IF YOU HAVE BEEF WITH THIS ASSESSMENT, YOU CAN PUT IT BETWEEN TWO BUNS AND EAT IT
Oh, hamburger, hamburger. The food that thrills the masses and satisfies those who consume you, how often have we longed to define your substance!
Styles change, but the hamburger continues to soar in popularity and consumption. One of the most taken-for-granted sandwiches around, the ubiquitous 'burg has a way of either monopolizing an entire eating establishment, or in the least, squeezing itself into the menu in some of the more swank places.
Just like a kids menu with hot dogs and fries, every restaurant has a hamburger. Often, it is the best thing going.
The fascination is that all hamburgers -- no matter how refined and lofty or simple and sublime -- have a very modest beginning. This simple sandwich of bread and ground beef has a story to tell.
Some have tried to figure it out. Josh Ozersky, author of The Hamburger: A History, said in an interview with John Berman on Nightline a few years ago, that the hamburger will always be popular and irresistible. "It's the single most powerful force in the food universe."
Some hamburger historians, such as Linda Stradley on the website, What's Cooking America (whatscookingamerica.net), said the hamburger can be traced to ancient Egyptians who consumed ground beef which was shaped into patties. She said that even Genghis Khan's armies found it convenient to gather scrapings of mutton and lamb and form this into patties. These patties were placed under the saddles of their horses while in battle. When they could, they would pull out the now flattened and tenderized patty for a meal. Fast forward to the 18th century and Stradley said that during this time, "the largest ports in Europe were in Germany. Sailors, who had visited the ports of Hamburg, Germany and New York, brought this food and term 'Hamburg Steak,' into popular usage. To attract German sailors, eating stands along the New York City harbor offered 'steak cooked in the Hamburg style.'"
From there, the history of burger in America has its own legends. Stradley mentions Oklahoma connections to the history of the burger. She said in 1891, the "family of Oscar Weber Bilby claim the first-known hamburger on a bun was served on Grandpa Oscar's farm just west of Tulsa." Michael Wallis, travel writer and reporter for Oklahoma Today, according to Stradley, conducted extensive research "in 1995 for the true origins of the hamburger, and determined that Oscar Weber Bilby himself was the creator of the hamburger as we know it." On April 13, 1995, then Governor Keating, "proclaimed that the real birthplace of the hamburger on the bun, was created and consumed in Tulsa in 1891."
Connecticut, Iowa, Missouri and Texas all make some claim to be the home of the first burger. When it comes to the cheeseburger, another set of states vie for where it originates.
The almighty burger has even been memorialized with the cartoon character J. Wellington Wimpy, known for his famous line, "I'd gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today." In the early '70s, kids loved the McDonald's character, the Hamburglar, who runs around in a red cape, striped suit and mask and steals hamburgers. Not quite the message we want for our children, but it did sell burgers.
Not unlike the criteria for writing -- unity, coherence and organization of a hamburger are essential. Hamburgers around the city taught me that hamburger unity is achieved with ground beef and bread. Coherence is the condiments: most basics found on this hunt were prepared yellow mustard, white onions and dill pickles. Organization, then, is how the sandwich is arranged and layered beyond the coherent essentials.
As a fearless hamburger hunter, fearless is the operative word. Consuming burger after burger became an obsession, not to mention a staple diet for three weeks.
Take a look at me now. Not a bloated Morgan Spurlock of Supersize Me! fame. Spurlock purported to have dined at McDonald's restaurants three times per day, eating every item on the chain's menu. Spurlock consumed an average of 20.92 megajoules or 5,000 kcal (the equivalent of 9.26 Big Macs) per day during the experiment. He failed however to publish a detailed account of his dietary intake.
As a result, the then-32-year-old Spurlock gained 24 lbs. (11.1 kg), a 13 percent body mass increase, a cholesterol level of 230, and experienced mood swings, sexual dysfunction, and fat accumulation in his liver. It took Spurlock 14 months to lose the weight gained from his experiment using a vegan diet supervised by his future wife, a chef who specializes in gourmet vegan dishes.
I write before you what came out of this hamburger diet is a fond appreciation for this simple sandwich -- which can be transmogrified beyond recognition. Another discovery was that a common taste began to emerge among the meat patties across the city.
I feel stronger every day.
Strip away all but the beef, the beef began to taste the same. That would be bad if the beef weren't any good. Imagine if one were to eat caviar and foie gras every day.
Building the Perfect Burger
This became the point of departure for all the burgers around town. This sameness was nuanced in two ways: according to the preparation, grilled (crispy edges or not) or char-grilled; and on the thickness or thinness of the patty. Inquiry to the source of the meat patties used from many of the restaurants led me call on Tulsa Beef & Provision, Inc., who appears to have the monopoly of sales to local hamburger joints around town.
"We have been here since 1935, doing the same thing we do today," said Josh Barbee, operations manager, of this family owned and operated business, which is selling "to local hamburger joints around town. All beef is USDA-inspected which is very important today, especially with all the beef recalls that happen." He said an inspector is on site all day every day to observe the operations of the plant to "make sure you do what you are to do.
"To ensure we get the best quality products," Harmon said that it all begins at National Beef Packing Company, the beef supplier. He said this company acquires beef from companies such as Swift Beef Company, Excel Beef Corporation, and Iowa Beef Processors. Most of the beef, he said, originally comes from Kansas, California, Nebraska and Colorado.
Supplying beef to local hamburger joints around town, Harmon said they deliver freshly ground beef daily -- it's never frozen, a mantra I heard over and over again from restaurant owners. Depending on the place, in most cases Tulsa Beef prepares patties to order, such as ground beef patties or, in the case for Claud's Hamburgers on Brookside, bulk meat product (ground chuck) is delivered in 10-pound bags, where they "pat out their own beef.
"Typically," Harmon said, "the majority of the beef patties we sell are an 80/20 product or 85/15," meaning that the patties are a lean to fat ratio of 80 percent or 85 percent chuck meat and 20 percent or 15 percent steak trimmings. Harmon said in a week's time, they can prepare more than 15,000 pounds of beef product.
The best burgers are in the eye of the beholder; still, objectivity comes into play. From the simple to the sublime, the hamburger has distinguished parts. Next to the beef patty, the bread is the second most important dimension of the burger. My city tour found many variations on the bun theme: Small, wide, tall, firm, soft, lumpy, bumpy, sesame seeds on top, smooth top, toasted, steamed, sweet, sour dough and challah. Bread changes the quality of the burger, and my tour became an expression of the burger via the bun.
The next element after the meat and bread essentials is not the mustard or other condiments, but rather it is the cooking method. What alters the flavor is how the patty is cooked: grilled on a flat grill or charbroiled. This can change the flavor of the burger more than any other element. From there, the sky is the limit when it comes to dressing this sandwich with condiments. That is the where restaurants divide themselves most distinctly.
Great Buns: A Top 21
So, here it is. The real deal of meals. Let the fearless hamburger hunter be your guide as we explore this vast feastland -- from deep south Tulsa to midtown to downtown, east, north and west. For some reason, 21 seemed about right to review. Each burger stands on its own merit. Some are old style, some new, some totally over the top, some lean but of such classic styling, they should be featured in a gallery at Philbrook.
As a native Tulsan, born and raised, I have eaten at all these locations and many more over the years, and each restaurant listed (some unlisted) is worthy of your patronage. Far be it from me to say whose is best, for taste is in the mouth, eh?
Counting to 21 begins with Charleston's in the Brookside district. This eatery morphs the classic hamburger in three ways here: Cheeseburger, Hickory Burger, and Onion Burger. The Cheeseburger ($9) is prepared with a thick melted slice of cheddar cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce, tomato, chopped white onion, dill pickles and mayonnaise. The meat patty is about half-inch thick, and unlike some corporate restaurants, the diner has the advantage of having this burger cooked to specification.
I chose medium rare. The toasted bun on this burger was not substantial enough to support the heaviness of the meat and condiments. Another version of basic burger is the Hickory Burger. Two slices of Canadian bacon blanket the beef patty; a generous portion of grated cheddar cheese tops the meat only to be topped again with coarsely chopped white onion. The main condiment served with this burger is a rich hickory-flavored sauce. Again, eating the burger in the hand was cumbersome: the bun was too weak for this burger.
Not a big problem for the knife and fork.
Moving from Brookside to Riverside, Blue Rose Cafe slides in with classic flavor. The Blue Rose Classic ($8.29) is a tall, stately burger: the top and bottom bun was more than a half-inch tall and the beef patty was one-third pound thick and charbroiled. The sour dough sweet bun between which the burger resides, is made at a local bakery, according to kitchen manager David Harmon.
The meat was moist and tender and was prepared especially for Blue Rose by none other than Tulsa Beef. "This is a high quality product," said Harmon. "It is made fresh daily; it's never frozen." According to Harmon, the Classic burger is the most popular, which is the 'build your own burger.' He said what makes Blue Rose burgers so good is not only the good quality beef, but their specially made seasoning salt sprinkled on the patty together with their "wet sauce" that is brushed on. (Harmon was tight-lipped about what is in both.) Then, the burgers are char-grilled, he said.
Heading east up along 21st Street and into fashionable Utica Square, Fleming's for all its steaks and wine list might not be thought of as a hamburger haven, but let me tell you, I put my bling in the vault and got my hands greasy here.
Fleming's offers a "Prime Burger Bar" menu featuring a Fleming's Prime Burger ($12) which comes with a mini wedge and two large onion rings. (Other burgers are available, but they are variations on the theme: Jumbo Lump Crab Cake Burger, Ahi Tuna Burger -- you get the idea.) The Prime Burger is a stately piece of art presented well. The bun is tall and thick in texture; it has a subtle sweetness which is not distracting. The beef patty is thick, cooked to order, with nicely melted cheddar cheese, peppered bacon slices, a thick slice of tomato and a thick slice of red onion. Open wide for this one. Juiciness may run down your wrist, so pocket the Rolex before you start in.
The Naked and the Nude
Goldie's Patio Grill has got to be in everybody's top 21 list. Just the mention of Goldie's and people know this is a hamburger destination. Since its opening in 1962, Goldie's charbroils their famous hamburgers with a special seasoning which adds another layer of flavor.
I ordered the Goldie's Cheeseburger ($7.39); this sandwich is naked -- sesame seed bun and meat -- and is dressed up in the kitchen upon order taken from the server. I selected iceberg lettuce, white onion, mustard and tomato on my test burger. The buns holding this sandwich together at Goldie's are topped with sesame seeds and toasted. They are relatively flat, being of the same circumference as the meat patty (large in size). This burger was a traditional, old fashioned no frills burger: it has a rich charbroiled flavor, is moist and succulent. It's filling and functional, doing what a burger should do. Satiate.
Heading north from the Goldie's location on 61st Street to 4th and Sheridan Road, one would find Harden's, known as "the hamburger store since 1939." Johney Harden is reportedly the founder, and the original name was Johney's Jip Joint. Since 1988, Rick and Sharon West bought Harden's from Johney (according to their website), and have carried on the Harden tradition.
As with many hamburger joints, meat and bun are nude from the beginning. The key to the success of this burger lies also in the clothing: "secret" seasoning on the patty. (Throughout this hamburger hunt, I discovered many joints have their own "secrets" clothed in an enigma, wrapped in a mystery about why their burgers are so good, but like all good proprietors, most refused to let me in on the potion.) I ordered the Girl's Quarter Pound Burger ($3.25/$5.25 w/fries) with mustard, pickle and onion -- and it came with many rings of freshly-cut crisp white onions.
White onions. I discovered from eating so many of them during this tour! They tend to have a sharper, even a more pungent taste and are very tender in comparison to a red onion or yellow (Spanish) onion. The tender, airy buns (toasted and a bit greasy) held up well with this burger. The patty was thin and cooked on a flat grill, and while I could not detect any spices on the patty, it must be the simple subtleness of the spices which acts as a euphoric elixir to bringing the customers back for more.
Reversing my tracks back to south Tulsa, Fuddrucker's is a hopping good place for a corporate joint. You know we are a little biased here at UTW toward the indigenous, mom&pop, locally owned establishments. But, we stay open minded.
Amidst all the choices here, I sought simplicity and went with the Original Fudds. Other off-the-top options include Southwest, The Works, Three Cheese, Inferno, Swiss Melt, Bacon Cheddar; the Exotics include Buffalo Burger, Elk Burger and Wild Boar Burger. My simple meat patty is a never-frozen fresh USDA all-American, premium cut beef, say they.
It comes in one-third, half, two-thirds or one pound patties; I went for the one-third pound. The burger is grilled to order, of course, medium rare for me. A made-from-scratch (say they) sesame topped bun sandwiches this patty. I then outfitted this burger with mayonnaise, ketchup and onion, which has been one of my favorite combinations for burger toppings since my college days working at a fairly successful chain of burgers fronted by Dave and his darling, red-headed, pig-tailed mascot.
Fuddrucker's touts its place as "born to create the World's Greatest Hamburgers." Well, they were born some many, several years ago and on the burger meter, I would rank them a solid good. With the fresh produce bar, stocked with such toppings as lettuce, sliced onion, dill pickles, pico de gallo, lettuce, tomatoes and sauces -- it's a decent burger, for corporate.
Down to Midtown
When I think about classic burgers, I think about the old Mother Road. And when I think about Route 66, I think about it coursing through the aorta of Tulsa. And when I think about the bloodstream, I think about cholesterol, and then I think of Tally's and all the healthy grease that has been rendered there over the years.
At one time in the not-so-distant past, there was The Metro Diner -- a hugely popular location for the hip crowd of The Outsiders and Rumble Fish generation in what is now the rich folks' parking lot on campus at TU.
Tally Alame, who opened his eponymous eatery in 1987, must have been a big fan of Metro. But he went one step further. He was serious about the food and not the stylings. "It's a diner, so people know what to expect," he said.
It's a great neighborhood, White City. Lots of fun people neighboring what was once the Will Rogers High School district. And we know what a group that school produced: Leon Russell, Russell Myers, David Gates, Anita Bryant, Gary Busey, Gailard Sartain, Susan Hinton, Elvin Bishop and Paul McCartney, we think. And lots of business folks, too, who aren't nearly as entertaining but provide jobs.
Lots of those folks and their kids eat there.
Tally's a wonderful location. And better yet, the food!
Diners may be surprised to see the Greek Burger, Elvis Burger "Thank You Very Much" and the Devil Burger. On this occasion, it was late night dining for me. Around 9pm I craved a burger, and Tally's was it.
I ordered a one-third pound Cheeseburger ($6.50) with mustard, white onion, lettuce and tomato. It was on a sesame seed bun, and the beef patty was thin, a bit crispy from being charbroiled. It was a respectable burger. Alame said they use "a good quality meat, cooked and seasoned right." He calls it the 81/19, for 81 percent lean beef and 19 percent fat. As with other restaurants who serve meat, he gets the beef daily -- never frozen, they say. I did get in on the secret of this seasoning: it is his own Greek seasoning of parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. While I could not detect the seasoning, it must have made an impression for the meat was slightly different from others, thus far.
Not that it matters, for we know The Publisher dines there regularly, this historic-looking location, situated on the corner of Route 66 and Yale Ave., has also hosted such celebs as Garth Brooks and Tony Stewart.
Going west, down past 15th and along Harvard Ave., Ty's Hamburgers is a one of those places that seems to have just been there forever -- a successful sleeper that simply keeps on cranking out a fine product. Joe and Jackie Harris originally founded Ty's more than 25 years ago, naming it after their son, Ty. Darlene Cushenberry and her son Chris now own Ty's, and she speaks forthrightly of running the place: "The product that we serve is an excellent and fresh product at a reasonable price. The one-third pound cheeseburger is $3.05."
Another key to the good "product" is that "the grill is well seasoned," she said. "The grill has been here since the store has opened." Also, Cushenberry said nothing is pre-cooked; all is made to order when ordered. I ordered the cheeseburger.
There is nothing fancy here: basic smooth white bread bun, one slice of melted American cheese on the beef patty, tomato, iceberg lettuce, mustard and pickles. It has a distinctive solid hamburger taste -- no hidden agendas. Cushenberry says Tim delivers the Rainbow buns for her four times a week, and she is on a first name basis with Tulsa Beef, who delivers fresh patties each day.
Hop in the car and get bob, bob, bobbing along to Red Robin in the far south of town. This is a hamburger destination that grabbed my attention for its assortment and history of burgering. Red Robin began in Seattle in 1969, building innovative burgers.
I went for the basics, the Red Robin Gourmet Cheeseburger ($8.99). This is the original from which the others are built. This comes with lettuce, tomato, pickles, red onion, mayo, Red's pickle relish, and a choice of cheeses -- Cheddar, American, Swiss, Bleu, Provolone and Pepper Jack.
It was a grand burger with rich, flavorful, and juicy beef. The beef, as most other places I have sampled, has no preservatives and no artificial ingredients, always fresh and never frozen (so they say). From the simple to the signature burgers, Red Robin additionally has the Royal Red Robin Burger which comes topped with a fresh, fried egg; the Banzai Burger with Teriyaki and grilled pineapple; Whiskey River BBQ Burger, and Sautéed Shroom Burger. And, if more beef is what you want, you can order the "Make Any Gourmet Burger a Monster" by adding another beef patty.
I've quaffed a few brews at C.J. Moloney's, a bar in the Urban Tulsa solar system -- let's call it Mars, or Broken Arrow. The burger here is something to reckon with when it comes to bar burgers. Moloney's has a few specialty burgers on its menu: Traditional, Patty Melt and Build Your Own Stuffed Burger.
I sampled the Build-Your-Own with jalapenos and mushrooms. (Other stuffings include onions, bacon, American cheese, Swiss cheese and Bleu Cheese.) This burger is served with green leaf lettuce, tomato and onion. The two fillers are basically stuffed into the beef patty before frying. The bun was of the ordinary sort: white, slightly toasted and nicely formed. It held up to the half-pound beef patty which was grilled on a flat grill.
Of all burgers sampled, this one gets the prize for the surprise. It was a decent burger -- something I'd come back for. The jalapenos did not steal the show although they were a purposely prominent element. The mushrooms -- I guess they were there -- were less than apparent, but definitely part of the show.
James E. McNellie's Public House. Haven't we all met there in public (and private) at one time or another? Beers rule, but the McNellie's Charburger ($7.99) is half-pound of freshly ground beef, seasoned, charbroiled and served with pickles, red onion, shredded lettuce and tomato and why we had to make sure we weren't dreaming last time we were here.
On a sesame seed bun which seems to have been brushed with butter and grilled, this burger ranks high: fresh, clean and satisfying. McNellie's also has an Open Face Chili Cheeseburger. This burger begins with a slice of Texas toast on the bottom; next, a charbroiled one half pound patty is placed on the toast and then topped with McNellie's Beer House Chili, and again topped with cheese and diced onions ($9.49). This is a bunch of love on a plate: rich, good-tasting chili, white onions, cheese and meat. The Texas toast acts as sponge to soak up the goodness.
The semi-new kid on the block, who keeps the Tulsa Drillers in business next door, is Fat Guy's Burger Bar. A well-crafted concept just outside the foul line off left field, along Greenwood Ave., Fat Guy's is a true American success story.
Flash Back. Music Cue: "Oh Beautiful, for Spacious Skies..." Action: At one time, we were entrepreneurs looking for a concept...
Flash Forward. Some burger shops have been doing what they have been doing longer than dirt. I quickly learned how a simple hamburger can be reinvented. Knowing the lay of the land and having some culinary smarts, these portly folk came up with a walk-off home run.
Acclimation to the menu is a necessity for first-time customers. The line-up is busy with information: Specialty Burgers, Fat Burgers (double meat), Jumbo Burgers, and many optional toppings to create your own burger. R.C. Cline, general manager, revealed a few of the secrets to their successful burger business.
Fat Guys' Pizza Burger
"We season the meat on each side of the patty and cook on a flat top grill. Ours [burgers] are always fresh. Everything we do is different and has a high quality to it."
Sounds like rocket science to us.
Peanut Butter Bacon Burger. That's different. And that's what I tried. Oddly enough, Cline says this burger has quite a following. This burger begins as normal -- beef patty (delivered daily from, you guessed it: Tulsa Beef) and bun -- but then an uncanny combo of peanut butter and bacon begin this burger, and as Cline said, it can take off from there. "Most people have it with jalapeno, Sriracha sauce (look it up), cilantro and grilled pineapple. This was a very good burger. With all the toppings, the peanut butter was an afterthought at best; but no. There is something Asian to it. A conspiracy!
At Fat Guy's you can have the best of both worlds: a simple cheeseburger with classic toppings, or an imaginative tet a tet with your imagination going wild with more than 18 free burger toppings. Cline said the toasted buns are made with a special recipe just for Fat Guy's; they are "soft on the inside but hold up for us."
A sharp line drive and a good roll to the west, my tour took me a few blocks to Tavern on Brady for the clean up batter on the menu, the Tavern Burger ($13). Batting .360 with power it lands in the bleachers. Grand Slam.
Front of the house manager Lindsey Magerus said they also order their meat from Tulsa Beef, but theirs is a "blend of short rib meat, chuck and brisket." The patty for the Tavern Burger is grilled, and then placed inside a house-baked challah bun which is quite stately once assembled. The challah bun (for those of you of Polish descent, egg bread) is made with a heavy number of eggs and with a touch of sweetness is warmed on the grill and adds a few extra inches to the overall burger.
Tavern on Brady
The bun itself is a talking piece; the top is baked to a deep brown, and the inside bread is firm and spongy, holding up well for this burger. Rather than the traditional mustard, pickles and onions, this stylish burger demanded more: A Stilton cheese and mushroom Cognac cream is the topping for this burger. And with the high quality beef--tender, rich, and flavorful, that is all that is needed for a little bit of hamburger heaven.
Get On Your Horse
Smoke on Cherry Street has one burger on the menu, the Fresh Ground Black Angus Burger ($10), and they do it righteously. This sophisticated burger is a blend of ribeye, tenderloin, brisket and hanger which is ground fresh daily. Tulsa Beef may play a hand in daily delivery, but it appears there is something else going on here.
Accompanying this burger are lettuce, tomato, pickle, American cheese, house-made whole grain mustard. This burger is scrumptious: the beef flavor is rich and char-grilled to medium rare. The bun is tall, buttered and toasted, fitting like a glove around this beef. With each bite is a hint of horseradish, which is (purportedly) the house-made mustard. It can catch you off guard, these little jolts of spiciness as you bite into the burger. But you, dear reader, will be prepared for this mustard.
From the sublime to the incredulous, Freddie's is to Smoke like DeNiro is to DiCaprio. Let's do the time warp, again! I bellied up to the counter, and thought of a thousand movies flat grill, the soda machine, and the cook and waitresses busily doing their duties. No ma'am, I'm just a gal who likes to save money.
Manager Tammie Quillman said Freddie, the founder, usually works at the other Freddie's (on 11th St. which originally opened in 1954), and she bought this location in 1999. Freddie's standard burger comes with fried-in onions, fresh onions, mustard and pickles.
What makes Freddie's burgers different from all others, she said, is that "we fry our onions in the beef -- that's what makes the burgers better. And, we cook them on the same grill that has been here since 1967. The old grill is really seasoned and that's what makes our burgers grill better."
I sampled the Deluxe with Cheese ($3.40). Yes, white chopped onions were smashed into the meat before frying; the burger came with those basics, mustard, onion and pickle. The basic white bun was grilled and topped this small, manageable cheeseburger.
At this point we are getting restless for two of the mainstays of the burger business when men were men and women were women and they all dressed like they were extras for Mad Men. And their kids were wild and free and cruising. Back to Brookside!
Claud's at 38th and Peoria is one of the most authentic of the burger generation. Hey, there's Barney, Andy here comes Opie. Just walk in. Shall we paint you a picture? Read the book.
Robert Hobson, son of the original owner who now cooks and runs the place, said that Claud's opened in 1954 at Admiral and Sheridan, then moved to its current location in 1965. Claud, said Robert, is originally from Louisiana, but moved to southeast Arkansas then to Tulsa. Thank you, Lord!
Many long years ago Claud and a buddy decided to find their fortune in California, so they headed west. On Route 66, they passed through Tulsa, stopped in Oklahoma City, then turned around and headed back, stopping and settling in Tulsa.
Claud eventually decided to open a hamburger joint after working and cooking on grills at various places in Tulsa. Hobson says he serves 3-ounce, 6-ounce and 9-ounce burgers. "Our tradition speaks for itself... We use a high quality meat. We use ground chuck -- we don't buy the cheap stuff. We have a machine in the back to press our patties." The Cheeseburger is the basic burger, decked with what have come to be the standards for the basic burger: mustard, onion and pickle. Upon request, onions can be fried into the meat on the grill, and lettuce and tomato can be added to the burger. Claud's is a solid, all-American burger. Garonteed!
Just a roll's throw across the street, with a south wind, you'd hit Weber's, another Brookside tradition. The owners continue to be Rick and Jennifer Bilby, with the former a great, grandson of founder, Oscar Bilby, who with his wife Fanny, moved to Oklahoma, settling in Bowden, Okla., in 1884.
Though the burger as we know it was already extant thanks to the Bilbys, according to legend, Weber's was founded some 50 years later, in 1933, but still has the distinction of being the oldest business on Brookside (it is said). It also has been voted 4th best hamburger place in the United States, according to the Houston Chronicle.
And, when you've been around so long, it's no wonder such celebs as Roy Clark, Jerry Lee Lewis, Garth Brooks, said Bilby, have eaten here. (Steve Largent, Keith Skrzypczak, John Sullivan, Governor Keating, Jim Inhofe and Zelmo Gillette have also been spotted at Weber's.)
So, what's makes Weber's so good? Bilby said it is the flat grill which is the original one forged when the world was younger by Oscar in 1891. In addition, Bilby said it's the meat they use. "We use 100 percent fresh Angus ground beef. It's always fresh, never frozen." He, like the others, has meat delivered daily from Tulsa Beef, and it is in the 80 percent lean, 20 percent fat combo. And, like some others around town, Bilby has a special seasoning he blends in-house which he adds to the meat. He said the cooking is important as well. "It is cooked for a special length of time. When we turn the burgers over, we put onion in the meat. They are not grilled in, just set on the meat. While it cooks, the chopped onions' juices give the meat more flavor." It is a great little burger, wrapped in white paper. I had the quarter pound Chili Cheeseburger ($4.25). It came with dill pickles, mustard and chili. The chili is inside the burger, and of a moderate amount, so the burger is able to be eaten with the hand. Buns for these burgers are of the standard sort -- white bread buns (like the type on grocery shelves). With a frosty mug of Weber's famous root beer, this burger carried a classic hamburger taste, and came with a reassuring sense of satisfaction, that 'all's well with the world.'
Stock Tip: Tulsa Beef
Moving east from Peoria, Brownie's Hamburger Stand at 22nd St. and S. Harvard Ave. has been a favorite for years. Having opened in 1957 by Bill Bowen, it is now owned and operated by Dusty Oakley, who also serves as GM. Busboy Hope Humphrey gave me a few insights into the place. Again, the meat is from Tulsa Beef, delivered daily in patties. The Cheeseburger is the most popular, with onions fried into the meat (unless otherwise specified) and the buns toasted on the grill.
I had the Chili Cheeseburger ($3.95). It came with pickle and mustard, and the chili was ladled over the burger, spreading generously around the plate; the melted American cheese became only a fond memory as it blended into the chili. A toasted (and grill-steamed) bun topped this.
The chili proffered finely-ground beef, a fine chili powder with a hint of cinnamon (Cincinnati style). A fork was needed to get into the burger, but soon after, it was manageable by hand. This burger was mighty satisfying, together with a mug of Brownie's homemade (so they say) root beer.
Burger brother Billy's on the Square, downtown at 5th and Main, has something going with these lava rock char-grilled burgers. "A lot of people don't want to use the lava rock," said owner Billy Bayouth. "There's a lot of maintenance involved. Still, it gives the hamburger a more grilled charcoal flavor."
Bayouth has been in the burger business since 1984 when he opened downtown and never looked back. He's been in the restaurant business since he was a kid in 1974 and at one point managed a long-time Tulsans' memory, My Pi Pizza. Is it surprising that Bayouth gets his beef fresh daily from Tulsa Beef and uses the 80/20 patty?
Starting with the same beef product as other burger joints in town, the difference happens when the patty meets the lava rock grill; it then is elevated as a deeply-flavored, char-grilled patty. And that has made all the difference.
Burger nirvana is achieved in less than a lifetime. I had the Theta Burger ($4.49), one that Bayouth says is his most popular. He says people like the thickly grated cheddar cheese, plus the toppings combo of mayo, pickles and hickory sauce. This burger is assembled with bottom bun, a layer of mayo, pickles, meat patty, cheddar cheese, hickory sauce and grilled sesame seed bun.
Ron's. Dang it. How did these guys show up? With all the burger joints around, why would Katharine Kelly have to walk in to this place?
Play it again, Ron. We'll always have the Sausage Cheeseburger. Or, the Mexican Steak or Chili Cheeseburger and Spanish Fries!
The founder, Ron, is almost as old as Casablanca and retired from the business, but one of his sons, Mike Baber, carries on the tradition at the new/old/semi-original 15th and Denver location. Ron's first opened in 1975 at the tiny, but cozy place at 15th and Harvard, and Baber recalls working since he was 7 years old with his father at that location.
Today, Baber uses patties from (you guessed it) Tulsa Beef and cooks them on a flat grill like many others in town, but he says what distinguishes Ron's burgers from all others is the "Ron's seasoning salt" that is sprinkled on each patty. Another difference is with the bun.
"After flipping the burger, the bun is placed on the meat and the 'magic lid' is placed over the bun to steam it." To this, we testify.
The result is a soft, heated bun which gently melts in the mouth with each bite of the burger. Baber says the most popular burger is the Sausage Cheeseburger, which is half country sausage and half beef. The two are smashed together with onions fried into the meat creating an amazingly tasty burger. It is topped with American and Pepper Jack cheeses, and lettuce, tomato, pickle and onion. The meat patty is thin, the size of which extended beyond the bun just a bit. The sausage in this burger gives only a slight indication it is there; it does not dominate the flavor.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to Ron's Chili Cheeseburger. This burger is best eaten on location. The one-fifth pound cheeseburger is covered beyond recognition with Ron's award-winning (they say) chili. Baber says Ron's chili is a big seller, even in the summer months. It is his dad's recipe, and cooked on slow speed each day in all the 23 locations around Tulsa and beyond. Whether all of it is consumed in a day and if not frozen, is a question left unasked.
Warning: it is not advised to eat this burger by hand, especially on a first date.
It ain't the best; it ain't the worst, but by golly it is one filling sandwich, this T-Town Burger at Bill's Jumbo Burgers.
When the Food Network comes to call, we send them to Bill's. When the old, white-haired Southern chick wants something to dredge, powder sugar and deep fry -- you haven't had a burger until you have had this triple decker: all three basics -- unity, coherence, organization -- converge with this burger.
Bill's Jumbo Burgers' T-Town Burger
The T-Town Burger is one and one-half pounds of beef, that's right. No kidding. Jumbo is not jumbo until you experience this specimen. This burger is stacked almost three inches tall -- no hamburger hyperbole here. Fearless, I was not to be intimidated by its look. Towering with three alternating layers of meat and cheese, the best approach is to cut the burger in half, and then just gaze a moment before climbing this monolith.
Your palms are sweating, right?
Its beauty is worth pause. Looking inside the burger from a cut half, this burger comes with dill pickles, iceberg lettuce, tomato, chopped white onions and mustard. The flavor of this tall T-Town is rich -- the meat and cheese, which by the time the burger is unwrapped, the cheese has completely melted into the meat and has added a rich flavor and moistness to the burger. The bun is thin but surprisingly maintains itself throughout most of the eating experience. At times the bun got lost during the course of eating, but it only made the experience primal.
Teresa Johnson, part owner, runs the counter and is the cashier. Bill is her father, who opened the place June, 1960. Tulsa Beef, Vishnu love 'em, purveys the scene.
Johnson says that all burgers are the most popular here, but when pressed, she did say the Bill's Special (one-third pound) and the Big Mama (half-pound) are ordered often. But, it's the T-Town burger ($10.75) that commanded my attention for not just the size, but the rich, authentic hamburger flavor as well.
We do not always eat hamburgers, but when we do, we choose Tulsa's.
Stay hungry, my friends.
Share this article: