The Random Restaurant Tour — XLIV

When it comes to burgers, size really does matter. Dainty patties and delicate presentation aren’t really what the burger aficionado is looking for. No, the true burger fan wants a burger that is a colossal handful, groaning with high quality beef and melted cheese, so huge you struggle to finish it all even as you are relishing every last morsel.

On this crucial burger threshold, Alley Burger–the new restaurant at the corner of Lynn and Pearl Alleys in downtown Columbus, just around the corner from the venerable Ringside–passes with flying colors. When the B.A. Jersey Girl, the Church Singer, and I darted into Alley Burger on a cold and rainy day last week, we found a place that definitely doesn’t scrimp on the burgers. In fact, all of our sandwiches were so large that they were held together by huge and very sharp steak knives that looked like they belonged in a Rambo movie. The presence of these mercenary-style knives on our plates definitely encouraged civility in our lunchtime conversation, and should cause any visitor to Alley Burger to choose their lunch companions with care and avoid heated political discussions during their meals.

I ordered a double cheeseburger that was so highly stacked that, after one bite, I realized it could not be eaten by hand without risking massive suit and shirt staining, so the steak knife came in handy as I chopped the double up for a more genteel approach to consumption. The burger, made with Alley Burger’s own sauce, was excellent, and I finished it all The meal also came with free tortilla chips, with another fine sauce made in house, and a reasonable order of french fries. I stuck with water, which is my lunchtime drink of choice, but Alley Burger also offers a variety of slushies, and the proprietors are looking to secure their liquor license, too.

The Alley Burger location has been a kind of revolving door for restaurants during the time I’ve worked in downtown Columbus, and that rear wall that is now painted with the Alley Burger name has sported the names of many other restaurants gone by. I’m hoping that, unlike its many predecessors, Alley Burger sticks around for a while.

Totally Fried

Yesterday I went to lunch and had a cheeseburger.  I got the combo, which came with fried potatoes.  They weren’t exactly french fries, because the potato had been sliced horizontally, rather than vertically, in an obvious bid to introduce a slight difference to a lunchtime staple — but they were fried potatoes, just the same.

French friesAs I sat at a table, munching on one of the potato slices and gazing down at the remainder, I realized that I’ve had it up to here with fried potatoes.  Cheeseburgers never get old, but I think I’ve hit, and now surpassed, my spud tolerance threshold.  And I suspect that I’m not alone, because restaurants seem to be desperate in their search to serve potatoes in a different form.  In the past few weeks my cheeseburgers have been accompanied by tater tots, and thick-cut “steak fries,” and potato wedges, and “natural-cut” fries with some of the potato skin still on, and kettle chips, and “shoestring potatoes,” and sweet potato fries, . . . and of course standard, run-of-the-mill, french fries.  It’s been more potatoes than a cheeseburger aficionado should reasonably be expected to endure.

Some time in the distant past, before the cheeseburger combo meal was invented, people ate side dishes that consisted of food items other than fried potatoes, so we know that potato-free dining is, in fact, possible.  Cooks and chefs and restaurant owners of America, it’s time for you to rise to the challenge!  Bring your culinary creativity to bear!  Cast aside your sacks of potatoes, and put down the potato peelers!

We cheeseburger consumers beseech you to find an alternative to the ubiquitous side of french fries.  Crispy plantain slices, perhaps, or carrots, or apple chips, or even crispy kale — I’m so desperate I’ll try just about anything other than a greasy mound of spuds that have been sliced or diced in some fashion and tossed into the deep fryer.

A Taste Of Old Akron

The Webner family social media wires were burning up yesterday with the news that Swensons, an Akron-area tradition, may be planning on opening up a new hamburger joint in the Columbus area.  According to the article, Swensons has begun franchising and has indicated an interest in the Columbus market — they’re just looking for the right place.

e2fb43610d0ce3cec3e0f3ac6dabdfd1-akron-hit-theThis potential development burst like a bomb among the members of the Webner clan, because Swensons’ hamburgers were one of the foods we associate with our days growing up as kids in Akron.  Some days, we would buy sacks of burgers and milkshakes at Swensons, where to my recollection the meat had a very distinctive, somewhat sweet taste, and then go to the nearby McDonalds to get french fries because Grandpa Neal insisted that McDonalds’ thinner-cut fries were preferable to the Swensons’ variety.  Other times, we would go to Sky-Way, just a few miles down Market Street, which also was an old-line burger place.  At Sky-Way, you would drive up and park and then get served by kids who would skate up to the window of the car, attached a tray to the drivers’ side door, and bring your order directly to you without falling down.  The Sky-Way burgers were good, too, but it was the delivery method that really made an impression.

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Swensons, or Sky-Way?  In Akron, it was the eternal question and the basis for endless debate.  The Webners were enumenical on the issue — we happily consumed both.

I haven’t had a Swensons burger in years, but it and Sky-Way are enshrined in my fast food memory banks, right up there with the cheeseburgers UJ and Grandma and Grandpa Neal and I got at Riviera Lanes and broasted chicken and the old-fashioned pizza Mom got from a place with an Italian name that I don’t remember.

And when I hear that a Swensons might be opening up, I think two things.  First, if I go there, will the burgers taste like what I dimly recall and live up to my expectations?  And second, if Swensons is coming, can Sky-Way be far behind?

Raw Onion

Kish is out of town, which means I don’t have to worry about mortally offending her with my breath and can indulge one of my favorite summer food combinations:  grilled cheeseburgers with raw onion — lots of raw onion.  I love the tang of the onion, which goes perfectly with grilled meat and cheese, and the crunch of a raw onion has a pleasant quality, too.

I know my breath stinks after such a feast, but there’s no one here but Kasey, and her breath is worse than mine.  I hereby pledge to brush my teeth well before encountering another human being.

American Cheese, Please

We’re cooking out tonight — we are on the cusp of the Fourth of July, you know — and we’ve got cheeseburgers on the menu.  The meat is ground chuck, to ensure a decent amount of fat and sizzle, and the cheese is American cheese.  Anything else would be misguided, and arguably unpatriotic, too.

What is American cheese, exactly?  Beats me, but it’s probably some combination of multiple different kinds of cheese, as befits our melting pot country.  And speaking of melting, no cheese does it better than good old American cheese.  

I’m a cheese lover, and I wouldn’t ever put American cheese on my cheese plate.  But on a burger, there’s really nothing better.

Holiday Burger

As every citizen knows, the Cheeseburger Consumption Act of 1987 made it a federal law that every red-blooded American must consume at least one cheeseburger during the extended Memorial Day weekend, in order to properly welcome in summer and also support the American beef industry.  Today Kish and I did our patriotic duty by heading to the Thurman Cafe, a legendary burger joint in south German Village.  All of their burgers weigh in at 3/4 of a pound of beef, and I got this beauty with bacon, mozzarella cheese, and a slice of raw onion.

Now that I’ve made it back home, I plan on complying with my civic obligations pursuant to the Memorial Day Napping Act of 1956.

Happy Labor Day!

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As we commemorate the unofficial end of another glorious summer — and in Ohio the weather has been spectacular lately — it’s time for every American to get out and do their duty to their country.  That’s right:  it’s time to get outside and grill some meat, like our fathers and grandfathers before us.

Happy Labor Day, everyone!

(Not) Well Done

This afternoon Kish and I walked along the waterfront and stopped for lunch at a restaurant called Cardero’s.  We decided to share a seared yellowfin tuna appetizer, but I had a hankering for a cheeseburger for my entree.

“I’ll have the burger medium rare,” I told the waitress.

“Sorry, sir,” the waitress replied.  “It’s against the law to serve any hamburger that isn’t cooked to be well done.”

“What?  Seriously?”

“Yes, but don’t worry — it will still be juicy.”

IMG_6014Yeah, right!  But I ordered my burger anyway, even though I normally would consider any beef cooked to be well done to be a colossal waste of good meat.  And, despite the reassurances of our waitress, when I got the cheeseburger it was overcooked and on the dry side — certainly not as juicy and delectable as a medium rare burger.

When we got back to our hotel room I checked — and sure enough, in Canada provincial statutes and health codes require ban medium rare hamburgers.  I was shocked, but perhaps I shouldn’t be; it’s just the nanny state notion run amok in our neighbor to the north.  I wonder, though — how do the health regulators who have insisted that burgers be grossly overcooked to avoid bad health consequences explain the reality south of the border, where bloody red and dripping medium rare burgers are the norm and the happy people consuming them don’t seem to be keeling over as a result?

The Summer Grilling Report

For those of us who associate summer with grilled cheeseburgers eaten on the back patio, brace yourselves:  beef prices recently hit a record and are expected to remain at high levels indefinitely.

The causes seem to be Mother Nature, the domino effect, and the law of supply and demand.  There have been sustained droughts in the cattle-herding states, which makes feed more expensive.  More expensive feed has caused ranchers to cut back on the size of their herds.  And smaller herds mean fewer cattle available to be converted into those steaks, and burgers, and roasts that Americans relish.  With the supply of beef diminished, the price inevitably increases.

Don’t expect to find cheap relief for your beef craving at the local restaurant, either.  They’ve been hit as hard by the spike in prices as anyone.  And don’t be surprised if other meats are more costly — with beef prices hitting the pocketbooks hard, consumers will be looking for alternative meats like chicken and pork to slap on the grill, and the increased demand is causing an increase in those meats, too.

There’s nothing quite like a piping hot, melted cheeseburger straight from the grill on a summer’s day.  This year, though, we may be making do with hot dogs.