My Six Cheeseburger Weekend of Cardiac Self Destruction!

by Mike Kingston

For those of you who only know me as the incredibly good looking and well proportioned man that I am today (okay, maybe that's pushing it but indulge me for a few paragraphs) you may not realize that I was at one time a college football offensive lineman and an overall big fella. At my peak, I tipped the scales at a whopping 270 pounds. Nowadays, my walking around weight is somewhere in the low 230's....but for whatever reason, I've never lost the ability to eat like my 270 pound self.  

I've also never lost my love of food. I generally only partake in the spirits at conventions and I don't take recreational drugs, leaving food as my one true vice. And really good food has the power to affect me like nothing else. No matter how bad my day has been, I'm really only one excellent soup from turning it around. Unfortunately, I live in a culinary dead of those areas that's been populated by new money yuppies and so its been terraformed to have at least one of every chain restaurant known to man. I'm sure you've been to one of these towns before. 

So it is with that in mind that I decided to take a road trip to the great state of Connecticut. I watch a lot of Food Network and I read a lot of books with titles like "500 places to eat before you die" or "50 greatest (insert food) in the US" so that when I do make trips away from yuppie-land, I can make the most of my experience! And in my studies, I've seen Connecticut pop up a number of times and its usually for some sort of burger. So I decided to make a long weekend drive across CT, and hit six different burger joints to see what all the fuss is about.

Our first stop was for a famous diner in Middletown, CT called O'Rourke's. This place is so revered that it once burned to the ground and they were able to raise enough money to rebuild it. (as the legend goes, they didn't have insurance) 

Now, their cheeseburger of choice is a steamed cheeseburger that if their menu is to be believed, they had been serving since 1941. Now I had never had one of these as apparently they are pretty much localized to Central CT. The basic process involves steaming the burgers and cheese separately in a box. This is supposed to impart some extra juiciness and bring the cheese to a velvety consistency. Being that I'm a sucker for cheese and I'm not one to argue with a 59 year record of success, I decided to give it a whirl.

Well I gotta tell you, this cheeseburger sucked. In all honesty, I would've rather had a McDonald's cheeseburger than this flavorless lump of meat. This may have been one of the worst cheeseburgers I've ever had. No joke. 

Honestly, the process itself raised some red flags from the get-go, because in the course of the steaming, you lose all the fat. Now I'm as health conscious as the next guy but this trip was about flavor and the flavor is in that fat. To further the issue, the meat was also unseasoned. So what I was served tasted roughly like a brick of bland meatloaf. And the cheese? I had been led to believe that we would have this huge gob of cheese covering my burger and in reality, it was kind of a dollop. 

To accompany my meal I ordered fries. Fries are a touchy thing with me. I love em but only done right. These were shoestring fries and they were pretty much served in a shallow bowl of frying oil. Needless to say, out of respect for the rest of my journey, I did not finish these.

So we're 0 for 1 and my stomach is already fighting back. And to make matters worse, we had scheduled another steamed cheeseburger place for the 3rd day of our trip. This experience was so bad that we contemplated finding another location.

But take heart, things could only go up from here! 

For dinner on Friday, we hit up a joint in Manchester called Shady Glen Dairy. This old fashioned burger/ice cream parlor also features a unique signature cheeseburger. But first a bit about the decor....

The place is set up like an old style restaurant from the 50's and the staff is also attired as such. They served water in little paper dixie cups, condiments were served out of jars that were stationed in little caddies. The whole thing would be kind of quaint but everyone that worked there had a very reserved almost standoffish attitude. I gotta tell you, it kinda felt like a cult. At any moment, I expected to be abducted and forced to recite biblical passages to some dude with a ton of bryll cream in his hair...creepy to say the least.

But the food was very good. Their signature cheeseburger was prepared with four slices of cheese laid out next to each other with the burger in the middle so that the cheese formed this crispy skirt around the burger. It provided a very unique flavor and texture to the burger. It was quite tasty.

We followed it up with some homemade ice cream for dessert. Again, real top quality stuff. I've always felt that there is a huge taste gap between homemade and store bought ice cream and this was no exception. This meal really helped to wash away the sour taste left in my gut from O'Rourke's.

Now Day 2 was when, in the words of Jim Ross, "business really picked up."

We started the day hitting up a chain of burger joints owned by the ubiquitous Bobby Flay, called Bobby's Burger Palace. I've always found it odd that a gourmet chef runs chain restaurants that are in malls and casinos but I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt because I enjoy his NYC restaurant, Bar Americain quite a bit.

So my wife and I decided to attempt to navigate the scores of rascal scooters that populate the Mohegan Sun casino floor like a bad game of Frogger in an attempt to sample some of Bobby's burgers. My wife ordered a Napa Valley Burger that had watercress, goat cheese, and honey mustard while I got a Crunchburger which was a plain cheeseburger with double American cheese and potato chips on top. I topped my burger with a mixture of tableside "burger sauce" (a smoky A1 type condiment) and chipotle ketchup.

Now THIS was a burger. Even though this was a chain joint-in a casino no less- there was an undeniable quality to both the ingredients and the preparation that made this burger stand out far and above anything else I had tried up until that point. The meat was excellent and the cheese was just perfect. I feel American cheese has never really gotten its due as a legitimate cheese and it really shined here. When you think about it, its almost perfectly named...its bright, loud, and processed...could there be a cheese that is more American? 

We also ordered some fries to accompany this burger and I can tell you without the slightest bit of overstatement that these were the best french fries that I've ever had in my life. Super crispy, very flavorful. I really enjoyed this entire experience! 

With enough sodium in me to bring down a small elephant, we moved on to dinner of Night 2 at Corey's Ketchup and Mustard Burger Bar, also in Manchester. This stop wasn't on our original itinerary but after driving past it the previous night, we decided to call an audible and eat here. And we would not regret it.

My wife abstained from burgers here and instead ordered an awesome creamy tomato basil soup.I ordered a breakfast burger which featured a double patty, double cheese, double bacon, and two fried eggs and mayo. 

Its almost not fair to compare this to other burgers but that's the game here.

This was far and away the best burger I've ever had in my life. It was obviously extremely decadent which gives it a huge advantage. But the burger itself was cooked to perfection. This was by far the juiciest burger I've ever had prepared for me. This thing was so amazing that I genuinely considered ordering another one. And given what I had eaten and what I had yet to eat, that was pretty damn impressive.

We also had an order of fries that had some salt n' vinegar flavoring that were very solid. I'm pretty sure the seasoning was just of the shake-on variety but it added some nice kick to the traditional shoestring french fry.

This place had a decent atmosphere and I'm told they feature some live music which only makes it cooler in my book. Even though this is almost three hours from my house and I probably will never have a legitimate reason to go to Manchester, CT again....I know I have not had my last burger from Corey's.

Finally we were at the home stretch....Sunday. I woke with what felt like a brick in my stomach but on top of the burgers yesterday I had also had a giant black and white cookie and some Krispy Kreme donuts, so I had no business expecting any less. 

We started out for lunch at Ted's another purveyor of steamed cheeseburgers. Obviously given the experience at O'Rourke's I was justifiably concerned. 

However Ted's was fantastic! They offer the burger customized with your choice of toppings which is a big plus. I got mine with ketchup, mustard, salt, pepper, pickles, and grilled onions. We were in seated and served a freshly prepared burger in less than three minutes. The burger was juicy and the meat was delicious. There was a ton of cheese that led to each bite being almost like biting into a mozzerella stick. I'm very glad we decided not to skip this fine establishment!  (a word though...the place is prepared to wait)

We also ordered home fries with steamed cheese. The home fries were awesome but the steamed cheese quickly hardened, making it difficult to get some cheese with each bite. Still good though but lacking in execution.

One pet peeve with the state of CT. They are pretty universally cheap with the soda. Only Corey's and Bobby Flay's didn't charge for refills. Knowing what soda costs, I think that's pretty lame. Especially when you get a small glass for your serving size and they are pumping you full of sodium. But I digress...

After driving the three hours to get back to the good old Capital Region, we settled on our last cheeseburger experience for the weekend. Five Guys Burgers and Fries.

Little known fact: I have a biochemistry degree. So its probably the science nerd in me that wanted to have a control for this little experiment. And given that I live in chain restaurant hell, its probably no surprise that my favorite burger in the area is Five Guys. I've eaten at every burger chain known to man and nothing comes close (and yes, that means you, In and Out Burger!)

So I waddled into Five Guys having put my heart through the cardiac equivalent of Hostel for one last cheese and beef packed burst of goodness. My wife, apparently not as dedicated to the scientific process as I, again decided to abstain. 

For being a chain, Five Guys knows exactly what I want in a burger. Juicy, flavorful, just the right amount of grease, and perfectly melty cheese. I love it! I'll skip the gory details and assume that by now you've all had the Five Guys Experience but I wanted to include it as a point of reference. 

Finally tally for the weekend: 7 cheeseburgers, 5 baskets of fries, 6 donuts, three Red Velvet cupcakes and a whole buttload of earned time on the treadmill this week.

Hope you enjoyed my little grease filled journey of self destruction! We have more theme weekends planned over the coming months and I'll be sure to fill you in on every tasty morsel! 

Till next time! 

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