Ladies and gentlemen, Ray Alma is a fascinating co-worker of mine, and one with an abundance of opinion. He constantly visits my desk to talk burgers, and has some fascinating stories to tell. The world just won't be the same once you learn what he did at his old job. So, without further ado, let's get Grillin'! —The Mgmt.
How often do you eat burgers? Not as often as I used to. Maybe once every two months these days. I eat turkey burgers frequently, but I don't really count them as burgers.
Where did your most recent come from? McGee's Pub. "Homemade sliders." Not bad.
Cheese: American, cheddar, other? Yellow American Cheese. Don't get me wrong, I like cheddar as a cheese in itself, but when I get it on a burger it just pisses me off.
Ketchup or mustard? Ketchup. Lots. Not so much that the burger turns into ketchup soup and goes flying out the other end when you take a bite, but a enough to cover the patty. I don't like the little token squirt of ketchup that you get from some places.
Sesame-seed or plain? Sesame seed.
Grilled, griddled, or broiled? Flame broiled. I grew up eating homemade burgers that were fried on a grill. They were usually too well done; overcooked, dried out, and just plain greasy. The first time I ate a flame broiled burger that was juicy and smoky; I was hooked.
And how would you like that done, miss? First off, don't call me "Miss".
It's "Ms." [That's what I get for cutting and pasting. LK] To answer your question, I usually order it medium well these days. I used to like mine kinda rare, but if you order it "rare" it usually shows up not cooked at all. A bad case of salmonella years ago (from a hot dog) has made me afraid of undercooked food.
Would you do us the favor of describing your perfect burger? (Price and ingredients are no object.) Flame broiled, nice and juicy. I like to see the grill pattern burned into the meat. American cheese. Onion (slightly grilled also). TomatoTHIN SLICED! I hate it when I get a tomato slice that is fatter than the meat patty. Lettuce. - Nice and crisp. The flatter the piece the better. If it has too many folds then the whole burger can fall apart. Ketchup (see above). Fresh sesame seed bun.
The hamburger is a food item with which most Americans have strong childhood associations. Do you remember your earliest encounter with this delicious dish? Oh yeah. let's see... I have a couple of early burger memories. This is very obscure, but I moved to Queens when I was 4 (about 1969). Right after we got here, they built a McDonald's nearby. I'd never had it before. They had a big ceremony to open the place and they had Ronald show up driving this huge hamburger-shaped vehicle. It was tremendous, kind of like the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile. Around that time they had tv commercials with Ronald and his burger car/ship. On the commercial, his car could fly. I was so thrilled by this stupid looking car that day and I couldn't wait to have a McDonald's burger. I was just so sold on the fun and magical aspects of their advertising campaign with flying burger cars and clowns. It makes you realize how evil and effective advertising is. I was a little dissapointed that the burger car never got off the ground, but I still frequent that same McDonald's when I can.
My other distinctive, early burger memory was of a restaurant near my house in Queens called Happy Robin. It was large, almost like a huge, carpeted cafeteria. They had waiter service, and for some reason, on weekend afternoons, they had a huge movie screen set up. They played old short black and white comedies: Abott & Costello, The Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy. I loved it!
I always remember those burgers tasting the best, maybe it was because I was being stimulated by comedy at the same time; I don't know. Sometimes if I eat a burger that tastes remotely like the Happy Robin's burger I immediately feel like giggling.
I'm going to have to test that theory. Oh, no; it's too embarrassing! I'm not ticklish, but once I get the giggles, I can't stop.
Moving on, then: what's your favorite fast-food burger? Even though I worked at Wendy's during my college years, I'd say I prefer Burger King because of the whole flame-broiled thing. White Castle is a close second, but that's almost a totally different experience. I almost don't even consider White Castle burgers to be burgers. They are unique unto themselves (and delicious!)
What topping or condiment, in your opinion, should never grace a burger? Mayo. Even though a tomato is technically a fruit, I don't like to see fruit on my burgers (like pineapples).
What's the most unusual burger you've ever eaten? (Or most unusual burger experience you've had?) When I worked at Wendy's, we had the Triple (three patties of meat), and I wanted to have a Quadruple. Now, four patties stacked on top of each other is a little too big to fit in your mouth, so I fashioned one huge burger by combining four patties of chopped meat next to each other on the grill. It took two spatulas to flip it. Someone else brought in a huge, round loaf of bread, and I got to eat my Quadruple.
You can do better than that. Ok, ok. One year I had to work on Easter. No one came in. The place was dead and I was bored (and a little pissed off at having to work on the holiday), so I decided to create something appropriate for the day.
I took a huge bag of chopped meat (intended for burgers) and I sculpted a bunny. I "garnished" the sculpture with a big glob of cottage cheese (from the salad bar) for the tail, two olive slices for the eyes and two little french fries for the buck teeth. It was adorable, providing you could get past the fact that it was made from chopped meat.
Last time I was at Wendy's I noticed they still have salt and pepper shakers on the tables. What's that about? Hmm. Most places don't? I never noticed.
Never mind then. Did you ever get to meet Dave Thomas? No, but I did dress up as Wendy once.
Please, please tell me there's a picture. Never. But I'll send you the one of me in uniform; I look like one of the Mario Brothers.
What's the most overrated burger you've tried? Overrated: Paul's on Second Avenue. It's too big, too messy, you can't put it down or it falls apart. Plus, it's just not as tasty.
Finally: for some crazy reason, you're going vegetarian. Where do you go for your final burger? I think I'd have to fire up the grill and make it myself. Hmmmmaybe a quintuple?
Burger Joints Referenced
McGee's Pub 240 W. 55th Street, New York NY 10019
Wendy's locations nationwide, wendys.com
Happy Robin formerly located at 217th Street and Hillside Avenue in Queens Village, New York, now (sadly) defunct
Paul's Place 131 Second Avenue, New York NY 10003
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