“It Never Hurts to Smile” by Mike Rosen

Topping Oddities

With the days growing longer and warmer (although the latter far too slowly for my preference), we’re just about to enter the outdoor grilling season. This past Sunday, as I was putting a new mat underneath our Weber three-burner, I could almost smell grilled marinated chicken, roasted veggies, and that most ubiquitous of grilling requests, hamburgers (along with hot dogs, the most grilled item in the US of A). That prompted a recent memory.

Two weeks ago a news alert popped up on my iPhone announcing the fast-food chain Wendy’s was introducing a new hamburger to their menu. Upon seeing the alert, two thoughts immediately came to me: 1) With all that’s going on in the world, why does this rate an alert over everything else; and 2) Do we really need another “new” burger?

Wendy’s so-called creation is the Bourbon Bacon Cheeseburger and consists of their basic beef patty topped with Applewood smoked bacon, American cheese, crispy onions, and bourbon sauce. Frankly, for something introduced as “new,” I expected something a bit more exotic as this one is similar to items I’ve seen on restaurant menus for several years.

It got my mind to wondering about what has happened to our collective tastes when it comes to the hamburger. When I got to the age that I was eating out with friends, burger options were very limited. One could order a burger with or without cheese (always American cheese), and unless one asked otherwise, the sandwich was served with iceberg lettuce and a slice of tomato. Raw onion and occasionally sautéed onion were common, but not always on a menu. As I remember, that was it.

Then came what one of my friends would refer to as the Great Awakening (the way he said it, initial caps were necessary). One Saturday night, after having fun doing whatever we had been doing that night, we decided to head to a diner for something to eat when we approached a new establishment. An interestingly designed, blue, rooftop caught our eye and as we approached the sign out front advertised “International House of Pancakes.” Glory to the epicurean gods and goddesses; exotic fare had found us! Naturally, we decided it would be rude to pass up such a venue and so decided to skip the diner that night, parked, and went inside.

We scanned the menus that were handed to us and were marveling over the choices in pancakes and waffles when I noticed there were sandwiches available. One, in particular, caught my eye.

“Hey, check this out,” I said to the group, “A Spanish Burger!”

Eyebrows raced for hairlines as we reviewed the description and each ordered the burger, despite the enticement of a stack of fried batter dripping with butter and syrup.

We weren’t disappointed. The Spanish Burger was a quarter-pound patty (a first for us or, at least, the first time a burger was described that way) topped with a slice of melted

mozzarella and a crisp onion ring filled with a red, mildly spicy, sauce. We left the restaurant dreamy-eyed.

The Spanish Burger is long gone and over the years I have seen any number of specialty burgers listed on menus. But in recent years, that number has exploded and, to be blunt, almost none of them tempt me. Honestly, if I’m in the mood for a burger I’ll be perfectly satisfied with, well, a burger. Put a slice of onion and maybe one of cheddar cheese on it topped with ketchup and I’m good to go.

Apparently, I am out of step with the world (not for the first time either and, undoubtedly, not for the last time). It amazes me the concoctions people come up with, and what amazes me more is the number of adherents to these gastronomical oddities (hey, it’s my column; I can editorialize!). What do I consider to be odd variants to the traditional burger? Why, I thought you’d never ask.

From a review of a few Websites that corroborated each other, some very popular burgers now appear topped with these options:

Grilled or fried broccoli and cheese,
Peanut butter,
Peanut butter, jelly, and bacon,
Fried banana and peanut butter,
Sunny side-up egg,
Macaroni and cheese,
Chorizo and bacon jam,
Marshmallow syrup and chopped jalapeños,
And, get this, hot fudge covering a square of vanilla ice cream

Additionally, why bother with an ordinary bun—sesame seeded or not—when your burger and toppings can appear between English muffin halves, or a sliced bagel, or:

Lettuce leaves,
Funnel cakes,
Portobello mushrooms,
Red pepper halves,
Grilled eggplant slices,
Fried plantains,
Miniature pizzas (one establishment serves theirs sandwiching a burger, onion rings, bacon, Monterey Jack cheese and barbecue sauce),
Fried squares or macaroni and cheese,
Small omelets,
Small squares of matzo (this one I can’t imagine using instead of a bun, inasmuch as matzo is an oversized cracker)

Does anything in that list strike your fancy? The donut instead of a bun option is fairly well known, having already appeared at fairs and carnivals for several years. Still, no thank you, although an acquaintance of mine swears that once you’ve had a bacon cheeseburger between two glazed donuts you’ll never want a bun again. You’re still not tempted to try one? Neither am I.

How about the toppings list? Are you ready to try your burger (whether beef, turkey, chicken, or veggie) topped with peanut butter and jelly? Hot fudge and ice cream? Still no? Neither am I.

Perhaps you’re more of the sophisticated continental crowd and would enjoy how other parts of the world enjoy their burgers.

Australians enjoy theirs topped with pickled beets, sunny side-up egg, and a grilled pineapple slice.

Feel free to head to Chile for a relatively tame tomatoes, mashed avocado, and mayo-covered burger.

Our friends from across the pond in the United Kingdom seem to enjoy batter burgers, which are beef patties dipped in batter and then fried.

Mosey on over to Mexico for a Hamburguesa Mexicana. This burger has ham and cheese fried on top of the patty (which can be either beef or chorizo), as well as jalapeños and/or slices of avocado.

Our Finnish friends drool over reindeer burgers with lingonberry jam

Should you find yourself feeling peckish in Montreal (one of my favorite cities), enjoy some decadence with a venison patty topped with foie gras, maple-cured pork belly, cheddar cheese, port and red-wine-infused mayonnaise, balsamic sauce, and marinated onions. You’ll gain respect if you order in French and likely verbally vilified if you ask for ketchup.

As for yours truly, now that there’s a mat under the grill, I am just about ready to plan some menus. It isn’t unlikely that an early item to appear on our grill will be patties of very lean ground beef which, after being cooked to our preferred levels of doneness, will be served on buns (a gluten-free bun for the missus). She’ll enjoy a slice of fresh tomato, maybe some onion, hamburger relish, and ketchup, while I, always opting for the simple pleasures, will cover my patty with a dollop of Beluga caviar, slices of black truffles sautéed in duck confit, freshly made whipped cream, sprinkles (rainbow, of course), and a dusting of edible gold dust.

Yes, I jest. Mine will be far simpler and almost mirror my better two-thirds’ choice. But I am reasonably convinced that somewhere, someone reading my previous description, started to drool.

This week’s Street Advertising Smile:

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