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Burger joints gone wild February 20, 2009

Filed under: Random Thoughts — LotusMama @ 9:39 am
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On Presidents’ Day, we took advantage of hubby being home and we headed out for lunch at a local burger joint. In our town, this place has been around for a really long time; a very small, shack-like place that touts “homemade soup & pie”. Since watching the movie “Waitress” I have been on a quest for a local pie diner, so I thought it was worth trying it out and getting a slice.

Now granted, it was on a holiday, so that might account somewhat for the crowds, but the place was packed. This little tiny place was filled to capacity; we were lucky to snag a table while we waited in line to order. The prices weren’t cheap – no 1950s cost to match the classic cars nostalgia. Hubby ordered a french dip, NR went with a hamburger and I went with chili fries. Hubby’s dessert was a chocolate shake while NR and I tried pie (apple crisp and coconut cream respectively).

I’d love to say that this little place lived up to the hype and that the crowds really were on to something, but it was just so-so. My chili was ok, but the side of sour cream had a moldy taste. The fries were excellent but the pie was not. It was a homemade crust and wasn’t bad (needed a bit more salt) but the filling was lumpy and gritty. Word from Hubby was that the shake looked like chocolate but didn’t taste like chocolate and the french dip was kind of all dried out.

So assuming that we had a representative meal at this long-standing stand, what is the attraction? The prices aren’t cheap. Sure, you can get a burger and a shake there but nothing to write home about (but apparently enough to blog about). Why was this little place packed on a Monday afternoon with folks dropping twenty bucks for lunch?

Well, the only reasons I can come up with are:

  1. Hubby and I have absolutely no sense of what is good
  2. The diners have no sense of what is good
  3. Nostalgia trumps taste.

Now, it is certainly possible that number 1 is at work to some degree, but it’s kind of hard to believe that dried out hamburgers would warrant the high prices that people would pay. I’m going with number 3 – I think people are hungry for those diners and stands from the past.

The interesting thing is that I’m not so sure people are going to this stand because they have fond memories of hamburger stands in their youth. There were a few older folks there but by and large it was younger people with families. I would say that most of these people were in their thirties (or younger) so I’m guessing that their history of burgers was at McDonalds of the 1970s and 1980s. That alone might cause someone to seek out a hamburger stand for the chance at something fresh, but what keeps people coming back?

Our area has a few famous hamburger stands that have been going strong for years. People line up for burgers, grease be damned, and they are willing to wait upwards of an hour for their burger in busy times. Some of these places must make good burgers but really, I have to think that nostalgia is playing a big part in all this. People want a taste of a time that they perceive as simplier, more wholesome – a time when eating red meat was the norm, when drinking shakes was perfectly healthy and when homemade pie with whipped cream was the way to end a meal. Sure, we can come up with some theory about how scary the economic times are for many people now and that we’re all craving comfort food, but I think it is simplier than that. I think hamburger stands, diners and pie shops have been stamped into our brains as a place where you can feel good while you fill up.

Like my quest for the mythical grail – the pie diner – I think those folks on Presidents’ Day were paying six bucks for a burger to find something beyond food. We nostalgic eaters are searching for some feel good among the fries. Something that reminds us of the countless sitcoms we grew up with, the Norman Rockwell Americana that feels really good, the satisfaction to be found at the bottom of glass of milk and an empty pie plate.

For me, I haven’t had the experience of really finding that place, that diner with the good coffee and the sassy waitresses that call everyone “hon”, the burger joint that serves nirvana on a bun, that greasy spoon place with the best home fries ever. Do these places exist, somewhere? I’d like to think they do, but I’m not sure. For some folks, the little burger joint in my town is that place – they are willing to plunk down the cash for a seat in the crowded little room, to savor a basket of chili fries.

Me, I’m still looking.