Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

May 25, 2012

What’s on the bun?

TAHLEQUAH — Perhaps no other food on the American summer holiday menu epitomizes patriotism more than a good old-fashioned hamburger.

Cheese, no cheese, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, mayonnaise – it doesn’t matter. The sound of a hunk of ground chuck sizzling on the grill might as well be the national anthem of sunny season.

Americans’ attachment to the meat patty is ironic, however, considering its place of origin is none other than – of course – Hamburg, Germany. Here’s to immigration!

The first printed American menu to include hamburger was thought to be an 1826 menu from Delmonico’s in New York, N.Y., though conflicting reports claim  the first patty was actually served at Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, Conn., in 1885.

Fletcher Davis of Athens, Texas, is credited with selling hamburgers at his cafe during the late 1880s, then bringing his product to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Dairy Queen spokesman Bob Phillips similarly corroborated this particular version of the story in a commercial filmed in Athens in the 1980s, referring to the place as “the birthplace of the hamburger.”

Legend has it, though, that the true birthplace of the American hamburger, as we know it, is right here in Northeastern Oklahoma.

According to Oklahoma author Michael Wallis, Oscar Weber Bilby was the first person to serve a “real” hamburger. On July, 4, 1891, Bilby and his wife celebrated Independence Day with ground beef on homemade buns, at the couple’s farm – just west of present-day Tulsa.

More than a century later, Weber’s Root Beer Stand remains a Tulsa landmark, earning the title of Tulsa’s best burger more than any other restaurant since 1933. But residents of Cherokee County needn’t go all the way to New York, or Texas, or even Tulsa for a great burger.

Nottingham’s Southside Drive-In, 1216 S. Muskogee Ave., boasts a wildly popular – if altogether simplistic – lineup of sandwiched meat patties. According to Chris Nottingham, whose parents own Southside, the favorite menu item is the special: a hamburger with mustard, pickles, onions, tomatoes and lettuce, with fries and a drink.

For the ultimate in Southside extravagance, diners can try their hands at the triple cheeseburger with bacon.

“The triple with bacon weighs about a pound,” said Nottingham. “It’s a monster burger. I’ve never finished one, personally.”

The monster is available with fries and a drink for $5.77 including tax.

Presley’s Burgers, 200 E. Downing St., also dresses ground beef in bacon, but according to Sandra Presley, the mushroom and swiss burger may very well be the favorite.

“We get fresh-pressed patties from Reasor’s every day,” said Presley. “None of our burgers are frozen. They’re always fresh.”

Boom-A-Rang Diner, 116 S. Muskogee Ave., serves up its own version of the mushroom and swiss burger, along with grilled onions, in what is known as the K.V. Burger.

“A lot of people who come in get our burger basket,” said waitress Rhiannon Guinn. “We also have a patty melt that comes with double cheese and grilled onions.”

The most elaborately assembled Boom-A-Rang burger is the Super Chili Cheeseburger Supreme.

“It is a half-pound, open-faced, double cheeseburger, with lettuce, pickles, onions and mustard, covered in chili,” said Guinn. “It’s really messy, but it is really good.”

While each of these restaurants and their unique concoctions will surely leave bellies full and tastebuds satisfied, sometimes the perfect burger calls for the homemade treatment.

“[I like] raw spinach leaves, avocado, sprouts, tomato, onions, mayo and mustard on both sides of the toasted bun,” said former Tahlequah resident Frank Wofford. “After you pat out the patties, spread butter on both sides before you put it on a super-hot grill.”

Melissa Brown elects to omit two otherwise popular toppings from her ideal burger.

“[I like] bacon if I can get it,” she said. “Mayo, maybe a [little] ketchup, lettuce, diced onion, and a nice, thick patty. I’m allergic to tomatoes, and I hate cheese on a burger.”

NSU Telecommunications Administrator Steve Ford prefers a little added spice, to say the least.

“[It’s called] the Atomic Burger,” said Ford. “Poblano pepper and jack cheese on top, chopped jalapenos, mixed in with the ‘real meat’ and habanero sauce to top it off.”

Stacy (Patrick) Pratt, a former Daily Press copy editor, has become versed in the regional inconsistency of the burger itself, since leaving Tahlequah.

“I have learned, here in northern New York, to like barbecue sauce and mushrooms on mine,” she said. “My husband hates hamburgers here because they don’t automatically come with lettuce and tomato. I agree that this lack of vegetables is weird.”

Weird as it might be, the style of the American hamburger has become as diverse and unique as the Americans eating it. Whether it’s Pratt’s barbecue mushroom burger, Boom-A-Rang’s Super Chili Cheeseburger Supreme, or an Atomic Burger straight from the grill of Steve Ford, the star-spangled burger of today is far removed from its Germanic roots of yesteryear.

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