Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Rays Hell Burger Too

1713 N Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22201
(703) 841-0001

By Beau Cadiyo

It has been a hectic sandwich season for me. I have been responsible for organizing the intensive testing that the Cleveland Sandwich Board has had to do in order to rank the top five sandwiches and the top five burgers for New Day Cleveland, and if all five other reviewers have gained as much weight as I have in these endeavors, we have collectively put on 45 pounds. That comes, of course, from having collectively consumed approximately 63 burgers in three weeks; this isn’t easy, but someone has to do it.

Having neglected my girlfriend, we decided to take a short trip to Washington, DC in order to see our nation’s capital and encourage me to get a bit more exercise, even if it was just walking around. (Walking, by the way, is not exercise, regardless of what the government says.) The trip coincided with the National Cherry Blossom Festival and a particularly cold Saturday; she put a couple of museums and a frozen yogurt shop (famous, apparently, among girls) on the itinerary. She got museums and yogurt, and I arranged to meet up with a friend from high school, one from college and another from law school. In the interest of time, we decided to meet them for a picnic and then to venture forth.

After eight miles, seven memorials and a thunderstorm, only my friend from college, Frank Norquist, and her husband were left. We were hungry. Neither of them knew where we should eat, though, as the cheap places were closed on the weekends and the places that were open were pricy.

“Rays Hell Burger?” I was asked. I wasn’t sure that I could eat another burger.

“It’s Obama’s favorite place to eat burgers.”

Hmm. I know industry influences the government when it comes to food choices, so I wasn’t sure that that was a glowing endorsement.

“He took Putin there when he was visiting.”*


A metro ride and another short walk on aching, blistered feet and we were waiting in a strip mall parking lot. The lot was full and there was a line of cars blocking the street waiting to get in; people were sitting on benches and standing around the door, hoping to hear their names called. How we waited only five minutes is beyond me, but I don’t ask questions when government workers are able to negotiate these things. If she can get the Kim family to eschew nuclear weapons as well as she can get a table, Frank’s going to be great in her job, and I hope to have her serve in my administration - or, perhaps, serve in hers.

A beer, waters, mediocre fries and incredible onion rings were brought out in short order, and then the burgers. My girlfriend wasn’t talking; I could tell that she had low blood sugar, and I was going to have to carry the conversation on our side of the table. That’s what being a couple is all about. The waiter hadn’t known what Putin had ordered so, going by the name and ingredients, I figured he would have gotten the Big Punisher.

It was at Ray’s that I had the realization that there might be another level of Sandwich Science™ hitherto unrealized, but I will realize it to you: bread should not matter.

Think, as Fidel Gastro has recently done, of the history of the sandwich. The individual sandwich is greater than its whole; there is bread, yes, and filling, yes. However, what, in food history, were these used for? Bread, of course, was used as a method by which to transfer the matter of the meal to one’s mouth – nothing more, nothing less. While it is possible that bread was baked specifically for particular purposes, I doubt that the majority of people put much thought into what kind of bread they received, especially in the English countryside, where utilitarianism reigned. Instead, people focused the other food that was consumed with the bread – the stews, soups, meats and vegetables. Thus, the bread played a minor, supportive roll while the other food was allowed to shine. The birth of the sandwich would have taken this into account, and rather than having had some artisan baker create bread around one’s meat, the bread was likely meant to merely transport the filling to the mouth with a minimum of fuss, mess, trouble or – critically – interference.

Thus the glory of this particular burger. While the meat was tender and juicy, the cheese melted to aching perfection, and the peppers hot enough to singe nose hairs from across the table, the bread was utterly forgettable in the glorious, Zen way where it became one with everything else. I don’t believe it had sesame seeds on top; I don’t remember if it was dense or airy. It could have been whole wheat, although I’m pretty sure it was white; it might have had rodents in it, but even then, it was still perfect for this burger. I’m sure Putin, the Judo master that he is, would have realized the same thing, or would have been taught this in his KGB training and would have recognized it here.

When we left, we said goodbye to Frank and her husband. On the spur of the moment, I was inspired to say, “I’m glad you’re happy.” When we’d been in college, Frank was uber-competitive, constantly in flux and rarely seemed comfortable where she was; she’s since shown herself to be an incredibly talented, self-aware, capable woman, and her job and life fit her, I think, particularly well. The icing on the cake was that her husband struck me as perfectly compatible with her and complimentary to her; as with my lady friend, I caught them sharing little words and stealing kisses throughout the whole day, which made me happy. Saying goodbye, I felt like we were starting a new friendship, an adult one, where we weren’t so concerned about what people thought but what they could do. I also had the distinct impression that we would be crossing paths repeatedly throughout life, and if it is as pleasurable then as it was on that fine April Saturday, I look forward to it.

*Of course, it was Medvedev, not Putin, who went with Obama. Regardless, burgers benefit from being eaten by Putin.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Did Lincoln Eat a Sandwich?

Part I

By Fidel Gastro

Few questions press upon the contemporary historian so much as the one of which president was the first to eat a sandwich. We know for instance that Buchanan ate only rice and sorghum and that, though Johnson requested that the White House staff prepare him an 'assortment of sliced meets betwixt bread, likewise sliced' that he, least popular of all the presidents, was refused this request by an indignant chef who would only serve him sweetmeats and pudding. And yet we know that the sandwich as a notable phenomenon in the American gastronomic palette was undergoing its nativity at this time. For an answer to our question we must look at the great innovator, Abraham Lincoln. My friends, we of the board have sought out answers so that your delicate sensibilities can continue to be coddled by antidepressants and television dramas, sparing you the difficult task of having to look for truths in musty old scholar-infested libraries. There is no creature more desperate and oil-covered than the anchovy – but the presidential scholar contends for that title mightily.

So did Abraham Lincoln eat a sandwich? Lincoln was, of course, an innovator: the first Republican president, the first to recognize mothers by assigning them their own holiday, the first to disavow slavery as an institution, and the first to wage aggressive war against the half of the country that disagreed with him. But was he the first to eat a sandwich? Our sources are inconclusive, and we must always regret that unlike that fastidious lunatic Hoover, he did not keep a diary of his caloric intake. Because Lincoln also suffered from a famous but as yet unnamed condition we know that he took none of his meals in the company of others – usually scrupling to eat behind a screen of some type. In his Illinois lawyer days this screen was only a bedsheet hung over his half of the table, but by the time he was invested in the White House a variety of screens were used – including a rather beautiful example donated by the King of Siam which was employed during state functions. Lincoln's cooks were likewise secretive – owing to the many campaigns of assassination both threatened and carried out, the executive chefs during his term were known to be, what was then classed as, idiots – people incapable of language but trained through special schools in culinary arts.[1] Thus they provide us with no useful accounts of the president's dining habits.

To discern whether or not Lincoln ate a sandwich we must instead look back at his early youth. These unspoiled seasons, free of the calamities that would characterize his professional life, were the only days where a sandwich could properly be enjoyed. As all know, a sandwich requires peace, both of mind and place, and a deep, nearly Taoist concentration upon matters so trivial that they overwhelm the important difficulties for which sandwich eating is unanimously understood to be a balm. For a president to enjoy a sandwich during times of grave distress, he must certainly have been what we in the common parlance refer to as Baller. (Consider, for instance, Franklin Roosevelt's offer of hot dogs to the King of England during the Great Depression). Leaving aside the question of whether Lincoln was indeed a Baller[2] we will instead look into the much less contentious question of whether, in his youth, he made experimental or recreational use of sandwiches.

The Log Cabin is a notable staple of the Lincoln mythology and it, in form, offers the strong suggestion of the sandwich. Logs lying crosswise pressing between them a mortar of dried mud – certainly the youthful Lincoln, eyes wide and imagination stoked by knowledge of the Great Republic must have regarded the walls of his rude home to be an example of the sublime architecture of that lord of foods. Indeed the modern sandwich itself was only recently made possible by the discovery of sliced meats. As we know, prior to the mid 19th century all meats were consumed in the form of turkey legs and skewered hanks, but that at this time the science of cutlery had developed sufficiently to allow the slicing of meat and bread into cardlike dimensions – ready to be stacked and shuffled. The log cabin of course predates the sandwich – and it has been the contention of many scholars that it's signature form – of stacked half timbers with their condiments of waddle and daub were the original inspiration for many frontiersmen and pioneers (known for their formidable beards and lust for sandwiches). What's more, if we, as Blogart has asserted, consider the appearance of the log cabin as it stands against the prairie,[3] there we see a stack of elements, not all of one type, but of different constitutions, all arranged neatly between a roof and a floor, much in the manner of a contemporary sandwich. Many scholars have not been convinced by Blogart's assertions, but we have all been chastened by his overwhelming hostility to criticism[4].

[1] For the presence of idiots in the white house see especially Darling's work – The Fool's Paradise, the White House and the Capital Maul.

[2] For notes regarding whether Lincoln was in fact Baller see http://www.brandonbird.com/kingofcage.html

[3] See Gustavus Blogart's indispensable It's obviously a Sandwich!

[4] See Blogart's My Enemies, why they should be destroyed by venereal diseases.