Burgers!

A coworker (and one of the only people at work who can tolerate me when I’m having a bad day) and I went to Cliff’s today for a quick bite at lunch.  I ordered — as I always do — the Murphy burger, a heart-stopping concoction of 100% beef, grated sharp cheddar cheese, sauteed onions, thick strips of bacon and tangy barbeque sauce.  No wussy lettuce or tomatoes on this bad boy; it’s pure myocardial infarction-inducing goodness.

My coworker, who originally hails from Denver, watched curiously as I tossed aside the ketchup packets that came with the burger, irritated by their mere presence.  “Stupid ketchup,” I grumbled.  “Why would they give me ketchup for a burger?”

“Why wouldn’t they?  Don’t you want ketchup on your burger?” he asked, bemusedly.

I glared at him, trying to decide whether or not to answer sarcastically: “Of course!  I love ruining a perfectly good hamburger with ketchup!  Pass those packets back over here!”

Instead, I responded with a sharp, “You’re in Texas now, buddy.  We don’t put ketchup on our burgers.”

“Really?  I mean, I thought I had noticed that, but I wasn’t sure.”

“Yep.  No ketchup on burgers.  It’s like a state bylaw.  Heresy.”

“Wow.  So…what do you put on them instead?”

“Mustard, obviously.  And mayonnaise.  Sometimes.  But always mustard.  Haven’t you been here long enough to know that by now?”

“I guess not.”

“Hmph.  You’ve got a lot to learn.”

“There was this place in San Diego that used to do the best burgers with ketchup on th–”

Me, interrupting: “I don’t care.”

“I was just going t–”

Me, rudely interrupting yet again: “Don’t care.  You’re cutting into my valuable Murphy burger eating time here.  I don’t care how they do it in California or Colorado or anywhere else.  In Texas, you don’t put ketchup on burgers.  Period.”

“Fine.”

“Fine.  Can we eat now?”

Go ahead.  Tempt me.  What do you put on your burgers?  What don’t you put on your burgers?  Be prepared to feel my wrath if you answer “ketchup.”  But, seriously, I’m quite interested.

So tell me, burger fiends!

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Southwell’s – UPDATED

After doing some browsing through other bloggers’ opinions of Southwell’s (this opinion in particular), it appears that I was mistaken about my not-so-dearly departed Dubl-R!  Also, I think I’ve found a new favorite food blog.

The Texas Burger Guy has reviews of nearly every landmark burger joint in this great state.  The reviews are, much like a good burger, addictive.  He covers the gamut of burger joints in Houston: Lankford Grocery, Christian’s Totem, Bellaire Broiler Burger, and even my old neighborhood restaurant, Sam’s Deli Diner.  And I was even more gobsmacked to see that my beloved Dubl-R was listed among the reviews!

According to the review (which was posted in 2006, well after I graduated from Baylor), Dubl-R is still operating at its old haunt on Herring Avenue.  The review doesn’t go into the specifics of why it originally closed down circa 2001 and it doesn’t discuss the heretic Dubl-R outpost at Baylor.  I’m okay with this, though; maybe the reviewer isn’t familiar with this snippet of Dubl-R’s history.  I’m just thrilled to see that the Dubl-R of my memory is up and running again!

I guess I’ve got a reason to go back to Waco for the next Homecoming now.

Southwell’s

Southwell’s (I-10 & Echo Lane location), Houston, Texas
November 30, 2007

There are days when, being a red-blooded American girl, I crave a cheeseburger. Nothing fancy on those days — no cracked peppercorns or Havarti cheese or sauteed onions, although all of those things are delicious. Just a fully-loaded cheeseburger: patty, cheese, mustard, mayo, lettuce, tomatoes and onions. And on those days, I usually find myself at Southwell’s.

Southwell’s is a well-established burger joint with several locations here in town. I frequent the one at Echo Lane and I-10, since it’s just down the street from both my house and my office. Although I adore Southwell’s, I understand that it’s not everyone’s favorite. And why would it be, in a city with as many great burger joints as Houston? My personal favorite is Bellaire Broiler Burger and all of its late 1960s glory, but that doesn’t stop me from grabbing a good, juicy burger at Southwell’s.

When I lived in Waco, my favorite burger place was a rundown joint in one of the many “bad” parts of town. It was called Dubl-R, and for all its inaccessible parking, shady patrons, yellowed linoleum and torn vinyl seats, I loved it. It wasn’t the prettiest sister, but it was the sister with the mad burger flipping skills.

Dubl-R’s burgers were classic: fresh beef patties, the tops of the buns glistening with grease and the entire concoction whacked flat with the palm of the cook’s hand as he manhandled it into its white paper wrapper. They oozed happiness and — for me — the joy of knowing that I was enjoying something that most other people in Waco wouldn’t, simply because they never looked past the exterior of Dubl-R to come inside.

During my senior year, Dubl-R closed down. I was crestfallen. I tried to enjoy the burgers at Health Camp, down the road, but nothing compared. And then, to my complete astonishment, Dubl-R reopened right next to Baylor’s campus. Not only did they reopen, they had restyled themselves into the kind of subtly hip place that college students would inevitably flock to by the hordes.

Suddenly, the place was overrun with my fellow classmates. Dubl-R began to showcase cottons (the awful slang term at Baylor for sorority and fraternity event T-shirts) on their walls. They began to pander to the college masses. What’s worse, their burgers began to suck. Once again, Dubl-R was dead to me.

I’m coming to a point here, I promise…

Southwell’s is like a strange hybrid of the lost Dubl-R of my memories — the Dubl-R with the excellently greasy burgers that doesn’t exist anymore — and the one today. Southwell’s is mostly overrun by what I politely refer to as “yuppie scum.” At my local Southwell’s, nearly every car in the lot has a Memorial High School sticker on it and everyone inside would fit in quite comfortably at my alma mater. It’s clean and neat inside: no linoleum floors, no sticky booths with cracked seats.

However, Southwell’s has managed to retain great burgers amidst all of this. Their menu is simple and straightforward, belying the attitudes of crowd they routinely serve. Their burgers are served in the same white paper wrappers, their waffle fries in the same red plaid paper boxes, as burger joints throughout the decades. Their cheese fries are unabashedly drenched in half a gallon of cheese. And their cheeseburgers would be at home in the Dubl-R of my memory.

And at the end of the day, I don’t care if I have to endure the shrieking children of clueless, vapid, self-absorbed parents or their Range Rovers parked across three spaces in the parking lot; the endless lines of chattering, high school volleyball players and their constantly-ringing cell phones; or the droves of chubby, red-faced wheelers-and-dealers who clog the lines at lunch, answering their Blackberries and telling off-color jokes to their business partners. It all fades away when I’m burying myself in this:

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