The Best Burger Ever

This post comes to you courtesy of an eloquent Marine who definitely has his own mind about burgers.

–Ann Cathey

Bastard on Parade

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Best Burger Ever

Over my lifetime I have devoured hundreds, if not thousands, of hamburgers.  The hamburger is one of my favorite parts of Americana when it comes to food.  They are so simple and yet so complicated.  On the surface it is just bread, meat, bread.  In essence, it is a sandwich with two big pieces of bread.  I have had beef, pork, chicken, turkey, and fish hamburgers, some better than others.  Many of these burgers have included a cornucopia of seasonings included into the meat from jalapenos to Thai spices. I have had a menagerie of add-ons and condiments on my burgers.  My personal favorite combination is simple: bread, meat, cheese, tomato, mustard, bread.  Simple and elegant.

Of all the burgers that I have had in my life only one stands out over all others as the “Greatest.”  In the second quarter of the year 2000 I was on my first field deployment in the United States Marine Corps.  We had made the trek from Camp Pendleton, California out to the Godforsaken land mass known as Twenty-Nine Palms, or as we Marines referred to it: “The Stumps.”  The name is a complete misnomer.  With all the times that I spent on that base, the only trees I saw were Joshua Trees; and those were located elsewhere from the portions of the base that I saw regularly.  The Stumps is a vast desert and mountain region with nothing but sparse scrub vegetation found intermittently about the base.  The only place that I have ever been that was more desolate and foreboding was the home of my step-grandparents when I was around the age of eleven or twelve years old.

So, there I am, out in the middle of the desert for thirty days traveling from one local to the next.  Over this period of time I am reduced to eating Meals-Ready to-Eat (MREs) and field chow.  MREs are packed meals for between fifteen hundred and three thousand calories each.  Pretty nice when you manage to sweat out close to one hundred calories an hour just sitting in the shade due to the extreme one-hundred and twenty degree heat.  Field chow is a whole different ballgame, but still played in the same park.  It is generally canned vegetables and fruit served with either canned or dehydrated meat products.  I was never sure of the caloric content, nor do I think I want to know, of these meals, but like the MREs, some were pretty damned tasty if you like the taste of cardboard and Tabasco Sauce.

Again, I survived on this fare for thirty days.  It is not that hard to do.  After the first few days, though, you begin to miss a few small things.  At first I missed fresh eggs.  The powdered egg product they served us in the field was just as I described it earlier, cardboard flavored with a hint of Tabasco Sauce.  The sauce was provided courtesy of my MREs, at least those that did not need the sauce for those meals.  After eggs I began to miss just about anything that was not prepackaged months in advance or powdered.  I was going crazy.  I traded cigarettes for candy bars, sunflower seeds, anything that was not military food.

Finally, after thirty days of culinary hell, we were told that we would be making a trip to “Base Camp” for a quick resupply at the Post Exchange (PX).  I was happy; I had run out of cigarettes two days before and the life expectancy of my squad mates was dropping by the hour.  When we pulled into Base Camp an hour later I noticed a building with smoke pouring out of the roof.  I looked at my assistant driver and asked the question that would change my life.

“What the hell?  Is that place on fire?”

“No way, dude.  That is the base burger joint.  Let’s go get some smokes and then head over there” was his reply.

After standing in line for cigarettes, and then puffing two in a row down outside, we walked to the burger joint and made our way in.  Upon entering I was confronted with two things.  First, the sight.  This burger joint was just sheet metal stretched over a frame with a kitchen in the back separated from the masses by a half wall with two registers on a desk behind it.  The floor was nothing more than the poured concrete foundation.  Picnic tables were arranged in rows from front to back.  The second confrontation was with my nose.  I smelled that great, glorious aroma of cooking flesh.  It filled the air, permeating every molecule.  It forced its way into every nook and cranny.  I was drunk on that alluring smell in seconds.  I practically ran to get my butt in line to order.

After sometime in line I finally was able to place my order and receive my ticket number.  I walked away from the counter, giddy with anticipation.  I joined my squad mates at one of the picnic tables and wait for my number to be called.  And waited and waited and waited.  The actual wait time was no more than fifteen minutes, but to a man deprived of burger for so long the time seemed like hours.  I watched, jealously, hungrily, greedily as Marine after Marine that was not me was called to the wall and handed his plate.  Finally they called my number.  I do not remember the walk up to the wall or the walk back.  All I do remember before the first bite was the sight of two quarter pound patties of one hundred percent beef, three slices of bacon and two pieces of melted American cheese, all on a standard, store bought hamburger bun.

My hands trembled as I brought the burger, my precious bit of American culinary delight, up to my gaping maw.  I bit into it.  My taste buds were washed over with a tsunami of flavor and grease.  It was ecstasy.  It was Heaven.  It was Nirvana.  It was almost orgasmic.  All was right with the world.  Had I been looking in a mirror I would have noticed my pupils dilate like those of a heroin addict when they spike their vein.  Each bite was more delicious than the last.  Each crumb more scrumptious.  Each artery clogging taste was pure rapture.

Gone was the taste of cardboard.  Gone was the need for Tabasco Sauce.  This burger had not been made and packaged more than six months ago.  It was not made from anything dehydrated.  It has not come from a can.  The patties had been hand patted and cooked on a grill that had probably not been cleaned in two years; just more fat for the flavor.

Soon it was all over.  I took my last bite and savored every chewing motion.  As I swallowed the last of that great concoction I turned my head to see that the line for ordering was even longer than when I had first arrived.  I checked my watch.  Only ten minutes before our convoy rolled out for another fifteen days in the desert.  Not enough time.

I walked away from that table, from that burger joint, content with a belly full of beef, pork and American cheese.  When I sat down in my truck to await the signal to start it up my assistant driver looked at me and asked what I thought.  I conveyed my sentiment to him at which he laughed and called me a weirdo.

Shortly thereafter the signal to start our engines was given and we drove away, back into the blazing, sandy inferno from which we had emerged only an hour before.  I still remember that burger to this day, more than a decade later.  No other burger has ever been able to taste as good.  This knowledge has brought me to the edge of tears more than once.  Never again will I savor that delectable, artery clogging, cholesterol raising symbol of a greater power than mankind.  If only you, the humble reader could experience that burger.  If only you could truly understand how unfortunate you truly are.  If only I could remember which entrance we used to get into Twenty-Nine Palms that lead straight to the damned burger joint.

Cafe Michael Burger – Galveston, TX

DSC_0481The steps outside of this pylon mounted restaurant are a tad steep, but we mounted them courageously to find a super clean indoor dining area with an understated surf theme going on. At Cafe Michael Burger you pick up your laminated menu and have a seat while you decide on which offerings you want to order, and there are plenty to choose form. When you are ready, step on up to the register and tell the nice folks what you want. You are rung up at this point and given a buzzer about the size of an old cell phone. It will blink and vibrate when your order is ready. It also reminds you that it’s there when it talks to you.

Patio seating.

Patio seating.

In the meantime, collect your drinks and pick a spot from which to enjoy the view. We sat outside on the patio, which is “screened” with side by side garage doors, most of which were up to give the best access to the scenic view of the Gulf, while the ends remained closed as a wind break. It was a rather chilly day.


Scenic view of the gulf.

Perusing the menu made decisions difficult. There are numerous burgers at the top of the list, but further down there are some German offerings that were very tempting. Burgers and German food! Can it get any better?

The burger patties are hand formed and not over spiced, though the patties seem a little thin on the bun. The buns are soft and hold up to the juiciness of the condiments and fresh veggies. All meat is cooked through, with no choice that we are aware of.

The sauerkraut is made in house, as we suspect, are the pickle spears that come with some of the sandwiches. There is a hint of sweetness to the mellow kraut, with none of the harsh bite or saltiness many of us are familiar with.

Sides are available in full or half orders, making it easy to be a pig, or to try more than one side without over stuffing yourself.

Condiments are available, though the only things on the tables are napkin dispensers, salt and pepper. Ketchup, mustard, and other items are self-serve from a unit int he main dining area.

DSC_0473Galvez Burger – guacamole, shredded cheddar and mayo, hold the pico de gallo on this one. Guacamole is not just mashed avocado. There’s a bit of spice and diced tomato added, among other things.

DSC_0472 German Potatoes


Bratkartoffel (German fried potatoes) are skillet fried to a crisp with onion and bacon. This stuff is potato crack!




Michael Burger – 1/3 pound beef with lettuce tomato, lots of pickles, mayo and mustard. We opted for no onion and added cheese.






Reuben – sliced corned beef with house made sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing on grilled rye. Not greasy. The kraut is very mild and slightly sweet. Served with a dill pickle spear that tasted of the same spices used in the kraut. Very tasty.




Beer Batter Onion Rings – lots of crunch! Real onion battered and deep fried.




Before you leave, bussing your own tables is appreciated.

On the 1-5 scale, Cafe Michael Burger gets:
Cleanliness – 5
Service – 5
Quality of food – 4.5
Flavor – 4.5
Pricing – 4
Overall experience – 4.6

DSC_0464Cafe Michael Burger
11150 Termini-San Luis Pass Rd.
Galveston, TX 77554
(409) 740-3639

— Ann Cathey

Food Porn – Episode 8

Writing about food can work up a great appetite, but looking at food can make your stomach complain that you are not paying it proper attention.

Being a photographer as well as I writer, I am often confronted with photos that I have taken that don’t quite make the grade as stock photography, but are too good to be wasted. They get lonely when they are simply  archived.

Rather than let these photos sit, allow me to share these tasty items with everyone. Enjoy!

DSC_0405 - Stew

Hearty Homemade Stew – looks like dog food, tastes amazing over fresh cornbread.

DSC_0022 - Apple Bacon Honey

Apple Bacon Honey appetizer.

DSC_0829 - Hot Layered Dip

Hot Layered Dip – this was a recipe form ALDI featured earlier on this blog.

DSC_0023 - Savory mince meat

Savory Mince Meat – scratch made mince meat from a Viking period recipe.

DSC_0024 - Salmon

Cured Salmon with Dill


Half-pound Burgers

Burgers and home-made sausage links on the grill.

Burgers and home-made sausage links on the grill.

The Alibi, NOLA

DSC_0084One of the many quaint little hole-in-the-wall-bars in the French Quarter of New Orleans, the Alibi “New Orleans Best Excuse” may well boast the best burger in the city. It also maintains a wall inscribed with all the beers they have on tap and in the cooler. It’s an impressive list.

The place might have a standing room only capacity of about 60 people, but the night we crawled inside there weren’t even a dozen. We took a seat in the back and shared our space with The Most Interesting Man in the World.

DSC_0082DSC_0081The pub menus are on the table, but you have to order at the bar. There’s also a one drink minimum, which is understandable for such a small place in such a busy tourist spot. The beer came back fast, though the burgers took a while.





I had my usual Bass Pale Ale, and my partner had a Samuel Smith Imperial Stout. If we were only going to have one, they might as well be good ones!


When the burgers arrived, all our reservations melted away. While the base price was $10.50, the monster sandwiches that were laid before us made us grin with delight.

DSC_0086 DSC_0085
The flavor lived up to the visual promise as well. The 3/4 pound patties were close to an inch thick, juicy and flavorful, and dripping in cheese, just like we like them.

The top is a medium rare with provolone cheese. The second is also medium rare, but with sharp cheddar. There was no scrimping on the beef or the cheese!

If you are staying in the area, you can skip the one drink minimum by ordering for delivery or calling in a takeout. They deliver food to residences, businesses and a lot of the area hotels.


On the 1-5 scale, the Alibi gets:
Cleanliness – 3 (It’s a pub!)
Service – 3
Quality of food – 5
Flavor – 5
Pricing – 3
Overall experience – 3.8

The Alibi
811 Iberville Street
New Orleans, Louisiana

–Ann Cathey

Culver’s – The Woodlands, Texas

While I prefer to write about independent eateries, some chains just have to creep in and be talked about. One of those is Culver’s.

We have encountered this lovely, somewhat upscale burger joint in several locations, including Conroe and the Woodlands. They actually have locations in several US States. It is consistent across the board. The decor, the friendly employees, the frozen yogurt, the quality and flavor of their food – this place has it down. It offers a’la carte items, baskets, dinners, kids’ meals, snack packs, along with a nice variety of drinks and desserts.

Culver’s is the home of the “Butter Burger” and “Fresh Frozen Custard”. They are rightfully proud of their very tasty products. From the “Fried Cheese Curds” all the way across the menu, everything is fresh and delicious. They offer a Reuben sandwich, which can be hard to find outside of a deli. Their fries are thick and crinkle cut, offering a delectable crunch as well as a hearty potato flavor.

DSC_0157On our most recent visit, my partner-in-chow ordered the fish sandwich. They call it the North Atlantic Cod Fish Sandwich. It also comes in a plate version. When first confronted by the sandwich, he wondered how he would get a bit of fish in each bite. it turns out that if you squash the sandwich like you would a tall hamburger that the crispy crust will crack and the meat will flatten out to fill the bun nicely. After that, it was a matter of biting, chewing, moaning, and swallowing, repeating as long as there was sandwich left to bite into. I took this is a favorable sign.

DSC_0159I was able to sneak in a bite before it was all gone. The fish itself has a very light, clean flavor. The breading has a nice crunch, offering a complimentary set of flavor.I may have to order that sandwich next time we are in just to have the pleasure of those flavors again.

Personally, I appreciate their Reuben sandwich a great deal. This is, for me, a comfort food. While not as magnificently built as the Reubens found in various delis, it is crammed full of flavor and of a satisfying size. If you think you want more out of your sandwich, the folks at Culver’s will happily double stuff the darned thing.

DSC_0160I mentioned that they do dinner size portions earlier. We had a few friends along with us and one of them ordered the fried chicken dinner. It comes with a load of chicken, a potato side (he chose fries), and a veggie side (he went for the green beans), and a dinner roll. These dinner plates include fried chicken, roast beef, fish, shrimp and chopped steak among the offerings.

DSC_0158The Culver’s website offers a plethora of information for diners, not just a menu and their locations. They list nutritional information, ingredients, and high on my list, an allergy warning.They also have information available on their sustainability practices for those who prefer an informed, responsible restaurant.

Excellent food and a hometown atmosphere will lead us back to Culver’s again and again. The more we run across it in our travels, the more delighted we are with it’s consistency and outstanding menu.

On the 1-5 scale, Culver’s gets:
Cleanliness – 5
Service – 5
Quality of food – 5
Flavor – 5
Pricing – Moderate
Overall experience – 5

-Ann Cathey

Mighty Fine – Austin, Texas

We were introduced to this place (which we might otherwise have never found) by a good friend who lives in the area. Mighty Fine was a gamble, but it was indeed, a mighty fine burger.

Burgers here come in two sizes: the Classic (1/2 pound re-cooked weight), and the 1/4 pound (no special name). Either way, it comes with your choice of lettuce, tomatoes, crinkle dill pickles (strip cut), sliced onion or grilled onion, and includes Red, Yellow or White condiments. That would be ketchup, mustard or mayo for the uninitiated. Cheese, jalapenos, bacon, chili, and/or a gluten free bun may be added for an additional charge. They are cooked medium-well unless you request otherwise. We did, and the medium was nicely pink.


Burger #1 – Bacon, Cheese, Pickles, Lettuce, and White


Burger #2 – Bacon, Cheese, Lettuce,
Tomato, Pickle, Red and White

The only sides they offer are French fries and onion rings, which are also available with the same add-ons as the burgers. I can’t speak for the fries, though I did see them. They are a thin crinkle cut, and are apparently quite popular. The onion rings are an absolute delight. The breading is thin and crispy, and the onions sweet and tender and don’t slide out of the breading when you bite into one. Even if the burger had been crap, the onion rings would have made the trip worth it.

Insanely Good Onion Rings

Insanely Good Onion Rings

There is also a children’s menu that offers burgers and dogs, grilled cheese, drinks and shakes, and ice cream by the scoop.

The regular run of drinks are available, as well as sweet and unsweet tea, fresh squeezed lemonade in original and strawberry, and hand-dipped shakes in vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. They also offer a variety of bottled sodas and beer by the bottle. A far cry from some other minimalistic burger joints we’ve experienced.

The shakes, while not nearly as thick as Katz’s, are a nice consistency. The flavors we tried – chocolate and vanilla – are rich and smooth on the tongue. There is no powdery texture in the chocolate as is prevalent with a lot of Hershey’s based shakes. These shakes would get a 5 all on their own for being rich and smooth and creamy.

A burger alone at this place is a meal, though if you are a big eater, or sharing with a friend, be sure to add a side of fires or onion rings.

My Cohorts in Burger Exploration

My Cohorts in Burger Exploration

On the 1-5 scale, Mighty Fine gets:
Cleanliness – 5
Service – 5
Quality of food – 5
Flavor – 5
Pricing – Moderate
Overall experience – 5

-Ann Cathey

In-N-Out Burger – Austin, Texas

I’ve heard a lot of hype about In-N-Out Burger from various friends and reviews. It is not a franchised chain, but a privately owned and operated one. Does this make a difference? I don’t think so.

DSC_0726In-N-Out started back in 1948 in California, a fact they are extremely proud of. They have manages to keep prices pretty low, and the menu pretty skimpy, but it seems to be working. We lucked onto a location in Austin, Texas, that had just opened a week or so before. To say it was packed is an understatement. The drive-through was more than 30 cars long with orange comes keeping them in order while they waited to place an order. Inside was even more crowded. The line to order was split into three, and each one was a minimum of 8 people deep. The rest of each party were haunting the indoor and outdoor  dining areas looking for seating. Some of them gave up and started picnicking on the grass, at the large planter boxes holding trees along the sidewalk, and tailgating on pickup trucks in the parking area.

The patrons came in all flavors! We saw your typical range of hippies to well-to-do folks, Longhorns fans, Japanese fashion plates, families, old, young, walking, biking, driving, with at least six different states represented in the parking lot other than Texas. There were kids everywhere, in spite of there being no children’s menu options.

You would think the crowd would be an indicator that the food was just that good. We had high hopes. While my partner stood in line to order, I hunted up a table. I was lucky enough to find a table for four that the current occupants were willing to share. We later did the same for another couple.

The restaurant itself is very light, bright and white with accents of red and yellow. The noise of so many people was definitely noticeable, but not obtrusive. Bathrooms were relatively clean and neat for such heavy usage. It should be noted that no smoking is allowed – neither regular or e-cigs, and they will prosecute.

The menu is very limited: french fries, drinks, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and the “Double Double” cheeseburger. Lettuce, tomato, and “spread” come with any burger; onions upon request. While the veggies are very fresh and hand torn/cut, there are no other options – no pickles, no avocado, just the basics. The “spread” is… well, I won’t blow the surprise, but it’s easily recognizable.

The entire other half of the menu lists drink options from the soda fountain, tea and sweet tea, and lemonade. There are shakes, though we did not try them during this visit. There is also bottled water for those who prefer it.

There was about a half hour between the time we walked in the door and the time we picked up our order. The crowd made getting drinks and ketchup an adventure. The olfactory and visual appeal was immediate and favorable. The bag smelled of burger and fries before we took anything out.

DSC_0725We ordered double doubles with fries.They were hot and fresh when our to-go bag (rather than the signature red tray) hit our table.

The burger was a nice surprise. The bun was butter grilled and crispy, a nice additional texture to the experience. Veggies were very fresh and colorful. The meat patties were on the thin side and well-done, but had great flavor. The cheese was a good melting cheese, even if it was of an individually wrapped processed cheese food type. In spite of being FDA portion sized, the burger was a very tasty experience.

The burgers were individually wrapped in brown paper, a practice that In-N-Out has used since it opened. If they think this makes them environmentally friendly, they are right but only to a point. The amount of grease that collects in the wrappings makes the paper ineligible for recycling.

The fries… what can you say about fries. They advertise that the fries are cut daily from Kennebec grown potatoes. I’m not sure that helps or hinders. The fries are slender, square cut, and moderately dusted with a salt/pepper combination. The thinness means they go cold quickly. They have a flavor like canned potato strings which was a nice discovery. They would have been vastly improved by the addition of chili and cheese, neither of which was an option.

My table companion was pleasantly impressed with the burger but found the fries to be “uninspired” at the least.

On the 1-5 scale, In-N-Out Burger gets:
Cleanliness – 4 (in spite of the crowd)
Service – 3 (because of the crowd)
Quality of food – 3
Flavor – 3
Pricing – Moderate to Low
Overall experience – 2.5

-Ann Cathey

Wendy’s – Austin, Texas

This blog is not just about new and exciting places. It’s also about the tried and true.

Wendy’s is a national chain out of Georgia that’s been around for years. Some of it’s locations are aging badly, and it sadly reflects in the atmosphere and employees. The old saying, “If you’re going to do a thing, do it well,” has gone by the wayside at a particular Wendy’s location in Austin.

We chanced to visit the location at 6428 South I-35 at William Cannon recently. It was disappointing in so many ways. Our order was rung up properly only after several repetitions. The cashier was cute, but her brain must have been on hold.

When the order was ready, we picked up a tray that was missing a few things. I was forced to go back and ask for the chili I had ordered with the cheese and crackers. After receiving the chili, I had to ask again for the cheese and crackers. I received the cheese and a vapid look. I had to ask yet again for the crackers.

The carpet was just gross, being obviously old and quite dirty. The tables had not been wiped down – we had to do that ourselves.  We spread napkins out as place mats. The cashier came out to clean up tables, picking up napkins and straw wrappers left on tables and straightening a few chairs. There was no sweeping, no wiping down tables or chairs, and no consistency in straightening the chairs. She seemed to get distracted and leave the dining area after just a few tables.

Don’t me going about the bathrooms. I’ve seen cleaner bathrooms in truck stops. The roll of toilet paper on the floor between the stalls in the women’s was likely a good indicator of the upkeep on the location. In the men’s room the hand dryer was broken, and the toilet paper was propped on a hand rail.

They were out of things like sweet tea and the little cups that hold ketchup, and made no move to replace them even after having it called to their attention.

The dining area was warm enough to be uncomfortable. This was called to their attention by another patron, but it was quite some time before the air conditioner came on. Whether that was due to human delay or old equipment, I don’t know.

I am happy to report that the food was good, hot, fresh and tasty. I dread to think of what condition the kitchen was in, and don’t want to know about the number of health code violations. My stomach was happy and i didn’t get sick – that’s enough for me at the moment.

On the 1-5 scale, this Wendy’s location gets:
Cleanliness – 2 (including the bathroom)
Service – 2
Quality of food – 3
Flavor – 3
Pricing – Moderate
Overall experience – 2

-Ann Cathey