Thursday, February 10, 2011

Gimme them old-time burger stands - Mr. CharBurger

10029 Telephone Road at Swiftwater

History is one of my hobbies and I was reading an article online about Telephone Road recently and saw a mention of this place. I remembered the last time I picked up someone at Hobby in the evening I had seen a little hamburger stand as we headed down Telephone to the Beltway and meant to go back and try it so I thought I knew exactly where it was and I headed out one day, hungry for an old time burger, without bothering to look up an address. I almost came home hungry. I drove up and down Telephone several times without spotting it (or the burger stand I thought I remembered seeing). Then I spotted. It was on the other side of the street from where I had been looking and there is no street-side sign. I never did find the one I thought I remembered seeing.

I went planning to try the charburger, perhaps a chili cheese charburger to compare to Bellaire Broiler Burger if they had one, but as soon as I saw the Smoko Burger on the menu I had to have it.

One of my fond memories of food as a kid is of a hickory sauce burger from a place in Wharton called Mayer’s as I recall. My mother insisted on making all our meals from scratch at home, even after working an 8 hour day as a secretary, and we ate out only when we were traveling. We planned our trips to arrive at some place we had heard about in time to eat - Cottonwood Inn in La Grange, the nearest Leslie’s Fried Chicken, and Mayer’s, among them.

From the first time we all tried the burger at Mayer’s, we were hooked, everybody in the family. A 4" bun (there was only one size bun back then, I think), a thin patty, chargrilled, hickory smoked sauce, onions and pickles. That’s all there was. It was great and we didn’t know anywhere else to get one. We didn’t have much reason to go through Wharton on our trips, but we made the detour to get one of these things many times.

I knew the Smoko Burger had to be the same thing and I went right for it without asking any questions. Mr. Charburger probably dates to the 1950s. The enclosed area in front has probably been added since then and there is only a single concrete table with benches on the side of the building at which to eat. Everybody else was getting their burgers to go. A nice Vietnamese lady runs Mr. Charburger these days.

Portions have gotten a lot bigger than they were when I was a kid, and somehow, as if by magic, appetites, have grown to accommodate the larger portions. The bun was much bigger and thicker, the patty, too. They hadn’t made very good use of their charbroiler, there were barely any charring marks on the patty nor charred taste. I couldn’t believe how many onions there were on this - at least 1/4 cup, maybe a third; likewise the pickles. I never would have eaten a burger with that many raw onions as a kid. The sauce was too thick and it should have gone on top of the meat, not directly on the bun, and, and, and....

Wait a minute, am I complaining too much? Yes, I am. If I had been that picky about my food as a kid, my parents would have dropped me off beside the road somewhere west of Ozona and never looked back.

The truth is, I loved this. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for but I've had several nostalgic, retro-food experiences lately and none have been as enjoyable as this, although I did get a good laugh at a certain Tex-Mex place I hit where I had to restrain myself to keep from cackling out loud about how bad the food was. But here, for just a few minutes as I savored my Smoko Burger, I was a kid again, sitting in the backseat of my Dad’s Rocket 88 as we headed out on one of our family treks, eager to get on the road and play the only game my family ever played that I ever had a chance of winning, being the first to identify the make of the oncoming cars (I had better eyesight that the rest of the family).

Thanks, Mr. Smoko Charburger. You made my whole week and I loved every bite, every minute of it.


JimH said...

"I did get a good laugh at a certain Tex-Mex place I hit where I had to restrain myself to keep from cackling out loud about how bad the food was"
Now, you know you can't say something like that and leave us hanging...

Bruce said...

Just watch me! But man it was bad - the spiciest thing on the plate was the iceberg lettuce.

Bruce said...
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