Sunday, September 19, 2010

* Salivating the Burger

Even if Pavlov hadn’t “signed a steak” with an electromagnetic knife at Yale in 1929 after witnessing Dr. Cushing perform brain surgery with that knife*, a hundred million American’s would still salivate every time they pass McDonald’s today,  in September 2010.

Steak is in our blood, figuratively and literally.

Especially Yale blood.

The Whiffenpoof’s serenade “From the tables down at Morey’s to the place where Louie dwells, baaah, baaah, baaah” is so well known even townies sing it.

Morey’s is the (once exclusive) Yale eating club, which almost went bankrupt last year. Louie’s is “Louie’s Lunch”, a tiny restaurant in New Haven where Louie Lassen *(according to the Library of Congress) “invented” the hamburger in 1900.

A small town in Texas claims it is the home of the hamburger’s birth in the 1880’s, and commemorates that claim with a plaque. A Wisconsin town also claims the title.

Louie’s Lunch still exists in its original tiny brick building in New Haven Connecticut, and still serves the same burger, the same way: NO ketchup, white toast, burger, tomato and cheese, grilled in front of your eyes.

I have eaten two rival burgers in my day. In the early 1970’s a small restaurant in Kent, Ohio, served a concoction called the “Garbageburger”. It had everything on it. When the place cloased I even wrote a tribute to the Garbageburger for the Daily Kent Stater (below).

The second rival to Louie’s in New Haven, is an Ivy league hang-out in Hanover called, Everything But Anchovies (EBA’s). Their concoction is called the EBA Burger.

I eat one almost every Tuesday night.

James Beard, the famous chef, when asked to name the ONE meal he would cook if it was his LAST meal, said, “Bacon and eggs.”

I would choose the EBA Burger for my Last Supper.

(Only because the Garbageburger is dead.)

*Yale Alumni Magazine Sept/Oct 2010 “Why Pavlov signed a steak” (“Object lesson ‘Pavlov’s beef-steak,’” p.60)


Wednesday, March 7, 1973 Vol XVII Number 76 (Daily Kent Stater)

A remembrance: Life and Death of the Garbageburger


Broderick Euclid [aka Paul Keane]

The 3000 or so members of the KSU community who have partaken of Carson’s culinary misnomer will find this column entitled “Requiem for the Garbageburger,” a sad sacrament indeed; for it marks the end of an era in Kent, Ohio, and a nostalgic farewell to the non-computerized mentality.

Carson’s Tavern was the white clapboard building --- now called “The Tavern” --- actoss from the Kentwood on Route 59. And its house-special, which people flocked form miles around to try, was the Garbageburger.

What was a Garbageburger. It was more than a mountain-sandwich, held together by the stab of a toothpick; it was an anachronism in culinary hospitality in our culture of assembly-line food. When a Garbageburger was placed in front of you, you’d gasp, “How can I BEGIN to eat it?”

The only thing you didn’t do was take the toothpick out, for you’s soon discover why it sported its provocative name: the inevitable consequence of the first bite into a toothpickless Garbageburger was that all that was INSIDE the G.B. fell OUTSIDE onto your plate, thus becoming garbage. Voila, the Garbageburger.

And precisely what was inside it? Just about everything: thick handmade patty of ground beef dripping with yellow cheese( it HAD to be handmade, a computer would never have been reckless enough to give the customer so much meat); a solid disc of fresh, juicy onion; two substantial slices of authentic tomato (not the artificially colored substitute); a big splatter of gooey, yellow mustard; and a lather of Carson’s special white sauce, all precariously stacked between two buns garlanded with lettuce. And all for only 79 cents!!!

A Garbageburger was all that, but it was much more too.

The Garbageburger was a symbol of its creator’s humanity. No frantic pursuit of the Divine Dollar for him. Indeed, Carson’s had no telephone, rarely, if ever, advertised, and didn’t even have a sign saying “Carson’s” outside its door. It was just “that white building” outon route 59 near the bowling alley and across from the Kentwood. The clientele were more a club than a public. People came from miles around on word-of-mouth and, once initiated into its culinary courtesy and folksy décor (nothing matched in Carson’s, it was as if your Grandmother decorated it from odds and ends), they returned again and again.

Last month I presided over the last rites of the Garbageburger. I entered the now renamed and redecorated Carson’s (it will always be Carson’s to me, no matter what they re-name it) and learned that the G.B. had expired. The couple sitting in the booth next to me asked for the famous sandwich. When they learned it no longer existed either in name or content (oh, there’s a substitute they try to pawn off as heir to the G.B., but it’s nothing like the original) they lamented , “Nothing lasts.”

On that poignant note, I called the young owner of the place over to my table. “I don’t see how you’ll make it without the Garbageburger,” I said, “it’s a tradition in Kent.”

“We’re not interested in tradition,” he replied, “we’re interested in business. And business is better than it’s ever been before.”

He is probably right. Alas, his business probably is better than ever; but the quality of life in computerized-consumerized Kent (this gypsy camp of plastic hamburger stands and beer joints) is immeasurably diminished.

And the voice of Jacob Marley’s ghost, rebutting Scrooge’s famous mercantile rationalization (“But I was always a good man of business, Jacob.”) rings in my ears: Business, Ebenezer? Mankind was your business.”

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