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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