On Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, tucked away along a strip of golf resorts, hotels, and overpriced seafood restaurants is Harold's, an old-school diner car that serves up a big, mean burger to locals and in-the-know tourists.
If you blink, you'll miss it—and we did. The first time we cruised down the parkway looking for this joint, we were stumped, grumpy, and ended up at a pizza place that helped lift our spirits. The second time around, the burger gods must have been taken pity on us. We pulled into a random gas station, and, lo and behold, there was Harold's on the other side, our burger beacon of hope that momentarily distracted us from our pricey gas woes.
I shouted with glee and ran to the diner, never suspecting that I'd be meeting my biggest burger adversary to date: The Big H, the monster of all burgers.
The diner car was tiny. About a dozen stools lined the counter, and about six more seats with a few small tables lined the opposite wall. When we entered, the place instantly felt unique—it had unapologetic sass, flair, an attitude. Bumper stickers, like "Licensed to Bitch" and "A Nice Ass Should Be Seen Not Heard," shared wall space with Red Sox paraphernalia..
Before the trip, I'd done a lot of research, so I knew the ordering MO. If you're new to the place, beware—there's a good chance you'll get yelled at. All along the counter are notepads and pencils to mark down your orders, specifying exactly what you want to top your burger. Most important, remember to write your name on the bottom—if you don't, you'll surely get some sass (you don't want your burger given away). The menu is simple, and the standouts were burgers, Philly cheesesteaks, fries, onion rings, and milkshakes. I came for the burger, but when I mumbled something about how good those cheesesteaks looked, a fellow customer and obvious regular was quick to give his advice, "The cheesesteaks are good. But, the burgers—they're out of this world."
Does Size Matter?
The next question: is bigger better? There was the normal single patty, then the Big H—double the meat. We were planning to hit up a BBQ spot right after Harold's, so my friend Catie (another monster eater) and I decided to split the Big H. After checking off the grilled onions, cheddar cheese, and onion ring boxes, we handed in our order and were good to go. We watched our order get put into the line up and listened to the frontman yelling out how many burgers needed to be thrown on the griddle. In only a minute, the orders were racking up and the already-cramped place had quickly become standing room only.
When our Big H got in our hands—I was actually shocked at how enormous it was. We didn't have too many toppings and the bun was soft and squishable, but the height of the burger still required some major mouth stretching. Being that it was the size of a toddler's head, it was definitely going to be a two-hander. When I bit into it, the patty's juices began to run as I ate, down my chin and even my fingers (pictured right is Catie's turn tackling the beast). The patty was loosely packed, had a great salty crust on the outside, and was covered in perfectly melted cheese. Although I ordered mine medium rare, it seemed that most of my friends' burgers, including our own, came out medium, which was okay because the meat was still so juicy and rich. Harold's proved that its attitude isn't the only thing that's fresh around there.
Even for two people with big appetites, the Big H was our Everest. The onion rings and shoestring fries were more than good—tasty enough to make the challenge of finishing the burger even harder. The Big H isn't the kind of burger you eat and then go play beach volleyball afterwards. It's the kind of burger that puts you to sleep, your hands holding your new stomach bulge as you forget about all those mornings at the gym leading up to beach week. But there we were, wearing our bathing suits under our clothes, ready to hit the beach for the day. There was one more stop before made it there though. When we waddled back to the car, everyone completely owned by Harold, I piped up from the back, "So who's down for BBQ?" The boys groaned in protest, but Catie hit the gas and headed straight for the 'cue. Harold's slogan is "Eat here or we both starve," but he needs not worry. Not one bit.
641 William Hilton Parkway, Hilton Head Island SC 29928 (map) 843-842-9292