By: John Carlson—
Throughout this lifetime, my key to culinary happiness has been hamburgers.
Beats me why, it just has. Maybe I watched too many Popeye cartoons as a kid. My buddies cheered as the musclebound sailor would “eats me spinach” so he’d be “strong to the finish,” then beat the living crap out of Bluto or whoever else was putting the moves on his woman, Olive Oyl. But me? I’d hang on every word that my main man Wimpy spoke. This was even though they were almost always, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday, for a hamburger today,” and hardly anybody ever bought him one.
But ahhh, I’d think. A hamburger.
My belief in the holiness of hamburgers has only grown with time. Close my eyes and I can still see, smell and taste the burgers my Buckeye family would buy from a little joint back home called the QP. Plopped onto a well-seasoned grill by a guy scraping the raw meat from a bucket with an ice cream scooper, these burgers remain the ones I judge against all others.
In my experience, a bar called Workingman’s Friend on the near-westside of Indy comes the closest to matching them. The place serves spectacular double cheeseburgers that even Channel 4 anchorwoman Debby Knox vouches for. But hey, I’m no snob. I’ll give any burger a shot at the title, even though this can be risky. Thirty years ago I had a burger in a place near Muncie that, hopefully, has long since been torched by arsonists. I can truly say it’s the only burger I’ve eaten for which the descriptive phrase “this thing totally sucks” was way, way too kind.
But most other burgers delight me. My first regular job out of college, after being an amusement park captain piloting a Tilt-a-Whirl, was as a manager trainee at a Frisch’s restaurant. This tryout was to see if I had management potential, which I could have answered a half-hour after punching in for my first shift. No, I did not. But I stuck it out for six grueling months, just because the perks included all the Big Boys I could cram down my throat in a twelve-hour shift.
Other burger favorites? You name ‘em, I’ll eat ‘em.
Anyway, one thing about loving hamburgers is, it has taught me to think outside what you might call “The Burger Box.” I mean, simply by being fried ground meat on bread, one hamburger is pretty hard to differentiate from another, right? But not always. One particularly memorable lesson came at the Indiana State Fair about eight years ago, when a food stand introduced Hoosiers to the culinary joys of the Krispy Kreme Burger. This was a burger served between two Krispy Kreme doughnuts. As a fervent fan of both doughnuts and hamburgers, I figured this baby couldn’t miss. What’s more, if I’d simply ordered my burger served between two Krispy Kremes and left things at that, I’d probably STILL be eating them.
Unfortunately, over the years I had become accustomed to eating my burgers dressed a certain way. Consequently, when I ordered mine at the fairgrounds, I excitedly said:
“I’d like a Krispy Kreme Burger, please!” Then I automatically blurted out, “With ketchup, mustard, pickle and onions!”
That’s exactly what they served me. Turns out there’s a reason powdered sugar is a more popular doughnut coating than ketchup, mustard, pickle and onions. This all being for a newspaper food feature I’d already committed to write, I downed that first bite with an enthusiastic grin. After that, it was only about three or four more bites before I was ready to spew. Had I done so, my buddy, videographer Lathay Pegues, would have been obligated to capture the moment on videotape so readers of The Star Press’ Chow Hound column would know getting paid to eat wasn’t all fun and games. Instead, Lathay dragged me to our car, where I had to rest for nearly fifteen minutes before I was able to stumble back to the midway and eat some Fried Beer, a Crackle Lantern and a Hot Beef Sundae.
The point of all this is, that incident sort of came to my mind when Nancy and I walked into Cammack Station the other day. Posted there by the cash register was an advertisement for its featured burger of the month, the Peanut Butter and Jelly Burger.
“Geez,” Nancy said. “Who’d want that?”
“Me!” I hollered.
So, having tried it, I can say it was pretty good! You might not think so, but I’ve had peanut butter on a couple burgers before, and it adds kind of a nice, down-home earthiness to the taste. In Cammack Station’s case, the peanut butter was spread on the bottom of the top-half of the bun. The jelly, which I believe was grape, was spread on the top of the bottom half of the bun. The sweetness of the jelly added something to the burger, too.
Laid across the patty were a couple bacon slices, which didn’t hurt, either.
Will I eat a bunch more Peanut Butter and Jelly Burgers at Cammack Station when I get the chance? Probably not. On the other hand, stranger things have happened.
A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three. John’s columns appear on Muncie Journal every Friday.