Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Default Burger

I think I'm going to do a trilogy of posts about food. Outdoor dining is one big problem, but another one is burgers. How do you serve one? Do you just throw on ketchup? How bout mustard? Pickles, lettuce, tomato? Mayo? Special sauce, relish, onions? Barbeque? Guac? And we're not even talking about the bacon and the cheese, or some of the more exotic stuff like hot sauce and egg.

Everyone likes their burger a little different. How many permutations of these toppings are there? Millions? Me, I like a cheesburger with ketchup and raw onions. Occasionally bacon - the flavor can be a little too dominant. And here's the real catch. I don't like pickles, but I also don't like no pickles. I like the faint, lingering residue of pickle that comes from finding pickles in your burger and removing them.

And I have several dealbreaker toppings. Mustard and mayo are two. They can be kinda scraped off, but they can't be truly eliminated. That burger is ruined. Same with Russian, or any unwelcome sauce.

And that's just me. One person in the whole burger consumption universe. Unless you serve me a burger with the cheese, the ketchup, the raw onion, and the freshly evicted pickle slice, you've left me unsatisfied. How can you serve a burger that will make everyone happy? You can't. It's not possible. Which leads me to this weeks' constructive suggestion for society. What I propose is a kind of hamburger bill of rights. We should enshrine these principles into law.

1) No condiment or topping should be served on a burger without the explicit permission of the burger consuming party.

2) One should never assume that they can act as a burger topping selection proxy for someone else.

3) When condiment preference is in any doubt, serve plain.

4) Serving the burger open faced, with toppings placed invitingly on either the heel or crown is not an acceptable compromise.

5) "Cheese" means cheddar or American. It doesn't mean jack, provelone, muenster or swiss.

6) "Onions" require clarification. They can be raw or grilled. If you intend to serve them carmelized, or a non-burger variety like Bermuda, this requires special consent. If you intend to serve an onion-ring on the burger, you are an idiot.

7) Saying that a burger contains 100% real Angus beef has never, once, impressed anyone.

A few burger establishments should be congratulated for being ahead of the curve on this. Burger King burgers, despite being bad overall, have always been open to full customization. Every other chain has since adopted the "Have it Your Way" philosphy. Fatburger, for instance, has signs at the register reminding you to identify your topping preferences. That's thoughtful.

What's less encouraging is the way a default burger is prepared, absent of an expressed preference, at many of these places. McDonalds will put mustard on the burger. Now this is just totally nuts. Very few people want mustard on a cheeseburger. Why is this automatic? Then there's Wendys. Unless you specifically countermand it, your Wendys burger will have lettuce, tomato, pickle and mayo. Mayo, for Gods sakes.

When someone orders "pizza", does the restaurant feel at liberty to add whatever toppings they want? No. Does someone order "salad" and let the chef decide what kind? No. But apparantly we have all agreed to to just say "burger" and let the establishment slather it with mustard or mayo or whatever else they want. The default burger should be plain, and any additions must be solicited.


"Sweating" Billy Maloney said...

Rowsdower, you may be a good and decent man in your personal life, but you are a hamburger fascist. A hamburger is like any other food in that each restaurant reserves the right to serve it the way they see fit. I like steaks, and sometimes they come with a pat of garlic butter on top, sometimes onions, sometimes even some exotic sauce. If I don't like the way my meal is served, I don't come back. A man votes with his feet, not by demanding some quasi-Natural Law that should cover the entire universe of meal preparation.

Also, why is it not satisfactory to have the extras on the side? If you don't want them, don't eat them. Anything else is pure hamburger Bolshevism.

Rowsdower said...

Sure, restaurants have a right to serve a burger however they want, and I have a right to bitch about it like a spoiled little girl. The difference with steaks is that the preparation is nearly always specified on the menu, and the waiter will give you an explicit opportunity to make changes.

And also, for whatever reason, getting served a steak with a surprising garnish is not nearly as unpleasant as getting a hamburger slathered with an unappetizing sauce. There's just more variety, (and possibility for disappointment) with a burger.