April 23rd, 2010 by Brian Schwartz – Comments (22)
That big flat kind of burger you used to see a lot of in Tulsa can be a work of art. I remember going to the 15th Street branch of Ron’s when Ron Baber himself was working and watch him cook my burger with the grace of a ballerina. The restaurant looked like a cowshed and it would be jammed with people waiting for a seat. Rich lawyers sitting next to construction workers on lunch break. Ron was a genius cook and he put each burger through about ten steps. Meat was pounded flat, seasoned with salt and spices, coated with lard using a paintbrush, cooked on a superhot grill (500 degrees), steamed under a dome. I like my burgers extra rare and this is much harder to do , so Ron took it as a challenge and he gave me the best burgers I have ever tasted. Now this style of burger is flat and very thin (about a third of an inch thick) and as big as an old 45 RPM record. The meat is succulent and juicy and melts in with the cheese. The best chef in New York could not make a better burger.Then Ron retired and while Ron’s is certainly thriving, the burgers (though quite good) just aren’t the same. I thought it was one of those Proustian taste memories that can never be recaptured. But just last night I found it again at Fat Guy’s Burger Bar.
Fat Guy’s Burger Bar is a spanking new place right next to ONEOK field, the new Drillers stadium. There are lots of big TV screens scattered around the place so if you go there during a Drillers game and decide that the food is better than the game (good choice!), you can still watch the game on TV. At first, things didn’t look good. I ordered my burger — the biggest they had ($7.35) — and asked for it extra rare. Oh, you can only get it well done, the waitress said. My face sagged like a little kid who’s just received proof that there is no Santa. She must have seen that because without a word she ran back and got the chef. He explained that the burgers, in true old Tulsa style, are so thin that they can’t be cooked rare. I told him that Ron Baber told me that they could be done rare, and that that was the toughest test of skill a hamburger chef could ever face. How could any chef resist that challenge? I’ll do my best, he said.
While waiting, I and my friends decided on condiments. That’s a challenge too, there are 15 of them, all included in the burger price, including such delicious oddities as jalapeno relish, grilled pineapple and Sriracha. The Tulsa World, in a big splashy review last week, recommended grilled mushrooms and that pineapple, and I went along, getting some mayo too. And then we had to choose dipping sauces for the fries (which, according to the World, are hand-cut, then blanched, then fried in peanut oil). Lots of choice there too, I settled for roast garlic aioli and malt vinegar aioli. (Aioli is basically a Spanish gourmet mayo.)
And then the waitress came, carrying our orders in big paper bags. (No plates here.) Mine came in a separate bag, carried proudly as if it were a treasure. And treasure it indeed was. Oh the glorious glistening meat, with perfect meaty flavor, a few subtle seasonings added. Lovely and rare, juicy, all a burger should be. Ron redux. Paradise regained.
And for me, that’s the story. I should add that the fries were glorious, and all my friends loved their burgers, thought them fantastic, devoured every crumb despite their protestations that they weren’t really hungry. And those burgers were cooked the regular way. (Not overcooked but what most people consider just right.) After that, I walked over to get a photo of Abears, where I’d eaten a few months before. They still remembered me.
Fat Guy’s Burger Bar
140 N. Greenwood Av Tulsa (there’s also an entrance from the stadium)
11 AM to 8 PM, maybe open later for night Drillers games and they might decide to stay open to 10 PM every day; closed Sunday but might be open when there’s a game
Burgers from $5 to $8.25, fries $4 large can feed four people, also serves chili and even (gasp!) veggie burgers
Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society. www.theomegasociety.com
I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola.
“A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.