Today we bring you a giant burger report from Arkansas-based food writer Kat Robinson, who writes for the Arkansas Times' blog Eat Arkansas, and for her own blog, Tie Dye Travels. After contributing to Slice's Arkansas pizza roundup, she told us she had burgers up her sleeves as well. Thanks to Kat for bringing more Arkansas to AHT! —The Mgmt.
Ed Walker's Drive-In Restaurant
1500 Towson Avenue, Fort Smith AR 72901 (map); 479-242-2243
Short Order: If you're looking for the biggest burger in Arkansas, here it is.
Cooking method: Flat griddle
Price: $23.99, five-pound Giant Hamburger; + $2 for cheese.
The old fashioned red and white diner on Towson doesn't seem all that different from any other dive you might come across in Arkansas. Indeed, it prides itself on a mean and savory French Dip sandwich that's been around since the '40s. It's also the only place in Arkansas where you can get a beer delivered to your car—curb service grandfathered in for a place that's been around longer than a lot of the blue laws in this state.
But Ed Walker's has a big secret—a really big secret. That would be its Giant Hamburger: five pounds of hand-patted meat cooked to perfection on a griddle and served up on a custom made bun. A burger so big it comes with a side platter (not a plate—a platter) of condiments and accoutrements. And a side of fries, or onion rings if you want to spend a little more (and you will).
Back in late December 2007 my good friends Beth and Grav took me out to lunch at this place. They knew I was interested in writing about cool places around Arkansas, and just had to show me this burger. Between us, Beth's sweetie George, and a couple of kids, we couldn't finish the darn thing. Since my little camera at the time couldn't quite do the burger justice, I ventured back this past January with my husband, father-in-law, and daughter for another go at the burger.
I informed my father-in-law that for once, he had no choice: I was ordering and paying for the colossal repast we'd be consuming. We ordered a French Dip as an appetizer, just so everyone at the table could try it. At the same time I ordered a Giant Cheeseburger with a side of onion rings, knowing full well it'd be a while.
Our French Dip came out first, and I divvied it up for us to try. The thinly sliced beef falls apart on the doughy roll. I'd gone ahead and got it with the suggested Swiss Cheese, a good choice not only in that its slightly bitter flavor just enhanced the meat, but that it also held the meat in place on the bun. The au jus is salty and savory, and unlike au jus I've tried at other places it's very clear that this broth is the same as what the meat has been dissolving in. It's chopped barbecue, soft and tasty.
We knew it was going to take a while—20 minutes, according to our waitress. And just about on the dot, she came to our table balancing the plated burger on one arm and the condiments on the other. I asked her if she'd take it to another booth, just so I could give it the proper reverence and show it the celebrity treatment it deserved. A couple dozen photographs later (complete with the delivery of the onion rings) and I had what I needed.
Almost. Looking through my viewfinder, I discovered that I didn't quite have it. After all, though I showed off the booth and the photos behind it, there was nothing in my photograph that truly conveyed the scale of the mammoth burger. I looked around, and found what I needed.
My daughter Hunter, 13 months old at the time, looked at me quizzically as I picked her up in the highchair and moved her over to the other table. She looked at the burger, looked back at me, and at first appeared to be a bit distressed. After conquering her momentary fear, she held up a finger and reached out to almost touch the burger. She pulled her finger back, then did it again. She seemed to be thinking, "Something doesn't look right. Are my eyes working correctly?"
I sat down and snapped more photos across the table of her looking over the burger. My husband started to complain that it was dinner, not a fashion shoot, and I acquiesced. He pulled Hunter back over to our table and I brought over the burger and fixings.
It comes out sliced into eighths like a pizza, and comes with its own pie server. Condiments are served on the side so each person can choose what they want to put on their slice. It's an exercise in sharing, not stomach stuffing. The serving method is probably the reason why Ed Walker's Giant Hamburger and Cheeseburger aren't that famous: This burger isn't a competition burger.
The burger meat is seasoned lightly with salt and pepper, and perhaps a little house seasoning. The American cheese glues the top bun down, the bottom bun attached by sheer gravity. It's a tasty burger, made even more awesome by its size and the care and time taken to cook it right. It's cooked through, and you know you're getting a fresh hand-patted burger.
I've been doing research and asking lots of questions, and though one other Arkansas eatery does have a burger that comes close in weight (Cotham's Quadruple Hubcap Burger has four one-pound patties on it), no one else in the state is serving up a bigger burger.
Oh, and the question you may be asking yourself now is, did we finish it off this time? Heck, the four of us only got halfway through. Not to worry: Ed Walker's also has cake boxes for you to take home your leftovers in.
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