Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Discourse on the Hamburger

by Fidel Gastro

Let us now, I say to you in conspiratorial tones, let us now speak of the hamburger. That's right, I'll draw you now into my confidence so that I can sagely hold forth on the industrial production of digestible meat. Usually you will find the hamburger in the company of the hotdog, it's brother in the family of manufactured recreational meats, but while the hotdog, noble in its way, is comprised of the penises and anuses of a whole melange of creatures, the hamburger is made of turning or nearly turned or altogether spoiled beefsteaks. Here's a true story, once your steak becomes unsaleably damaged by the bacteria associated with aging, then you must grind it up and by the blessings of mechanization that steak becomes the vibrantly mutable medium of ground chuck, which can be used for spaghetti or meatloaf or tacos or even, and perhaps most, as a hamburger.

Now, people have expectations of the hamburger. I once visited the American south-east, an experience that I don't hesitate to scorn. Indeed, I can think of no better usage for my report on the hamburgers of Cleveland than to warn my fellows away from that den of evil called The Carolinas. Not without due cause do I make this warning and it was suggested to me by way of a story that I think will do more to illustrate my warning (as if by a great sign written in many languages, some devised by linguists as 'future languages' ideograms and glyphs meant to scare off the post-apocalyptic barbarians of the distant future who may still think to go to The Carolinas). While there I went to a place of eating and on the menu was listed the Taco. The Taco, it explained for the culturally repressed Carolinian, was 'A Mexican Hamburger.’

Friends, you who have art, reason and all the Apollonian virtues – you know that a Taco is in fact a class of food unto itself and is not, in any way, a hamburger. They are as kin as badger to the wolverine, and yet you won't find badgers and wolverines lying together in marital congress. So too the hamburger and the taco.

Nevertheless, that damning condemnation of The Carolinas, itself scarring to me in my youth, does demand addressing, for the Taco is ground chuck and condiments affiliated within an enclosure of processed and cooked grains. Such a confederacy likewise comprises the hamburger, and, yet, there are differences. No less are the differences that one finds between the hamburger and it's closest gustatory ally the hotdog, and yet the Carolinian Taco was not referred to as a 'Mexican hotdog', regardless of their more shapely similarities and the presence of conjoined sides.


Let us speak of the manifold condiments and associated creams, salves, vegetables and cheeses that comprise the Hamburger's appurtenances. Should you, as we of the Board did, find yourself upon a late winter's evening at Heck's, you would be confronted, which is not to say assaulted, by what must be refrigerators full of complimentary ally-foods from peppercorns to bacon to sour cream and exotic alpine cheeses. These dressings, when applied liberally to the altogether correct and sound bun, provide sandwiches in themselves, each worthy of comment if not outright praise.

At Heck's we were all business, quartering our orders and making liberal use of the palatal balm of the “French Fry” in order to more fully experience the hamburgers offered. In some respect the sour cream laden Au Poivre hamburger suggested the Taco: sour cream, fried onions, and tantalizingly, peppercorns (though my quarter was sadly negligent in providing me with enough of said corns). However, the competition between these tastes and the not very compelling flavor of the hamburger itself suggested what another quarter confirmed. Blue cheese and bacon, those conspiratorial brothers, each attacking the hapless taste buds from different segments of the savory echelon – these bold brothers made a comfortable paradise for the tongue which the hamburger did nothing to assist.

Once, I knew a man, and I use that noble title reservedly, for as you shall see, he was awful. This person would daily consume several of the vegetable patties that are sometimes made in gruesome imitation of the hamburger. These he would use purely as a kind of canvas for the application of numerous indelicious sauces. Mayonnaise was made to lie unnaturally with horseradish, which was in turn penetrated by barbecue sauce and, to add insult to all parties, various salad dressings would be forced onto the already uncomfortable orgy of creams and simulated flavors. Finally, as if his own obscenities could not be expressed in word or deed but only in vile consumption, he would liberally decorate these concoctions with hot sauces. The bread itself blushed to be applied to such a menage and the vegetable patty – had it scruples at all – would have rebelled and poisoned this person even to death. Sadly his spree continues, and I am told that he sometimes scavenges from dumpsters aged, discarded breads, so as not to alarm a grocer, who might, Columbo-like, learn the awful truth.

I was reminded of this villainy at Heck's, where the hamburger itself was merely a canvas, an uninspired slab upon which the noblest condiments made merry. It was ultimately a cheerful experience but somehow fell short of what we can idealize as the Platonic Hamburger, since I believe, unaided by the premium garnishes, the hamburgers at Heck's would be barely more sublime than those of, say, Perkins.


By way of a counterpoint I was later offered and subsequently accepted a dinner at the Buckeye Beer Engine. Again, the Board Assembled, and once we'd kissed our rings together thus forming the mystic pentad of Lucidity, Humor, Judgment, Carelessness and Gentility we were able adjudicate, or at least, to Sternly Guess.

Now this experience was altogether different, firstly because of the liberal application of delicious beer. Beer is as elemental to the experience of life as air or cigars or friendship and can't help but improve the situation, regardless of what situation you're enduring, save - perhaps - the event of drowning in beer. Perhaps! So the manifold exotic, delicious offerings of the Buckeye Beer Engine could not help but to augment an otherwise perfectly correct experience. What do you call a perfect experience that is made better? It is properly named a meeting of the Cleveland Sandwich Board.

And The Beer Engine. By no means has the Beer Engine invented the fatty melt. I've heard of this thing whilst frequenting the places that elite sandwich aficionados might frequent – our secret college shall not be here or anywhere else compromised, but, suffice it to say, the Hamburger with, as a bun, two grilled cheese sandwiches, is a famous prodigy of our time. In ages past no doubt the early pioneers of the sandwich arts lamented the lack of such conspicuous caloric frugality. Fortunately many hundreds of men, possibly thousands, were willing to sacrifice their lives and innocence on the beaches of Normandy and Guadalcanal, in the trenches of Verdun and at the Halls of Montezuma himself and itself in order to guarantee that those of us who have the fortune to live in the richest society that the earth has yet to produce could amuse ourselves with a sandwich so profligate in its application of consumption that surely all peoples who should come after us will consider their inheritance spoiled, ruined in fact by the glorious pinnacle of human excess represented in grim totality by the Fatty Melt.

I will gladly insult my forebears by managing a critique of the shortcomings of this iniquitous repast.

Firstly, the Beer Engine manages a finer meat, and the naked hamburger (if they served it – I didn't ask) would be superior to virtually any other hamburger that bears the name. Over a heated debate among the Board and various interlocutors as to the veracity of our sampling methods, I achieved a state of sublime transcendence while gnawing on a spur of the hamburger that had slipped the bounds of the preposterous bun, and was able to articulate a new theory of restaurant reviewing standards affiliated closely to that most exquisite science – which is alchemy. In fact I believe that I have, by having taken the hamburger equivalent of the philosophers' stone, earned an inner gold-star that gives me right and prestige to judge all matters of flavor and taste with only the barest association with facts or observations. It is a pretty good hamburger is what I'm saying. We speculated about the meat in the mix but never bothered to ask. Shackleton, I believe, while dying in the Antarctic, wrote that Dog was the sweetest meat of all the various meats. I'm inclined to agree, although, again, this decided without facts or observations. Naturally it would probably be regarded as some kind of libel to suggest dog went into any hamburger I've purchased at any time recently. But if not dog then surely Angel's Wings!

Right, damn good hamburgers.

The trick is that you've got at the Beer Engine what is essentially a reversal of what flies at Heck's. The grilled cheese? Once, I was offered an exotic Irish cheese, this by my first wife who gathered it, heedless of warnings to the contrary, and this cheese! Oh this cheese, when a prudish girl refuses your advances and slaps you, but with a hint of forgoing acceptance. When your teacher gives you a D- on your uncompleted work because you're likeable and play football. When churchgoers cross the street to avoid your gaze – that was the walloping flavor of that cheese, which was so vile, and yet so... cheeseful.

I mean this as an explanation of my credentials regarding cheese. Absolutely I did not expect to have as grilled-cheese buns on my hamburger an excess of Stilton or of Gorgonzola. Nevertheless, the meager application of partly-melted brick style institutional American pasteurized product was, frankly, a lie told to a hamburger that dreamed of a faithful dairy wife, while ending up with the oily whore of congealed vegetable oil. It wasn't a fine match, is what I'm saying.

In short and conclusively, Heck's should marry into the Beer Engine family, they should produce more excessive meat/cheese/bread industrial food products and only then can you, as an American, take pride in the forgoing efforts of Lincoln and Washington and Roosevelt.

Heck's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Buckeye Beer Engine on Urbanspoon

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