game on.
"First time I had an egg on a burger was 1988 in Corvallis at Squirrel's Bar and Grill. The Squirrel Burger had a thick slice of ham, LTOP and egg on a burger patty...my eyes rolled into the back of my head!" I mused to Kelly and anyone there listening. The audience nodded in unison and began telling stories of the Best Burger they'd ever had...
"Man, I used to work on a road crew, way back, an there was a place out by Estacada that did a burger with BBQ sauce and a boneless, breakfast pork chop WITH fried egg on a toasted big-ass bun an a pile of fries...don't know how they stayed in business givin that much food away..." Kelly reminisced in a soft voice, slowly shaking his head.
"Dude! Have you ever been to Killer Burger? Those guys rock!" another customer called out while watching the process, "they put bacon on EVERY burger and even say so on their chalkboard. I've had everyone of 'em on the menu; the Jose Mendoza is my favorite."
The fellas all nodded in unison turning to one another to confirm that was the one with Pepper Jack cheese, Roasted New Mexico Green Chilies and bacon with a schmeer of smokey house sauce.
"They got one called, 'The Bender' which comes with sliced and battered, deep fried Jalapenos and Sriracha red chile sauce with two strips of bacon and Tillamook cheddar...if you're hung over, it's the cure!" exclaimed a uniform clad driver from the bus line, "I'm just sayin' that's what I've been told..."
The guys started chuckling, knowing we've all been in that state of rescue.
"Funny how we all have different tastes on what should go on a burger," I observered while adding cheese to patties, "the lettuce provides a crunch, the tomatoes keep it juicy, onions provide a mild heat and pickles give a vinegary, acidic zing, keeping everything lively on the palate. It gets us ready for another bite!"
I called to Justin that his burger was coming up, reaching over to pull a basket of fries out of the oil. He stepped forward to gather his creation.
"Dude, here's your regular burger: patty, LOP, cheddar and two bacon with fries..." I said while wearing a grin as I passed it over to his hungry hands. He returned the smile.
"Maybe you could like call this like 'The Justin' burger?"
Kelly stood behind him, rolled his eyes and barely broke a smirk. As the kid walked away, Kelly said.
"that boy has got some livin' and learnin' ta do..."
"Guys, you're all up here..." I said pushing their baskets forward as three large men crowded the window for one.
"Regular burger!," said one, "ain't that the shit?!" as they laughed, thanked me and went back to work.