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The best burger battle

Posted: October 7, 2010 9:12 a.m.
Updated: October 8, 2010 5:00 a.m.

USA Today recently ran a story on what it claimed were the best hamburgers in the United States. The article listed one spot in each state where you can buy a boffo burger.

The place in South Carolina was up in Clemson -- I don’t recall the name, but I’m sure all the Tigers from Camden know about it -- but I’ve never placed much credence in those “best of” stories.

Trying to find the best hamburger in South Carolina, or any other state, is a bit like asking “Who’s the prettiest woman in the United States” or “What’s the most beautiful place in the world?”

There’s no clear answer.

After all, opinions are like a certain piece of the anatomy: everybody’s got one.        

But one thing’s pretty certain: it’s darned difficult to find somebody who doesn’t like hamburgers.

Oh, sure, there are vegetarians who might nibble at the lettuce and tomato on top of a burger but won’t touch the meat. Those are the same people who plan to live to be 100 but don’t want to have any fun in the process.

Burgers are individual things, and how people like theirs prepared reminds me of the best food quotation I’ve heard. It came from my friend Larry, who said, “I like my women the same way I like my mashed potatoes: chunky.” But that’s another story for another time.

If you ask me -- and you didn’t, but I’ll tell you, anyway -- the best burgers are the sloppiest ones.

If you don’t come away from a burger session with a few splotches of ketchup or mustard or mayonnaise on the front of your shirt, you’ve probably missed something.

Best burger I ever had was at a little diner/bar called the Tap Room.

Tap Room burgers were gloriously sloppy, cooked by the bartender/chef (OK, maybe “chef” is a stretch) in his tiny storefront establishment, which measured about 8 feet wide by 30 feet long.

As the thick burger sizzled on the grill, he’d pile on onions and mushrooms and all kinds of things, then somehow compress it into a bun and slap it on a plate.

Trying to get your mouth around it was roughly akin to biting a greasy basketball, but this was not a place where it was acceptable to eat a burger with a knife and fork -- I’m not sure the place even had any silverware -- so you just had to dive in, manners thrown to the wind.

Then the Tap Room went and ruined it all, moving a few blocks away to larger quarters and trying to become a full-fledged, respectable restaurant. The owner hung a big sign out front saying, “Tap Room Burgers.” I went once, but the burgers weren’t the same. Never went back.

There are lots of places in Kershaw County to get good burgers, but if you think I’m going to try to name the best one, you’re nuts. My phone would never stop ringing, and the threats would come faster than Paris Hilton can do stupid things.

Burgers are best done in a really informal place. The chances of getting a great burger in a white-tablecloth restaurant aren’t good; somehow, escargot and bacon cheeseburgers just don’t co-exist well.

In fact, some would say the ultimate compliment for a hamburger restaurant is “burger joint.” Watch ‘em sizzle on the grill, pull a stool up to a plastic-topped counter and have at it.

Old-timers around Kershaw County will remember the ultimate burger joint: Frank’s Dairy Bar in Lugoff, where you could get not only great burgers but world-class humor, insightful political commentary, juicy gossip and side-splitting practical jokes.

Frank’s gone now, God rest his soul. But one thing’s sure: he’s not forgotten, nor are his burgers.

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