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Don’t like hamburgers? Strike America from your list


A close third behind the American obsession with God and the Military, is their obsession with burgers. They say the national pastime is baseball, but really it is burger eating. Or perhaps it’s burger eating at the baseball.

America has easily the most fast food chains of anywhere in the world. A quick search of Wikipedia revealed that 157 chains originated in the US, compared with twenty-six in the UK and thirteen in Australia. There are the national chains, such as McDonalds and Subway, then the different states have their own distinct ones, a lot of which I’d never heard of. There was Starvin’ Arvins in Arizona and Popeyes in Texas. In addition to Taco Bell, which is everywhere, the Spanish speaking areas of the country are inundated with similar chains. There’s Taco Bueno, Taco Cabana, Taco del Mar, Taco John’s, Taco Mayo, Taco Tico and Taco Time. I didn’t go in to any of those, but I’m sure they all served an array of burgers as well.

Dog Days by Andrew ThompsonAnd then there are the specific burger joints. Ones like Burger King and McDonalds are ubiquitous (it is said that you’re never more than twenty miles from a McDonalds), but then there are the more niche burger chains, with their imaginative names. All that seemed to matter was that the word ‘burger’ was in the title. Back Yard Burgers, Fatburger, Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries, Hesburger, In-N-Out Burger, MOS Burger, Blake’s Lotaburger, Burger Street, Burgerville, Cheeburger Cheeburger, Cheeseburger in Paradise, Crown Burgers, Good Times Burgers & Frozen Custard, Griff ’s Hamburgers, Halo Burger (combining with God, no doubt), Milo’s Hamburgers, Smashburger, The Original Hamburger Stand and Whataburger.

Whatajoke, more like it. I challenge anyone to find an American restaurant of any class or description that doesn’t have a burger on the menu. From the upmarket starched white table-clothed establishments, to the grimy street cafés. They all have burgers. And a lot of them have nothing but burgers. Many a time we traipsed from place to place looking for something to eat that wasn’t a burger. It wasn’t always easy.

In Austin, Texas I was craving a steak. And I’d always wanted to have a big, juicy Texan steak. We found a place called The Prime Rib Steakhouse. It had a menu posted out the front that had a number of steaks on it in varying cuts and sizes. It was perfect, so we went inside. We had to wait thirty minutes for a table before sitting down.

‘With a wait like that,’ I said to Lucy. ‘The steaks must be good.’

I perused the menu.

‘I can’t see the steaks,’ I said. ‘Can you?’

‘No,’ Lucy said. ‘Seems to be mainly burgers.’

Dog Days by Andrew Thompson‘Seems to be all burgers.’

There were no steaks on the menu at all, but it was replete with burgers, twenty types of burgers, in fact. All I wanted was a steak. We’d been talking about it for a week.

The waitress came over. She was wearing a red checked shirt, old jeans and boots.

‘You all set?’ she said. That’s the standard line from waitresses.

‘I’m after a steak, but can’t see any on the menu,’ I said.

‘No, we don’t do steak, we only do burgers.’

‘But there are heaps of steaks listed on the menu out the front.’

‘What menu?’ she said.

‘The framed and laminated menu at the front door,’ I said.

‘I’ve not seen it.’

‘You can’t really miss it.’

‘Oh,’ she said. ‘That must be out of date. We only do burgers.’

‘Out of date,’ I said. ‘How long have you worked here?’

‘Six months.’

‘Incredible,’ I said. ‘Anyway, give me the biggest burger you’ve got.’

Lucy ordered a burger as well, and then the waitress left.

‘Unbelievable,’ Lucy said after she had gone.

‘I know. It’s like we’re in a burger vortex and can’t escape.’

The burger arrived and it was big. I was hungry and I devoured it.

‘Holy cow,’ said the waitress when she came back to check on us a few minutes later. ‘You have really slayed that burger, partner.’

The tables were booths lined up against the wall. A man from the next booth must have been listening and turned and looked at us.

‘You were after a steak, hey?’ he said in a broad Texan accent.

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘It’s all I’ve been thinking about.’

‘The burgers are good though aren’t they?’ he said. ‘I gather with that accent you’re not from around here.’

‘No. Australia originally.’

‘I work for an Australian. Here in Texas. He’s got a pie shop.’

‘You don’t see many pies in America,’ I said.

‘No, there’s none. He’s starting up a new market.’

‘Well, that should do well with you Yanks,’ I said. ‘Make a change from burgers anyway.’

The thing that amazed me the most about the burgers in America was their quality. Given that every restaurant serves burgers, a perfectly competitive economic market exists. Should any place increase its price or reduce its quality, consumers can easily source their products elsewhere.

Despite these anti-monopolistic conditions, the burgers are generally pretty terrible. The first good burger I had was a buffalo burger in a small town called Grand Junction, Colorado, six weeks into the trip. The buffalo burger (actually, bison) tends to be less fatty and has a gamey flavour. Bison burgers were very prevalent in the West of the country.

The meat in the American burgers is often passable, it’s the bun that ruins them. The bread is that white sugary sweet crap, and as any burger aficionado will tell you, it’s all about the bun. And then it’s further spoilt by the cheese they smother it in. Most American cheese is an orangey colour, completely flavourless and has the texture of partially melted plastic.

Dog Days by Andrew ThompsonBut you never just get a burger. They are invariably accompanied by a mountain of greasy chips (that the Yanks call fries) that serve purely as a vehicle for salt, as well as a carbonated soft drink in a large cup. I don’t know why the Americans bother with the different sizes for their drinks, as everybody orders the supersize. And it’s enormous. The smallest size is bigger than a large in England, and the supersize requires two hands to pick it up. They then go and get a refill. Americans are the most obese people in the industrialised world and they drink the most soft drink, averaging more than 600 ‘sodas’ a year each.

They are not particularly fond of their greens either. You’ll never see a burger served with salad or vegetables. It wasn’t until we got to New Orleans, thirty days after arriving in the States, that I ate either. And it was just a small side helping with a dish of jambalaya. The only thing that stopped me from getting scurvy in America was two full fruit smoothies a day from Walmart.

Yes, if you go to America, be prepared to eat burgers in great quantities. If you don’t like burgers, don’t go. Unless you want to starve, that is.

Extracted from Andrew Thompson’s highly entertaining book, ‘Dog Days, tales from an American Road Trip‘.

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