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.
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.