There is a mystique to the hamburger in this country, a reverence born of childhood and road-trip, of inchoate memory and embedded emotion. I get it. I read Proust. (Or at least all the interminable paragraphs that dealt with food.) But I'm sorry, I do not understand the myth of this one, I don't care how many Michelin-starred chefs proclaim their love for it.
I was willing to give it a shot, taking my place in line behind the vast snake of cars that crawled inexorably towards the distant drive-thru, so many of them that the restaurant had installed a uniformed waitress-traffic cop in the clogged parking lot. I got my burger, wrapped in paper, one thin over-cooked patty laboring under a thick spackle of unidentifiable cheese, a slice of tomato, some green leaves, a slice of onion (the best part), and buns with that strange spring born from an accumulation of oddly trapped air. I stood in the Blockbuster parking lot off Venice Boulevard, as the sun fell below the strip mall horizon, with my car and my dinner, wondering what alchemy I wasn't privy to.
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Maybe you need a history, a requisite number of years littered with paper wrappers and salvific moments (hungry, not hungry); maybe you need some burger epiphany, the way a certain dish takes on meaning with specific association. Maybe it's just an acquired taste that becomes powerful with repetition, and eating one for the first time (that's right, gasp, the first ever burger either ordered or consumed at ____ ) as a disillusioned grownup somehow disqualified me from the club. I don't know. You tell me. But if Thomas Keller ever puts a burger on the menu of his forthcoming Beverly Hills restaurant, I'm hoping he doesn't take this Proustian thing any further than the drive-thru.