With fast-food burger giants like McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Carl's Jr. hogging so much attention, chains like the Original Hamburger Stand are often shrugged off or ignored altogether -- even when paired with Tastee-Freez. I was definitely guilty of driving by -- until I saw a banner outside the location at 3100 South Broadway in Englewood (one of five in Denver) advertising something called a "Junkyard Burger." The giant photo on that banner showed a hamburger oozing chili, cheese, onions and what I thought might be french fries, and that got my full attention. And the Original Hamburger Stand kept it until I realized that eating there more than once might actually kill me.
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The Original Hamburger Stand started as an offshoot of Wienerschnitzel, the hot dog chain founded by John Galardi in Los Angeles in 1961. When that became a success, Galardi brought the Original Hamburger Stand -- a stripped-down, no-frills, fast-food hamburger joint -- to states in the Southwest in the early '80s, and began to replace underperforming Wienerschnitzel stores (in those signature A-frame buildings) with the new burger concept.
This concept did well in the generic 1980s, with black-and-white buildings, uniforms and even food wrappers, but customers lost interest in the '90s. That's when the Galardi Group -- parent company of Wienerschnitzel, Tastee-Freez and the Original Hamburger Stand -- embarked on rebranding efforts for the burger joint, including a new logo and actual colors. The company figured out that TOHS's customer base was 18-to-34-year-old males, and marketed directly to them with big, colorful outdoor banners on the stores featuring menu specials -- like the new Junkyard burger.
I'm not exactly the target demographic, but it definitely worked for me: I parked and walked in. Most of the business is clearly drive-thru, since the inside dining room is tiny, but there's also a larger patio area off to the side that was half-filled with moms, dads and some happy, loud, ketchup-smeared kids.
The menu seems almost state-fair-ish -- or at the very least carnival-like -- with all the greasy, sugary, salty, don't-eat-this-every-day-or-you-will-die faves like burgers, fries, milkshakes, corn dogs, jalapeno poppers, chili dogs, sodas and banana splits. This is not a place to go for any kind of health food whatsoever; the most nutritious thing you could eat here is a tomato slice on a burger or a bite of pickle relish on a hot dog. But when in hell, you should get a good suntan, so I ordered a gut-buffet of a green chile burger with fries, a jalapeno cheese corn dog, a chocolate shake, strawberry lemonade and the Junkyard burger.
My total bill for this macabre feast was under twenty bucks, so it was even more apparent why this place appeals to families, and even more obvious why the chain's target demographic is younger males. I used to call this sort of fare "dude food" until a feminist friend told me to stop with gender assignations for food -- otherwise, all those nitwits out there who think yogurt, lettuce and diet sodas are "chick food" will drain my life force.
During the swift, ten-minute wait for my stomach-stuffing, I noticed that the decor definitely went all technicolor -- loud primary colors were everywhere, and there was a huge sign with daily menu deals including that day's treat from the Tastee-Freez menu (it's incorporated into TOHS and not a separate entity), which was one of those high-twirled soft-serve ice cream cones dipped in a vibrant pink cotton-candy shell/dip. I'm not sure why this image got smacked into my head, as I'd already ordered enough terrible, awful, unhealthy junk food to stock a concession stand at a circus -- but I kept thinking about what a cotton-candy-dipped cone would taste like.
The Junkyard burger was a regular, thin-pattied burger heaped with American cheese, onion dices, pickles, mustard and, yes, French fries, all slathered with chili. It was delicious in an apocalyptic way -- deliciously death-hastening.
Sadly, the green chile burger was disappointingly unspicy, with a flavorless slab of boiled chile and a chunk of iceberg lettuce (ew) bigger than the beef patty. The lemonade was so sugary that it made my tongue feel like it had a sock on it. But all was not lost: The chocolate milkshake was a real black-and-white (vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup) and extra thick. And the jalapeno-cheese corn dog was juicy, cheesy, crisp and far more tempting than my digestive system needed.
Even after I'd finished all that, the damn cotton-candy cone was becoming a micro-obsession, and I went to the counter to order one -- only to be told that the #$%^& ice cream machine was broken. I knew this would be my one and only chance to try a cotton-candy-dipped cone, because I would never, ever, ever be returning to this TOHS location. I wanted to live -- not drop stone dead of a heart attack on the cold tile floor.
So after a couple of heart palpitations, I checked my clothing for grease stains, went to the car and drove to the location at 1205 Federal Boulevard to hit the drive-thru and collect my disgusting pink prize. As I was waiting for my ice cream, I watched the employees hovering over the grease fryer, and actually witnessed two of them scooping chunks of white fat into the fryer with gloved hands.
I was thoroughly disgusted with myself for eating all the calorie-busting crap that I had, but when I got the tall, twisted majesty of a dipped cone, any vestige of self-restraint or regret vanished with the first bite. The pretty pink shell smelled like fresh-spun cotton candy and tasted exactly like it smelled, but with the added bonus of that smooth, waxy dip texture that gets all up in your teeth. This dipped cone was unbelievably good, and I enjoyed every last mouthful, even though I knew I would spend the rest of the night -- and possibly the next day -- sweating, shaking and way too close to complete organ failure from the sugar and grease.
I lived through the night, but woke up resolved never to eat at the Original Hamburger Stand again, because sometimes a glut of death-defying junk food is just too good -- and I want to keep living.
But I may go back for another ice cream cone.
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