2010.12.01 Hamburger pilgrimage seems like a tasty, well-done idea

Written by David Green.

By RICH FOLEY

I never got around to taking a vacation this year. Come to think of it, I didn’t take one last year, either. But a recent feature story in USA TODAY has given me a great idea for 2011 if I can just find the time: Visit the restaurant serving the best hamburger in every state in the country.

This story reminded me of the man who ate a hamburger in every county in his home state of Kansas. It didn’t sound like that big of a deal until I discovered there are 105 counties in Kansas, fifth most among the states. If he had two each day, it would have taken him almost two months. I presume he had something different for breakfast, otherwise it would be burgers three times a day for 35 straight days. I like burgers, but be serious.

At least he didn’t live in Texas, which has 254 counties. Doing one burger in each state would take long enough, but I’m already cutting the list down. I have to disagree with some of the USA TODAY judges, who seem to think adding odd ingredients makes a great burger. In some cases, that’s true. In others, not so much.

For example, the pick for Indiana is the Triple XXX Family Restaurant in Lafayette. Their signature sandwich, called the Duane Purvis All-American, consists of a quarter-pound of ground sirloin, cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion and yes, peanut butter. That sounds worth the trip to me, being both a burger and peanut butter fan.

On the other hand, there are several states whose burgers eliminate them from my dream itinerary. For instance, the pick for Alabama is the “Lower Alabama Burger,” served at a Mobile restaurant. Their burger contains leftover pork sausage from their Sunday brunch, mixed with ground beef. Sorry, that doesn’t meet my definition of a burger. Only one meat is allowed, and it has to be beef. Anything else just ain’t a burger. That leaves out the Ohio choice, too, a Cincinnati bar that adds a grilled sausage on top of their burger. Do they also keep a bucket handy?

The Anchorage restaurant that adds slices of bologna, salami and ham on top of the burger also fails to make my cut. Fails? It actually sounds disgusting. It will be a lot shorter trip cutting Alaska off the list. The picks for New York, West Virginia and Colorado also are out for adding smoked ham on top of the beef patty. Missouri misses my list for adding a slice of bologna. What is wrong with these people?

Moving on to tastier locales, Hank’s Hamburgers in Tulsa is the Oklahoma choice. Their Big Okie Burger contains four quarter-pound beef patties, four slices of cheese, plus all the fixings. Doesn’t sound big enough? A six-patty burger is also available. They claim that the late Waylon Jennings was supposedly a big fan of the restaurant. They probably don’t mention the fact that he needed a quadruple heart bypass at age 51.

Cotham’s Mercantile in Scott, Arkansas, serves the “Hubcap Burger,” containing 17 ounces of fresh ground chuck made to order. The article doesn’t mention him, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Bill Clinton hasn’t had at least one of them at some point.

The Blow Fly Inn in Gulfport, Mississippi, features the Hamburger Po’ Boy. Two ground chuck patties rest inside a nine-inch loaf of French bread, along with mayo, tomatoes, onions, lettuce and pickles, with cheese optional. The chef calls it a “nice next-day sandwich,” adding that he’s never seen anyone finish a whole one in one sitting. I would hope that anyone ordering a Big Okie or Hubcap Burger also would save some for later.

I’ll have to go to Montana to order the burger with the oddest name. Helen’s Corral Drive-In in Gardiner is that state’s choice for best burger. An out-of-town visitor once wrote to the local paper complaining about “surly service” at the restaurant. In response, the restaurant changed the name of its most popular sandwich to the Hateful Burger.

Actually, we have more contestants for oddest name. Kuma’s Corner in Chicago features heavy metal music and the Black Sabbath Burger. In Lexington, Kentucky, the Tolly-Ho offers the Tolly-Ho burger, a quarter-pound of beef with special “Ho” sauce. Those with bigger appetites can order a Super-Ho or Mega-Ho.

I think that’s a good start for a hamburger holiday. Now if I can just get a deal on an industrial-sized bottle of Tums.

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