A hamburger is something that receives a lot of celebration and perhaps rightfully so – there is no food that is more American. But even on this journey, burgers have popped up along the way. Back on Day 49, I celebrated National Cheeseburger Day and enjoyed some fresh selections from Five Guys. Today was different however. Today was just National Hamburger Day – hold the cheese. Celebrating National Hamburger Day on Memorial Day Weekend makes sense too. It’s the official kickoff of the summer season which means more grilling and more cook outs are to come. Grocery stores have been trumpeting their ground beef and fresh burger roll specials all week for your Memorial Day picnic along with hot dogs, chips and all your party needs. They were almost demanding you grill up a burger this weekend. So that’s what I did.
There was no picnic for us today. I was working for most of the day as was Lola. I ended up getting home about 7 pm after a brief stop at Clements to pick up some ground beef. It was late in the day at Clements and it looked like they had had a pretty busy day and their butcher case was close to empty. They usually have pre-made burger patties in their butcher case that I am a fan of. I’m not sure why, they just seem fresh and tasty in this form and I appreciate not having to mold my own burgers at home. There’s actually something to the thickness of these pre-made patties that are perfect for grilling too – they cook fast but not too fast. In any case, they were fresh out of these patties and out of of plain ground beef, at least in the butcher case. I could have asked the clerk to go back in the butcher kitchen to get me more, but I knew there were other options in their packaged meat sections. I settled on some thin patties that were made with angus beef. I also picked up some rolls and fresh corn.
If my schedule allowed for it, which it didn’t, I may have tried to head to New Haven (my hometown, well sort of – I grew up in East Haven which is just east of the Elm City). That’s where the hamburger was invented at Louis’ Lunch. This piece of history is very much contested but as a New Havener, I always have to side with Louis. The legend has it that Louis Lassen came up with the idea in 1895 when he wanted to find a way to use up all the trimmings from his steaks so he ground them up, cooked them and served them between two pieces of toasted bread. Louis’ Lunch is still on the New Haven Green today and is still run by his family. In truth, I have only been there a couple of times. It’s a different kind of burger. They are still cooked in the original cast iron grills from 1898. This is a contraption in which the burgers actually cook vertically, almost like a toaster and they grill an onion slice along with it. Then it gets served on plain white bread which is toasted in a more modern machine which looks like it’s from the 1920s. Some cheddar cheese spread is smeared across the bread, the burger and onion go on top and a fresh tomato slice tops it off. It’s as simple as can be. Don’t ask for anything else like ketchup or mustard. This is how it comes and this is how you get it. It’s actually really tasty. The place is notable too in that it has been an institution for over 120 years. The decor is old and reflective of the old school scholarly feel of Yale which surrounds the place with dark wood walls and tables notched with graffiti from decades of drunk people grabbing burgers after the bars close. But an experience nonetheless. That would have been a pretty appropriate way too celebrate National Burger Day, but I didn’t have the time and they were likely closed on a Sunday.
When I got home I fired up the grill. It was still light out but it had gotten a little chilly as more rainy weather was starting to head our way. Still it was perfect grilling time. I made some salsa butter which is essentially melted butter with salsa mixed in and then I took the husked corn, placed it on the grill and mopped it with the salsa butter. The corn would take the longest to cook, so I grilled that for a bit, rotating it as needed and adding more salsa butter as I went. I heated up our burger buns too and got a nice toast on them as well. Then the burgers went on the grill. These were seasoned slightly with some salt and pepper. They were on the thin side so I knew they would cook pretty fast and they did. Before long, all were ready to come off the grill. I added some cheese to Lola’s burger, but I kept mine without cheese so I would keep my celebration pure.
Eating a burger without cheese is almost sacrilegious to me and it was hard not putting some on to my burger (that’s a first world problem if ever there was one). But on thinking about it, I recalled that I never wanted cheese on my burger as a kid. I didn’t learn to like cheese until college (and then I really liked it). But I was always that guy – no cheese please. Even my standard McDonald’s order as a youngster was a plain hamburger. Just burger and bun. I’ve learned the finer delights of life since that time, but it was fun to recall those earlier days of my life on Hamburger Day when I was the odd ball.
I served the burgers with some tater tots. We just happened to have some in our freezer and I felt the need for some kind of potato product to go alongside our meal. When I cooked them, I set the time for 15 minutes and I must have been outside when the timer went off because I never heard it. I probably ended up cooking them for five minutes extra and that helped them turn extra crispy which was actually ideal. On my burger, I had two patties on a bed of arugula and a slice of fresh tomato with some mayo. Lola had a single with cheese served the same as mine except with some avocado. We had a couple of nice looking plates in front of us now.
You couldn’t ask for more from a Memorial Day weekend grilling session. The burgers were cooked pretty spot on and the meat was tasty too. The combo of the veggies and mayo along with the grilled beef on a crispy toasted bun was perfect and just what I was hoping for. I did miss the cheese – I think it would have delivered a little saltiness and creaminess to everything, but it was still good as is. It made me appreciate the taste of the hamburger on its own which was flavorful. The tater tots were perfect too and each one had a nice crisp bite too it. I seasoned them with salt and pepper and that was ideal. The salsa corn is always a favorite. It keeps every bite nice and tender and that combination of butter with spicy salsa flavor oozes into every kernel. It’s always a fan favorite and it was especially good tonight. It was another flavor that meant summer was coming.
All in all, a pretty nice way to end a Sunday. A hamburger may be the quintessential American meal, and it’s earned that reputation by being a meal of simple joy and comfort. It can be enjoyed in the comfort of your home or alongside friends and families at picnics or parties. It’s nice to know that we enjoy burgers today just as much as the folks at Louis’ enjoyed them back at the turn of the 20th century. That’s history that keeps making memories. And while I hankered for cheese on mine, I took time to appreciate the simple joy of just lightly seasoned grilled beef cooked over an open flame. Flavorful and juicy. The taste of America. The favorite of my younger self. A meal worth celebrating at the end of any day that is easy to cook and always satisfies. A classic deserving of all our praise and celebration. And it pairs nicely with salsa corn.
Next up: National Biscuit Day