Jephir Treks America: Bumbling Through Central America

A 6 week adventure in gastronomica, sights, and observation.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Outback, feelin' bad...

Tonight I encountered another reason to avoid those chain restaurants everyone in America seems to enjoy so much when they're away from home. Today, after wandering around Fry's Electronics for the better part of 2 hours, Z and I had another craving for beef. Lately we've been consuming fairly large quantities of carbohydrates and veggies. A standard breakfast has consisted of the following:

brown rice
chopped avocado
dipping sauce (soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, and sambal sauce)

Needless to say, my body whines for protein until my imagination is overcome by the need for bovine satisfaction.

Yesterday we visited Hodad's, "Home of the World's Best Burger." We were summarily unimpressed. While Hodad's has mastered the art of presenting a rather pretty burger-in-a-basket, the overall experience isn't the greatest.

For starters, the add-ons, which include mayo, mustard, ketchup, pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, and onion, invariably explode in one's hands due to the phoenix-esce presentation. The burger comes wrapped in yellow paper with all the fixin's display, a flowering of food which invites you to dig in. I once worked with a chef who used to say that people needed to "eat with their eyes." While that's a helpful motto, if you can't get the food into your mouth then the only one eating will be your eyes. The typical progression goes like this: patron picks up burger package, takes a tentative nibble, an emboldened bite and while going in for the kill watches the burger's best imitation of Old Faithful. Several reconstructions later I wondered why it hadn't been served with a knife and fork.

But the real bummer involves the meat itself. Everyone knows the standard sequence of ordering a hamburger at your diner. It goes something like this:

Waitress: Howdy Peaches, what can I get for you two tonight?
Smiling Patron: I'll take the deluxe bacon cheeseburger plate with cheese fries and extra butter on the side.
S.P. #2: I'll take the same, thanks.
Waitress: Fantastic! Oh, Sugar, how would you like that ground cow cooked?
Smiling Patron: I'll take it walked by the fire. You know, rare, just like me.
S.P. #2: I prefer mine tasteless due to time over the fire. You know, well-done, just like me.

Now let's try Hodad's:

Surfer dude: What'd ya like this fine evening?
Me: Double cheeseburger, please, with all the fixings.
Zephir: Double bacon cheeseburger. Hold the mayo, mustard, ketchup, pickles, lettuce, and tomatoes.
Surfer dude: Whoa, that's like all meat! Anyway, coming right up!

Notice anything different? In your local diner, you are given little choice in one arena (fixings) and a great deal of choice in another (amount of heat applied to meat) whereas at Hodad's the exact opposite is true. Now I'm all for stacking all kinds of things on a burger (at Fatburger you can get an egg on top - nothing's better) - it IS a sandwich of sorts. However, to serve everyone medium-well burgers negates the whole idea of going to a burger joint. These guys are supposed to be experts, right? When you think about it though, it makes sense - if you only have to tell someone how to cook meat to one particular standard then there's a hell of a lot less training involved. To that end, if every plate is a variation of the same burger patty then kitchen setup can be vastly different - everyone on the grill just puts out burgers of one size or another, but always with the same doneness.

Now, I don't want to downplay what it's like to eat at Hodad's. You can sit in half a VW bug, watch the tatooed residents of OB sidle up to the 12' surfboard and drink beer out of canning jars. It's just sad when a place specializes in something but doesn't do it very well. In Hodad's case, I think people love the burgers because for someone who likes a fairly well cooked burger, these are probably the juiciest they've ever had due to the variety of veggies and condiments that ride between burger and bun.

Oh well, guess I'll have to push my Outback review back until tomorrow... Seems this review was about a local restaurant, rather than some corporate chain - I never claimed everything local was spectacular, although it tends to be a bit more interesting, if not flavorful on its own.


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