The other day I woke up at 4 am craving a cheeseburger. But it was more than that -- In that moment between sleep and consciousness, I realized I was not necessarily hungry, but that I was specifically craving the juxtaposition of the sounds and feelings of the crunch of the cold, crispy lettuce and onions sitting on top of the soft melted cheese and juicy beef patty.
I craved the experience of eating the perfect cheeseburger.
Food means different things to different people, but everyone agrees that nothing is more iconic than the cheeseburger. It serves as the model example of American food culture and one of the major causes of our obesity. That old jingle about "baseball, hot dogs, apple pie..." should be modified to include this staple of our national cuisine. Jimmy Buffett wrote a song about cheeseburgers in paradise, the original Saturday Night Live cast wrote the famous "Cheeseburger Pepsi" skit, and That 70s Show had Britian Roger Daltry's character give into American culture once he'd eaten one of our "damn bloody" cheeseburgers. We've even gone so far as to give this baby its own day - mark down September 18 as National Cheeseburger Day.
Quite frankly, though, I don't eat that many of them. I grew up eating them all the time, but somewhere around late high school maybe early college I discovered the mushroom swiss burger and ate only those for the next decade or so. Technically it is still a cheeseburger, albeit a variation on the basics, but it's not the Classic Cheeseburger which consists of American cheese.
But that's the beauty of it. As long as you have a hamburger patty, you're allowed to throw on any ingredients that suit your palate, and in some instances even the traditional bread is substituted (I've heard of doughnuts serving in place of the bun).
Across the country there are local restaurants and national franchises that focus solely on the cheeseburger, and offer up just a choices of sides instead of the traditional french fries, usually onion rings or chips. These establishments fight to invent unique variations that will put them on the metaphorical Cheeseburger Map and solidify their place in American culture.
Locally, The Boss and I agree that the best cheeseburger can be found at a biker bar and grill located in Defiance, MO, next to the Katy Trail on Highway 94 in the middle of the Missouri wine country. It's a fun story for another time, but when we discovered The Defiance Roadhouse we thought we had stumbled into Cheeseburger Heaven.
Plenty of people and locations claim to have invented the cheeseburger. Food historians can't agree on any one true inventor, but they all do agree that it showed up on menus sometime during the early 1930s and was such a hit that its staying power within American cuisine was set in stone almost immediately.
It's really no surprise then that a guy like me would wake up in the middle of the night suddenly craving one of the greatest American inventions of all time - we can safely say not only is it a part of our identity, it is a part of our cultural DNA as well.
And yes, I satisfied that craving that very afternoon at lunch.
Until Next Time...
Enjoy this cute little video of the Top 10 Fast Food Hamburgers