Burger Bliss

Restaurants with fine burgers can be found all around the Old Pueblo

I have tried to be a vegan--I truly have. In my heart, I know it is the right way to live and am in awe of my vegan friends. I am not tofu-intolerant, as a popular commercial puts it, and have, indeed, grown to like the stuff in its own right (as distinguished from its always-acceptable presence in a hot bowl of miso). If it weren't for one thing, I think I might be able to scale this ethical Everest and never look back.

That one thing? I need hamburgers. It's not like I've gotta have one every few days or even every week, but when the urge hits, it's gotta be reckoned with.

A few weeks ago, for example, Andrew and I were coming home from back-to-back movies and decided we wanted a burger. I remembered that Noah, he of unending grace and good taste, had mentioned having an out-of-this-world burger experience some days earlier, but I couldn't remember where it was he'd said he'd had it. This is where the true value of a cell phone comes into play.

I called, but had to leave a message. Within 90 seconds, he called back, sounding a bit winded and distracted but, as he said, "Never too busy for a call about a burger." He is a man of sterling character. Within moments, we were on our way to Acacia, the newly opened restaurant in St. Philip's Plaza, subsequently welcomed warmly and ushered to seats at the comfortable small bar tucked into a corner of the restaurant. A single-malt later, we were devouring two superb burgers on toasted focaccia and some of the best fries I've had in years.

It made me think about burger memories during the several years I've been eating: some bad, mostly good, and many of them available to this very day. You, however, are only gonna get the good stuff.

One of my first jobs was working at June's Drive-In, now called Shari's, on First Avenue between Glenn Street and Grant Road. It may have been my first job; I think the next summer was when I became a bagboy at El Cortez Market (at age 15) and had such a powerfully erotic visceral experience that I considered devoting myself to the retail grocery business. In any case, the summer I worked at June's, I did everything from cutting up the potatoes and cleaning the milkshake blenders to occasionally getting a chance to flip a burger or two when June took a break. I loved the burgers there, and still do. They're not neat to eat, but well worth the effort, and I'm still a sucker for topping them off with green chilies.

The burger that wins the award for most-formidable-to-tackle is, hands-down, any of the behemoths you might order at The Egg Connection on Fort Lowell and Country Club roads. As with almost any dish there, a small mountain of potato product--in this case, crisp, hand-cut fries--comes on a separate plate, and you're damned if you do and damned if you don't eat 'em up. Famous Sam's offers almost as big a spread and is still the only place I know where you can get pastrami as a topping.

Noah and I went through a period when we would go to McMahon's on Swan and Fort Lowell roads for lunch, simply because the chopped sirloin on a bun was sinfully good, particularly with the Bearnaise sauce on the side. He and our friend Sharon and I often set Friday lunchtimes aside for serious work, in the course of which we feasted on terrific burgers at Frank's, on Pima Street, and Kappy's, on Wilmot Road. Kingfisher on Grant Road and Cuvee on Speedway Boulevard both make ground round a treat--always liked those delicate onion crispies Kingfisher included on the burgers. Years ago, my brother introduced me to Bob Dobbs on Sixth Street, and it's still a great place to stop when the college crowd has thinned out. Hmmm ... that speaks to my age.

I've saved the best for last. It's a new discovery--for me, anyway. My friend John is an AOL hotshot and key member of a world-series-winning softball team. I asked him the other night about his fave burger joint. His face lit up instantly--he's an enthusiastic guy--and he began to rave about The Home Plate on 22nd Street. Let's just say he is a big fan.

So, a couple of days later, I met another friend, Joe, there for a quick bite. This is a place where there are batting cages and pool tables, a cozy group of booths and tables around a bar, 19 television monitors and an obviously loyal and devoted clientele. It's a bar, so there are ashtrays on all the tables, but the smoke wasn't a problem. Dawn, the bartender, has been there a year and she says things get pretty hopping during UA games. While I'm not sure about turning Weekly readers on to what feels like a pretty contented spot, I'm compelled to say that the burger I had at The Home Plate is the best, hands-down, I have ever had. Full-flavored (and I haven't quite figured out what all is been added), perfectly cooked; it was a memorable first experience.

Now, if you have a favorite burger place in Tucson or a favorite recipe, let me know ... I'm already on that road to perdition.

Burgers Zellerbach

In college, my best friend and roommate, Tommy, taught me to make a burger that I still make to this day. He was, in turn, passing on the recipe his grandfather--a man of small stature and powerful influence--had given him. I give it to you:
  • 1 pound lean ground round
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 6 saltine crackers, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • Couple shakes of Worcestershire sauce
  • A few drops of Tabasco
  • Pinch of garlic powder
  • Salt/pepper to taste
Mix all thoroughly. (Hands are the best tools.) Form two even patties. Lightly oil heavy pan and heat, searing burgers. Flip and cook to desired doneness. Serve on toasted buns with whatever condiments you choose.