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But they aren't.
One hundred percent ground chuck on a toasted bun, that's good. Six kinds of cheese, that's okay, too -- although a slice of American would do just fine. But all burgers prepared medium-well by rote decree, as it says right on the menu? That's dangerous territory. And dried-out, mid-well burgers aren't improved by toppings that are all diced. Diced tomato, diced onion, shredded lettuce, pickle relish -- if I want something on top of my burger, I don't want it to be taco fixings, okay? One bite and the whole thing just falls to pieces.
7855 Sheridan Blvd.
Westminster, CO 80030
Region: Northwest Denver Suburbs
12073 Arapahoe Road, Centennial, 303-858-1144. Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
1/3 pound cheeseburger: $4.95
1/2pound cheeseburger: $5.95
Cherry shake: $4.35
5453 Manhart Street, Sedalia, 303-688-9967. Hours: 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday< br>Hamburger: $2.80
Double hamburger: $4.35
Double cheeseburger: $4.80
The menu also includes tater tots, Boca Burgers, Caesar salads, chalupas and Fritos pie -- a lineup that smacks of trying to be all things to all people, and carries a fair guarantee of being a failure on all counts. Then again, Cheesy Jane's does make an excellent cherry milkshake, can make a proper chocolate malt if you ask, and its steak-cut fries are crisp and nicely done.
Reasons why cheeseburgers are the greatest food in the world(second in a series): Cheeseburgers are a benchmark.
I don't care what else a restaurant has on its menu, but if a cheeseburger is listed, it had better be a good one. That doesn't mean it has to be Kobe beef; it doesn't have to come on an artisan, multi-grain bun with butter lettuce and a red pepper remoulade. Plain or fancy, big or small, grilled, fried or even steamed, it just has to be a good burger -- because if the grillman can't make a proper, mid-rare cheeseburger the way I want it, why would I trust him to cook my steak frites or my tournedoes or even to dunk my tater tots?
Although burgers are fairly simple, a great cheeseburger can be a work of art, just as deserving of a cook's obsessive love and skill as any lobe of foie gras or spun-sugar patisserie masterpiece. Ask any good kitchen guy who's done the schizophrenic two-step between roadhouse galley and multi-starred line, and he'll tell you there's not much difference between grilling a steak for steak and eggs and grilling a steak for steak Diane. Jacques Pepin spent the early years of his career cooking in many fine French hotels, and for three French heads of state, and then -- when faced with the choice between serving as personal chef to Kennedy or going to work in the prep kitchen at Howard Johnson's -- he chose HoJo's. Pepin saw no reason why diner food shouldn't be just as good and just as satisfying as any Michelin cuisine, and he was right.
My cheeseburger quest ends at Bud's Bar in Sedalia, mecca of the itinerant beef seeker. If you're a burger purist, Bud's is the place.
Bud's does burgers. Bud's does cheeseburgers. Bud's does doubles of each. And that's it. Bud's motto, spelled out plain on the menu: "We don't have no damn fries." Bud's other motto, hung up behind the great, long bar: "If our food, drinks or service aren't up to your standards, please lower your standards." That's beautiful.
Bud's, a little roadhouse with a dirt parking lot and an ancient juke, has been around since 1948. It's been a biker joint some of the time, a family place some of the time and a burger elysium all of the time for locals and pilgrims alike, usually with a line out the door. They come for Bud's burger, served plain with a bowl of pickles and onions, a bag of chips on the side. And for cold beers. That's it.
The burger itself is a simple, thick beef patty on a bun, slapped down on wax paper in a plastic basket. Take a bite, though, and there's no doubt that you're in the presence of greatness. That greatness could be attributed to the thickness of the burger and the fact that "rare" here means that thirty seconds ago, the meat was still mooing. There's also something to be said for the presentation (or, more accurately, absolute lack thereof) and the company you keep while eating (lots of neighbors, lots of tourists, quite a few dusty bikers doing the loop down through Bailey and Deckers on a sunny afternoon, every last one of them knowing that they've got something truly special in their hands). But all of that is secondary to the actual experience of tasting one. There's something downright mythic about a perfect double cheeseburger, served hot, with no distractions, in an atmosphere of almost worshipful appreciation, and if you don't think so, then friend, you've got bigger problems than we can deal with here.
Reasons why cheeseburgers are the greatest food in the world (third in a series): Cheeseburgers are situational.
Would a Bud's burger be so great outside of Bud's, the place? I'd like to say yes, of course -- that food and place are easily divisible. But I'm not so sure. There's no doubt in my mind that Bud's kitchen (such as it is) makes a fine burger -- but the fact that it does only that and does it in an environment that draws people from all over the place just to get a taste? That counts for something, too. A hot burger and a cold beer at just the right moment -- say, at the good end of a backyard cook-out, or after a long, hot drive -- can reach realms of perfection you would ordinarily think closed to such simple, pedestrian grub. And Bud's takes full advantage of that quality in the human heart that tends to make object and environment inseparable.
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