One of the problems with being a “legend” and lasting 50 or more years, is……you’ve lasted 50 or more years, and you’re damned tired, it’s easy to rest on your reputation, and who can blame you for wanting to squeeze a few more bucks out of your place for your golden years?
But I do like it when there are “two legends”, across town, or down the street, and locals are passionate about one or the other being the best.
Such is the case in my home town with “Deluxe Coney Island“, and “Original Coney Island.” (No question, Deluxe rules!). Such is the case in El Reno, OK, the “birthplace of the onion burger.” In fact, if you find yourself on Route 66, in the spring of any year, El Reno is the place to be in May for Fried Onion Burger Day. I swear. A giant onion burger is cooked and served up to the curious, tourists, and locals alike.
So what is a fried onion burger? Well, at Robert’s Grill, around since before grills were invented, the cook takes a handful of fresh ground beef, slaps it on the flattop, and smashes it once with a spatula. Sprinkle a mess of raw white onions on top, and smash the shit out of it, so it’s a thin patty, awash with onions, sizzling at a high temp, so that the edges are going to get crispy. And I like that. Let it cook for quite awhile, or at least until the blood is coming thru the topside. Flip it once, so the onions are ‘neath it, and place the bun on top to warm. Flip again, slab o’cheese-food. Counterman turns, asks “mayo or mustard.” “Mustard,” sez I.” “Pickle?” sez he. “Aye” sez I. I splurged and ordered a side of tots.
I paid (“make it an even $5,” sez he,) and retired to my usual preferred dining spot on these outings, the trunk of my car. Small problem. Oklahoma, whether it’s truly OK or not, has a serious fly problem. Has anyone pointed this out? There are hordes of flies everywhere I stopped (no, they were not following me), so al fresco dining (who’s he?) was out of the question for the Robert’s parking lot. I would have sped out of town, but I was on “E”, so I packed my hamburg sandwich and tots and moved a block away to the gas station, planning to dine and gas, but the card readers on the pumps were taped over, so I had to go into the station twice. Gassed, but not yet gassy, I drove across the street to the parking lot of Johnnie’s, another place in El Reno that was built by the Egyptians, soon after they finished the pyramids.
I intended to do a side-by-side comparison, after polishing off the Robert’s onion burger, which pretty much tasted like a giant White Castle, but grilled, instead of steamed. I will admit tho, for being grocery store beef and buns, I did like Robert’s version of the o-burger.
Walking into Johnnie’s, the only midday customer, I spied the menu board and out slipped, “two coneys to go, please.” My eyes wandered right. $6.50 for two? WTF? Are you making the weenies in-house here?
They were ready in a sec, of course, the chili was meaty and sweet, like a bbq sauce, and the tiny diced onions were awash in a mustard/vinegar concoction. It was a sweet and sour dog, and I quickly soured on it. I thought that maybe the frank itself would have given the sandwiches some redemption, but scraping off the good, picking out the dog, and taking a bite, revealed nothing more than a standard 10/lb, “mixed meat” hot dog. Could have even been a poultry one. No knack, no flavor. The upside was I was happy I didn’t order the burger, which no doubt would have been a frozen puck from Sam’s Club.
Oh, I know. I didn’t hit the “popular place”, but then I rarely do.
El Reno Onion Burger