Refraining from alcohol is easy. Living in a town were binge-drinking is a way-of-life, the notion that you could go and get slaughtered offers a curious kind of comfort. The knowledge that in the UK, a good burger could be a 7 hour trip by air, bookended by bad attitude is a tougher pill to swallow. To be denied the simple glory of meat in a bun, fused by steam feels like it should break some kind of human rights legislation. Burgers in this country are, on the whole, atrocious.
Ciabatta buns, gourmet options and an excess level of foliage (burger, bun, ketchup, cheese, grilled onion — what’s so difficult about that?) as if London’s rip-off merchants feel remorse at charging the equivalent of $12 for a solitary sandwich and need to add watery bulk. The Byron Burgers chain offers strong burgers and excellent shakes, and the buzz on the nomadic oasis of grease that is Meatwagon is building, but honesty – and here’s the part where you take a sharp intake of breath — on these shores, the McDonald’s double cheeseburger seems to offer a more accurate slice of Americana than most other offerings. That’s nothing to celebrate — it’s downright depressing.
The burger is the ultimate accessory — a democratic foodstuff, and should be, bar a certain comforting level of queue, an easygoing experience. Unless you’re a vegetarian having to substitute for fungus in a bun, it’s hard to imagine why anyone couldn’t be seduced by two patties and bread. It beats music, it beats clothes…on a creation done properly, the first bite is otherworldly. It needs to be soggy — a greaseproof sleeve or foil seem to be alien to Britain too. Japan, ever the Yankophile stronghold does burgers well – from chains to perfectly replicated diners. All a Brit can do is dream.
Chains like Five Guys, Swenson’s and the justifiably feted In-N-Out burger are the dream facilitators. If you’ve wondered why In-N-Out hasn’t gone across the States, let alone global to terrorize lazy patty practitioners, read Stacy Perman’s ‘In-N-Out Burger: A Behind-the-Counter Look at the Fast Food Chain That Breaks all the Rules’ for the lowdown. An inspiring read and the meaty antidote to ‘Fast Food Nation’s scare stories the narrative is oddly gripping that adds some extra satisfaction to your next Double-Double purchase.
Lightning’s regular ‘The Hamburger Book’ showcases some madcap creations, all beautifully shot, with some excellent slogans and portraits of the often alarmingly thin and frequently beaming proprietors. A Japanese burger tour could be an experience-of-a-lifetime. Is ‘Keyperson of Hamburger’ the best name for a chapter ever? Quite possibly. Andrew F. Smith’s ‘Hamburger: A Global History’ comes highly recommended for the cultural context that’s often absent for amateur burger scholars, but the true half-pound don-dada is the work George Motz — a filmmaker, writer and burger Jedi who’s ‘Hamburger America’ is easily top-ten food tome material. 100 standalone restaurants, no-nonsense and superior write ups that extol each filling point-of-difference that justifies inclusion. Steamed burgers, the mysterious nut burger and the deadly looking butter burger get some shine here. It’s enough to make a certain kind of male want to leave work to embark on a pilgrimage — book in hand — culminating in a massive cardiac arrest. That’s a happy death to beat any Camus narrative.
‘Hamburger America’ even comes with a DVD of the 54 minute documentary of the same name. The omission of Swenson’s was a surprise, but check George’s blog to see it receive visitation and a nod of approval. Corner Bistro in Greenwich Village recommended by the brothers Schonberger appears to be a Motz haunt too. The fully revised edition of the book arrives in early 2011, but the original comes highly recommended.
The UK can never catch up. Local pride in fast food is non-existent. You can stick your slow food and patriotism. A perfect burger is good enough to renounce citizenship over. Next week, a work trip to California is causing enough excitement to lose sleep over. The cause? Potential In-N-Out gluttony and The Apple Pan — regarding the ‘Pan, Motz says, “If there were a definitive burger in America, this would be it.” Keep your collaborations, limited editions and Apple accessories. That’s something worth getting hyped about.