Hamburger America: Shady Glen in Manchester, Connecticut
Editor's note: Burgermeisters! Here's another excerpt from George Motz's book Hamburger America. George and his publisher were kind enough to allow us to run them here, along with George's beautiful photos. Eat up!
The inside of the Shady Glen looks like a cheeseburger. Its yellow striped wallpaper, the warm lighting, and low brown Formica countertops mimic the colors of their famous cheeseburger concoction. Ice cream may be the number-one seller at this Manchester, Connecticut, institution, but the cheeseburger is what has made them famous. In 1949, Bernice Rieg invented the "Bernice Original," which became an immediate success and still accounts for 80 percent of their sandwich sales today. The four-ounce cheeseburger comes with 4 slices of cheese. The cheese is not just stacked atop the burger; it is symmetrically placed, centered on the burger as it cooks on the hot griddle. An understandably large portion of this cheese makes direct contact with the griddle. When the cheese cooks through it is curled skyward by the deft grill man until it resembles a cheese crown. Amazingly, I watched burger after burger leave the grill with the same dramatic cheese. The same burger, over and over, since 1949.
"It's a special cheese, but that's all I can tell you," Michael the manager smiled. Michael started working at the Shady Glen over two decades ago as a dishwasher. “At twenty-two years, I’m still the new kid on the block.”
I stood by the grill and watched closely—the cheese, which looked like a house-sliced mild cheddar, really does not stick. One of the grill men offered some shaky science, "The carbon, uh, buildup on the griddle over the years acts sort of like Teflon." I think he’s right.
I had a hard time trying to figure out what do with my cheese wings once I had my burger in front of me. Two guys sitting near us at the counter had opposing views. One told me, "Fold the crisps onto the burger and eat it that way." "Not me,” said the other, "I like to break them off and eat them separately."
At first I was concerned about the large mural that spans the entire West end of the restaurant. It depicts strange elves having a picnic of burgers, hot dogs, and ice cream. As I left the restaurant I looked again at the mural and fully understood its significance—the Shady Glen is a necessary fantasy. I hope it never goes away.
840 East Middle Turnpike, Manchester CT 06040
Mon. to Thurs., 7 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Fri. to Sat., 7 a.m. - 11 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Hamburger America is available at Amazon and comes with a DVD of George's movie of the same title.