1170 Highway 99 N
Eugene, Oregon 97204
by Yuri “Grinder” McCarver
Let me tell you about the best hamburger I’ve ever eaten.
Claiming that something is “the best” sounds as perfunctory as stating that you are “great” when someone asks, “how are you doing?” But I am not hyperbolizing or being polite. The best hamburger I’ve ever eaten was at Strike City Lanes in Eugene, Oregon.
I was not planning on consuming the most fantastic burger in human history that night. I was attending a conference with my powerful yet fishy colleagues. This line of work can attract introverted personas, so the Association of Powerful Fishy Professionals has a traditional bowling social on the first night of their conference to lubricate the camaraderie necessary for earnest information exchanges. They also have beer - in this case, an open bar featuring pristine drafts from the Oakshire Brewery.
I selected a Line Dry Rye and set to knocking down pins. I hadn’t bowled in years, but the beer was crisp and wholesome as a bushel of wheat berries, it conquered several weeks worth of workaday cortisol and facilitated my communion with my old school bowling game, which is to say that I did not have two consecutive gutter balls. After two strikes and a spare, Yuri was bowling with brio.
In expectation of discus-like sat-on burgers and freebase frying oil chicken strips, Frank Chane, the fishy yet powerful professional that I had driven to Strike City Lanes with, and I had decided to grab grub elsewhere afterward. As I contemplated my third Line Dry Rye, however, I sensed that my beery stomach could no longer support my bowling. Other Powerful Fishy Professionals had ordered food, and I was intrigued by the vibrancy of the grilled chicken sandwiches and burgers that passed me by. My toes wiggled in my bowling shoes. I felt the collective wisdom of the hundred sweaty feet that had adorned their soles enter my heels and ride the qi meridian straight to my brain.
I ordered the “Maude”: a grass fed beef patty with cremini mushrooms and Gouda cheese along with lettuce and tomatoes on a toasted ciabatta roll. Hold the aioli.
Serendipity is the crux of a singular experience. To be surprised is to have no expectations and to have no expectations is to take in something not in terms of what it should be, or what you think it will be, but only as it is. And so it was for me on that star-crossed night. Also, by the time my Maude arrived I had the drunken munchies.
The Maude that appeared on the waitress’ tray could have been peeled off of a Juan Sanchez Cotan still life. A warm ciabatta roll supported a layer of green lettuce that was almost breathing chlorophyll. Stop Light red tomatoes alerted my eyes to a round layer of thick, dark beef dotted with cremini mushrooms. The whole procession was covered by a tan expanse of Gouda cheese, before being swirled with ketchup and crowned by the second half of the ciabatta roll.
To consume this hamburger was to be absorbed by a Pink Floyd composition from the experimental pre-Darkside of Moon albums Atom Heart Mother or Ummagumma: the instant my incisors broached the bread and pierced the patty all of my senses reoriented themselves to the deep boeuf flavor. This wasn’t just fat and salt; it was unfettered profound beefiness. Royal Bovinity. Before I could fully fathom this beef-o-rama it partnered with the mushrooms to form an umami fugue; suddenly, a crisp and moist garden of lettuce and tomato cut through the fine bovineness, and then became a foil that reinforced its prominence. Ketchup tweeted its tangy birdsong through the Gouda’s earthy rush of creamy casein while the ciabatta role crunched within my ears. I chewed, swallowed, and swashed my mouth with another gullup of the Dry Line Rye from my plastic flagon.
I looked up. I was in Strike City Lanes. It had only lasted a few seconds, but having awakened from my tête-à-tête with Maude the world was now calm and new. The world was somehow both bigger and smaller. The world was a joyous place where quiet, powerful Fishy Professionals remove their work armor and high five, whoop and holler in outrageous bowling alleys. And there was still so much Maude to masticate!
My bowling acumen declined as Maude owned my senses, but no matter. The experience was indelible: the night I ate the best hamburger ever at Strike City Lanes in Eugene, Oregon surrounded by Powerful Fishy Professionals drowning their daily grind in Oakshire beer.