By Rachel Barduson
Having a good old-fashioned thin-patty hamburger with ketchup, mustard, and a slightly toasted bun has always been my favorite. On the plate would be a dill pickle slice or two, and either a few potato chips or some fries. Maybe the fries are even crinkle fries. No frills needed because the “frills” were the slightly toasted bun and the thinly sliced dill pickles on the side. This delicious delicacy of course was served at a café that might have been called “a greasy spoon” or “hole in the wall.” It’s what I grew up with if we had a hamburger. It’s what we looked for if we were ever lucky enough to go out for a burger with a slightly toasted bun. (The old Skelly station in Evansville, and Woolworth’s lunch counter in Alexandria come to mind). And don’t forget to add a strawberry milkshake to the meal.
I don’t remember hamburgers being served at our house very often when I was growing up. Hamburger was something you put in a hotdish, or made gravy, meatloaf or meatballs out of. It maybe was called ground beef when I got older, but I only remember ground beef being referred to as hamburger. A pound of hamburger had to go a long way. Steak was out of the question. “A hamburger”...as in...a burger...was only served if we had a barbecue picnic where hamburger was made into patties and put on the grill. At our barbecues, no barbecue sauce or anything remotely close to anything barbecue was present at the picnic. Barbecues were made indoors with a pound of hamburger with tomato soup and a few other secret ingredients added. Barbecues were made for every high school or birthday party I ever had where my mother served them with potato chips and maybe red Jell-O. Yet, we called it having a barbecue picnic with our charcoal barbecue grill as we grilled hamburgers. We might have roasted hotdogs alongside the hamburger on that grill, but those dogs were never called wieners. And they certainly were never called just “dogs.” In a pinch, which was every time I had to make myself something quick before running into town for a school activity, I could roast my hotdog over the gas stove “burner” using the two-pronged meat fork. Meanwhile, mom’s roast beef was made in the oven (and also roasted). If we needed to get a pound of hamburger, a roast or liver, or any meat at all, we went into Evansville to the meat market and the “meat locker” where we rented a frozen space for our “butchered meat.” We kept that locker to keep our butchered meat frozen until we got a freezer of our own. But I digress. And I also ramble. Rambling on about hamburgers.
Right around third or fourth or fifth grade a new kind of hamburger came into my life. It was a hamburger joint that was nothing like the greasy spoons we were used to, however, it was kind of close. The biggest difference was that we ate the hamburger in the car. McCarthy’s was the first fast-food hamburger place I remember. It was before McDonald’s, Dairy Queen Brazier, Burger King, Wendy’s, or any other franchise.
It was a big deal to go to McCarthy’s, and if I were to go to Alexandria with my dad, I was almost guaranteed to have a McCarthy’s hamburger with a strawberry milkshake. My dad thought they were the best hamburgers ever discovered, or made, or fried, or whatever it was that made them the best. He loved McCarthy’s. A shiny quarter went a long way.
This is a special memory for me because of a few reasons. First, remember we didn’t have hamburgers at home. Second, it was a special treat when dad had to go to Alexandria to do errands and I could go with, and it became a kind of a thing to go to McCarthy’s because there was no other place like it. This was before, and I mean way before, I ever heard of a thing called McDonald’s. In fact, I thought McDonald’s came after McCarthy’s, and here I am, discovering that McDonald’s came first. “The fast-food restaurant chains, McDonald’s, was founded in 1940. By 1960, the fast-food chain was growing, and the growth in the U.S. automobile use that came with suburbanization and the interstate highway system contributed to their success, according to www.mcdonalds.com. I’m not sure when McCarthy’s was started in Alexandria.
Now, with an automobile and road trips to any destination on the map, or a Sunday drive with no destination at all, we have turned the search for the perfect hole-in-the-wall hamburger as an adventure. The adventures have taken us to additional pleasures of hiking state parks, bike riding, and discovering points of interest throughout the region and state. These simple adventures bring us far and wide as we enjoy the best hamburger and fries of the day. Simply put, we can still discover the simple pleasure of a simple hamburger on a slightly toasted bun. And don’t forget the strawberry milkshake.
Simple pleasures, simple memories, and simple ramblings. About hamburgers. Today we swirl in a world of hamburgers of all sizes, with all kinds of condiments, served with a selection of buns and an array of sides; I wonder what my dad would think. The funny part is I like the thin, plain hamburger with a few dill pickle slices, a dab of mustard and ketchup on a slightly toasted bun, and no other frills the best. Just like my dad.