Father & Son Chili Dogs and Burgers
902 W Saint Georges Avenue, Linden, NJ 07036; map); 908-486-9596
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: While the famous Texas Weiners are the principle draw here the burger should not be over looked. Fresh grilled beef evocative of backyard grill outs, Try it with the chili sauce for an extra kick.
Price: Hamburger, $3; Cheeseburger, $3.40; Chili Cheeseburger
When Bobby Flay was interviewed at Serious Eats: New York last year, he was asked if he knew of any restaurants that qualified as "undiscovered gems." He retorted, "Nothing is undiscovered, the Internet has ruined that."
I can sympathize with the notion. It certainly seems that with the narrow casting afforded by the internet, sites can leave no stone unturned in the exploration of the subject matter that they cover. At least that's what we try to do here at AHT. But if I have learned one thing about hamburgers it is that they can be found in unexpected places, and maybe discovering gems is an incidental pursuit.
Speaking of gems, I was recently on my way to check out the state of White Diamond in Linden, New Jersey, when I noticed a sign on the side of a building on West St. Georges Street promising chili dogs and burgers. I had driven up and down this particular stretch of road in pursuit of sliders many times, but somehow Father & Son Chili Dogs and Burgers had thus far eluded me. It turns out that the place dates back to 1941 (although at a different location) and remains family-owned. In fact the business passed from father to son and then to granddaughter. I guess "Father, Son & Granddaughter" doesn't have quite the same ring as "Father & Son."
While the principle draw here is the fiery homemade chili that graces the Texas Weiners (and the burger, if you like), I feel justified in reviewing the burger because our favorite sandwich is listed on the menu. I did eat a Texas Weiner to save being harangued by Hot Dog Lover and while decent, I found the chili a bit too spicy for the application—it obfuscated the other components. It had the same effect on the cheeseburger—the chili is tasty but it detracted from the burger experience, rendering the sandwich more of a spicy sloppy Joe.
But the plain hamburger at Father & Son is worth seeking out. It is the antithesis of the sliders that I am so enamored with in Northern New Jersey. The burger here is large—probably a half pound—and is grilled. The patty is fresh ground chuck, delivered daily. It was served closer to medium than the rare that I ordered, but it did not suffer unduly. The beef was moist and juicy, perhaps lacking only a touch of salt, and the patty had decent grill marks from the charbroiler.
The seeded hamburger bun held the patty perfectly, allowing a brim of glistening beef to jut out. The patty might be on the heavier side, but it is quite thin and spread out. To give you an idea about how spread out the patty is, the slice of cheese that sat on top of the patty (mirrored by another slice underneath) could not span the beef.
Biting in to the burger elicited flavors and textures that were instantly familiar, despite the fact that I had never eaten the burger before. The smokiness from the grill, the crunch of the hatch marks, the envelopment of juice and melted cheese in my mouth, and the softness of the bun were evocative of a backyard grill out.
Despite the fact that this type of burger came after the slider, there is something paradoxically more primal about it by virtue of the cooking method and the simplicity of the components—fire, meat, and bread. It may be a far cry from the sliders that I have been hunting down in the industrial backwaters of Northern New Jersey, but the big, grilled burger from Father & Son makes for an interesting diversion. It might even qualify as a gem.