Tune Inn’s Beer-Battered Burger: The Best Worst Decision of My Week

pic courtesy of City Paper

Americans get a third of their calories from hamburgers. That is a truth-fact. I try to limit myself to one a week, which means that I’m not holding up my end of the national average and I’m forcing a lot of people to eat more burgers than they probably want to. But what I lack in quantity I make up for in enthusiasm. I love burgers. Getting to ask waiters about lean ratios and having butchers put a blend of beef through the grinder a second time to distribute the fat more evenly just makes me feel good inside. (And the sweet and savory bursts of juice from that first bite into a well-crusted medium-rare burger at 85/15 makes my mouth feel good inside, too.)

So, when I moved to DC a year ago, one of the first things I did was visit the legen…wait for it…dary Tune Inn, one of Hamburger America‘s 100 best burger joints in the US. (The first edition. The second edition has expanded the roster by 50%.) I found there one of the best greasy-spoon burgers I’ve ever had—rich in flavor, coarse in texture and almost juicy enough to be its own beverage.

Yes, I could have been content with the Tune Inn burger, had another menu item not sat there, quietly mocking me every visit: The Beer-Battered Burger.

Truthfully, like so many other things, it seemed like a good idea at the time. I’d heard rapturous things about the flavor of deep-fried burgers, and memories of making spicy, Guiness-battered onion rings made the idea of the beer-battered burger seem logical: If I’m gonna fry the thing, why not go all the way? But it took a year of seeing it on Tune Inn’s menu before I could screw up enough courage to inflict one upon myself.

It was a cold Friday night, and I was biking home to Capitol Hill relatively early, as I had a long and early Saturday ahead of me. It had been a few months since my last Tune Inn burger—truthfully, I hadn’t had one since before they shut down for repairs after a kitchen fire. Rumor had it that the fire and subsequent kitchen renovations hadn’t taken the slightest toll on their food, so I hungrily stopped by on my way home and decided to celebrate their re-opening in my own small, sad way.

Once my to-go order was ready, everything started going downhill. As I mounted my bike, a homeless man asked me if I’d mind sparing my leftovers. The humiliation of imagining myself from his eyes, glibly and greedily biking away hung like a cloud over me as I sat in my living room, styrofoam box opened to reveal my vegetables—a pickle and fries—and the pale, steaming burger.

The taste was at once both familiar and challenging, like moving to a new city with an old friend. The burger was fantastic. I ate it with every bit of greed and enthusiasm that the man I snubbed must have imagined, not that far removed from Civilization‘s Big Hog, and then, for the sake of health, I ate most of my vegetables, too.

Then, I sat.

And sat.

And sat.

Eventually, my roommate came home, and so as not to appear lazy or indigent, I flopped onto the ground and crawled on my stomach to the stairs. The railing was so, so high above me. How could anyone reach that high from the ground? No one could, and I don’t see how anyone would need to. I did just fine inching my way up to the second floor from my belly, each wooden step assaulting my nose and chin. There was no way I could make it to my bed—It’s so far up from the floor! Who would build a bed so high?—so I just lay there beside it and moaned myself to sleep.

When I woke up three days later, I was still full and the grease leaking out of my pores had seeped through my clothes and had made a puddle on my floor. I’m pretty sure it was leaking through the ceiling of the floor below. I was still full.

That burger was amazing.

Written by Rick Barry.  Read more at Gravy Boat.


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Jesse says:

    Neat story. The Tune Inn has a mighty fine burger. However, i must say i’m a little confused about the part where it made you feel good inside to hassle waiters about arcane lean ratios and make butchers go out of their way to do more work for you, but then later you felt guilty about not giving a homeless man a reward for doing nothing.

  2. Rick says:

    Jesse, knowledgable waiters at most good restaurants (or at least most restaurants that take their burgers seriously) are not only paid (and tipped well) to know about the food they are serving, but they are also evangelical about the food they are serving. They aren’t mindless automatons who exist purely to hand you a menu, take orders from you, and deliver food to your gaping maw. They’re human beings who know about the wares their shop offers and who are willing to help you make a good choice about what to eat and help you better appreciate that food when you get it. If you recognize that they are worthy of as much dignity and respect as you are, and if you treat them the way you would treat anyone else about whom you care who has had to put up with a litany of boorish, thankless clients for the last six hours, you might find that they don’t mind going into detail about the food you’re ordering.

    The same goes for a good butcher. And if you think double-grinding is an insignificant detail that is simply a power play in order to have a butcher do more work, then go to a butcher, get two quarter-pounds of whatever well-marbled blends you’d like, have one double-ground and one single-ground, and then make medium-rare burgers out of them and really pay attention to what the experience of eating them is like.

    (Also, as a side note, tip wait staff like the hard-working professionals they are–nearly everyone in food service has a difficult and stressful job.)

  3. Jesse says:

    That was actually part of my point – as a previous veteran of the food service industry, i understand all too well that they have amazingly stressful jobs. During rush periods, amidst swarms of customers, most of these professionals you speak of truly don’t have the extra time needed to go research lean/fat ratios on their burgers. I would implore you to only ask such questions when your hard-working servers do not have eight different tables to juggle — it’s just a matter of common courtesy.

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