Executive Times






2006 Book Reviews


Hamburgers and Fries by John T. Edge




(Mildly Recommended)




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John T. Edge’s third contribution in his series on iconic American foods is Hamburgers and Fries. Spud lovers will find less about the perfect fry, but burger barons will want to get on the road and try some of the regional specialties that Edge calls to our attention. Here’s an excerpt, all of the intro to and text of Chapter Five, “Lessons in Fluid Dynamics,” pp. 56-64:


Rattling Skeletons and Cheese

In The Cheese Handbook, esteemed British author T. A. Layton offers a recipe that, to most any American, will seem curious:

“Take, per person, two ounces of raw mince meat, one egg yolk, and one segment processed cheese. . . . Bind the meat with the egg, season with salt and pepper, and flatten out to the diameter of a bun. . . . Get a slice of cheese to fit the flat­tened mince meat and smear with mustard. Put the other bit of mince meat on top. Crimp the edges together and toast under a hot grill  

Natives of Minneapolis might recognize that Layton, who penned his book in the 1960s, was an advocate of what they know as a Jucy Lucy. Of course, there are some differences. True Jucys aren’t slathered with mustard. And the meat in a Jucy is ground finely enough to bind without egg.

But the linkages are there. All that remains to be settled is this: Did Layton fly through Minneapolis on a cheese buyer’s junket and return home with a purloined recipe? Or do the folks at Matt’s Bar have British skeletons rattling about in their cupboard?



It’s dark in Matt’s, a corner bar in the Powderhorn neigh­borhood of Minneapolis. So dark that I can feel but not see the gold velour wallpaper. After a moment, my eyes adjust and I take a seat. From a barstool perch by the door, I join my friend Dara Moskowitz and gaze upon the objects of our ob­session: eight burgers, arranged in two rows.

They pop and hiss, spewing grease onto the grill cook’s fore­arms. He does not flinch. When he flips them, the burger at bottom right begins to wobble, ballooning outward and then quaking like a capsized turtle. Remember Alien? It’s not un­like that. If you missed Sigourney Weaver’s money shot, I’ll he more precise: it’s as if something is trapped inside that burger; it’s as if that something wants out.

Finally a minor geyser erupts, a thin stream of cheese spouting upward in a textbook exhibition of fluid dynamics. I hear a treble—register swish, an exhalation. And I watch as a blob of cheese exits the side of the burger. What was once a misshapen and loved thing now resembles nothing so much as a naked Quarter Pounder coming down the chute at McDonald’s. I learn, from a woman seated two stools down, that I have witnessed what Jucy Lucy cultists know as a blowout..



As you have no doubt discerned, a Jucy Lucy is a burger stuffed with cheese. The mechanics, as practiced by the grill cook at Matt’s, appear simple: Lay out a shingle of sand­wich tissue. Plop a bun-sized patty on top. Drape it with a slice of American cheese. Piggyback with a second patty and a sec­ond tissue. Rotate the burger in the palm of your hand, tuck­ing and creasing to seal the seam as you go. Strip the tissues away and toss on a griddle. Cook, and top with grilled onions.

Its shape notwithstanding, a Jucy looks banal, appears hum­drum. But believe me, this cheeseburger possesses the ability to astonish. For if you manage to avoid a blowout, you will, upon first bite, taste a cheeseburger that does not follow ac­cepted protocols, but takes its cues from the choicer contents of a Whitman’s Sampler box—say, a caramel-gorged fez of dark chocolate.

And if, like me, you notice the bumper stickers that plaster the back bar, the ones that say, “Fear the Cheese,” and you figure they have something to do with a football rivalry with Wisconsin, think again. If you bite soon after your Jucy ar­rives, you will learn—as a sluice of hot cheese product dribbles down your chin—that this burger also possesses the ability to blister.


When my cheeseburger arrives, Dara, known for her discursive restaurant reviews in the local newsweekly, looks toward the grill cook. He appears amused, maybe a bit mischievous. He asks her, “Does he know the rules?”

By this point, the onion-scented cloud, which followed my Jucy from the griddle to the counter, has begun to dissipate. I check the surface for breaks, determine that I have not re­ceived a blowout, and hoist myjucy aloft. But Dara stays my hand. “Give it a while,” she says, pointing toward the bumper stickers. I frown and order another beer.



It’s not as if I’m hungry. I’ve spent the better part of the past two days traversing Wisconsin and Minnesota, eating and deconstructing cheeseburgers in an attempt to establish a read on this corner of the Midwest.

I began on the north side of Milwaukee, in the neighbor­hood of Glendale. At Solly’s Grille, set in a faux Victorian home within sight of the interstate, I met Glenn Fieber, stepson of Solly, keeper of the butter burger flame. I put to rest any doubts that eats hereabouts might be no different from, say, Corinth, Mississippi, when I lifted the top bun from my burger with cheese and found not one pat of butter—not even two— but a creamy hummock of the stuff. When I asked Fieber why, he said, absent a trace of irony, “That’s how we do it.”

Though he may be the most extravagant practitioner of the alt, Fieber is no renegade butter pimp. All across Wis­consin, I encountered his ilk. At Mazos Fine Foods in Mil­ivaukee proper. At the ninety—odd locations of the Culver’s chain. scattered across the state. At Kroll’s West, across the street from Lambeau Field in Green Bay. Indeed, the butter burger phenomenon has spread so far and wide that Bert Vaux, a professor of linguistics at the University of WisconsinMilwaukee, has begun a dialect sure to determine extents and influence.

Just across the state line in Miesville, Minnesota (pop. 135), I discovered an aberration worthy of a footnote in Vaux’s study. At King’s Place, a clapboard roadhouse across the street from St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, I ate a hand-patted burger layered with Swiss, cheddar, and pepper jack cheeses that, thanks to a slather of sour cream—and my own predisposi­tion toward seeing good in most every embellishment—I found to be almost wholesome, in the manner of a baked po­tato. It helped when I learned that the sour cream was not a fit of excess. but the ovum-intolerant owner’s substitute for mayonnaise.

By the time I arrived at Vincent, an au courant Minne­apolis restaurant operated by a Frenchman who earned his stripes at New York’s four-star Le Bernardin, I was already pin­ing for a Jucy Lucy. But research called. And Dara had said good things about their interpretation of Daniel Boulud’s now iconic braised short rib and foie gras—stuffed burger. I should not have fretted. For in what I’ve come to consider a shotgun marriage of Daniel and Lucy, the chef at Vincent had, from the get-go, used not foie gras but cheese, Smoked Gouda, to be exact.



I am telling Dara about my lunch at Vincent’s, when she gives the all-clear on my Jucy Lucy. I’m unsure whether she has grown weary of my cheeseburger tales or whether the danger has truly passed, but I don’t seek clarification; I just bite. Turns out, Dara gauged the wait about right. The cheese is hot but not scalding, fluid but no longer propulsive. I take another bite and fall quiet.

To tell the truth, my burger is far less complex than I imag­ined. I don’t mean to discount the skill of the grill man. Or the architectural ingenuity of the cook who first calculated the proper ratio of beef to cheese. But I had anticipated a taste that would upend my cheeseburger paradigm. It does not.

In 1954, when local legend holds that the first Jucy Lucy came off a griddle at Matt’s, the notion of crimping a slice of cheese inside two patties was novel. But five decades hence, a Jucy seems merely quirky. Only the texture of the cheese con­founds.

Nowadays, Connecticut barrooms peddle Brie-girded bur­gers. And Phoenix mini-marts vend feta burgers on wheated pita for the low carb—inclined. And New Orleans taverns serve deep-fried burgers, which, when cut across the bias, re­veal the constituent ingredients in a club sandwich.

In other words, the burger is no longer merely provincial. Or parochial. Or any of those other p-words. It’s liberated. And in the wake of such liberation, we Americans have a habit of returning to the old verities. Fifty years out, the Jucy Lucy can be appreciated as quirky and local. And by dint of this alone, the Jucy is worthy of celebration.

Maybe, just maybe, the real pleasure of eating such a burger in the year 2004 is in taking a seat at a dim bar of storied provenance anti listening to someone tell you about how their hometown favorite was born. in the case of the Jucy, this is what Cheryl Bristol, (laughter of founder Matt Bristol, told Dara:

“There was a bachelor customer who used to come in every day and order a burger. One day . . . he told the cook to seal up some cheese in the middle. So the cook did, arid when he bit into it, the hot cheese spurted out, and he wiped his mouth and said, ‘Oooh, that’s one juicy Lucy!’” When Dara asked the significance of the name, probing for a link to a salty barmaid or a kindly grandmother, Cheryl just told her, “They used to talk goofy like that hack then.”

As for why the “i” in juicy was subsequently dropped, that’s a mystery for the ages. One thing, however, is for sure: the dropped vowel has become a differentiating factor. I went to four other barrooms that served cheese-stuffed burgers. Whether in recognition of Matt’s status as originator or in remembrance of a particularly stern grade-school spelling teacher, all included the “i.”


I Love Jucy Lucy

Don’t reach for a hunk of your best cheddar Don’t even reach for real cheese. A slice of processed American cheese, specifi­cally the kind packaged in those plastic sleeves, is the preferred stuffing for this burger Only those orange squares of vaguely plastic texture will achieve the proper fluidity. Now that Poe liberated you from the constraints of so-called good taste, al­low me to caution you: Cheez Whiz is, at least as far as this recipe goes, beyond the bounds of propriety.

1½ pounds ground chuck

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

3/4 teaspoon garlic salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

4 slices American cheese

4 buns

Condiments and garnishes of your choice

Combine the beef with Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper, and mix well. Divide into 8 portions. Make thin round patties, broader than the cheese slices. Place a cheese slice onto 4 of the patties. Top each piece of cheese with a remaining patty. Press the edges together very well to seal. Prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire and cook for 3—4 minutes per side for a medium burger. Place on buns and dress with your favorite gar­nishes and condiments. Serves 4.


As with earlier books, Edge excels at telling the stories of the people and places associated with the food in Hamburgers and Fries.


Steve Hopkins, December 22, 2005



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 in the January 2006 issue of Executive Times


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