Fuddrucker’s burgers for every sized belly

by Brian Clarey

May is National Hamburger Month, according to tiny burger chain White Castle and their cronies with Big Beef, and like a docile little food writer I’m doing my uninspired duty to this most American of sandwiches.

I love hamburgers. I used to eat one almost every day before I made the connection between what I eat and how I feel. These days a burger is a fairly rare treat.

For a time, I thought that the Quarter Pounder with Cheese was a high expression of the form, but that was before I became such an epicurean snob.

You can’t get a Whitey ( or “slider,” as they’re known in some circles) around here, but a good burger is not as hard to find as you might think. The Joel Burger at Fincastle’s is excellent. Cook Out makes a nice one. Natty Greene’s, Ham’s, M’Coul’s and many other joints make the grade as well.

But today I’m going to the mothership: Fuddrucker’s, a giant national chain specializing in the dish.

The company is about 25 years old, and they serve more than just burgers – the menu has salads, chicken dishes, fish and maybe a couple soups. But I’m here for the beef.

I get a half-pounder – they come as small as 1/3 of a pound and as big as a full pound, and I guess they’d make you a bigger one if you want. I opt for grilled onions. Swiss cheese. Sauteed mushrooms. I tell the guy to cook it medium rare (this is one of the few places in town where they actually take a temp on as burger). And don’t be stingy with the fries.

I take my seat in a booth under black-and-white photographs of Tony Curtis, Judy Garland all done up as Dorothy, DeNiro from Raging Bull. The décor is retro-nostalgia. And the holy trinity of the form – Elvis, the Beatles and Marilyn Monroe – each have their own shrine.

The food cooks quickly – you should never have to wait more than 10 minutes for a burger – and they call my name when it’s up.

The burger is big, on a soft, house-baked yeast bun with just a smattering of sesame seeds. I move to the fixings bar.

Lettuce? Yes.

Tomato? Absolutely.

Pickles? Eh. All right.

Ketchup? A certainty.

Mayo? No. I’m off mayo. But am I going to get some of that hot cheese sauce for my fries? What do you think?

I slide back into my booth and grab the thing with both hands and jam it into my face. So good.

And here’s why: It’s good meat, of course, but not too good – cheaper cuts have better flavor – and the patty is not packed too tightly so that it almost crumbles when I bite it. The bun, fluffy as a cloud, has been buttered and lightly grilled. And the fries make an excellent counterpoint.

You can’t eat a burger without fries, of course, and Fuddrucker’s version is lightly dusted with seasoned salt. Nice touch.

Anyway, I take this burger down like the ravenous American I am. Grease, ketchup and bits of lettuce, onion and mushroom collect on the wax paper. I burn through six napkins and like a quart of root beer before I’m through, and I can’t finish the fries.

Happy National Hamburger Month to me.

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