Friday, January 05, 2007

Rainy Day Steamed Cheeseburgers

Yesterday I worked. The weather was beautiful- clear skies, temperature in the 50's.

Tomorrow is my Saturday to work (the one out of six I work). The weather is supposed to be even nicer with highs in the lower 60's.

Today was my day off. It rained all day.

Granted it was in the 50's, which is pretty rare in Connecticut in January. I checked- the average high is in the 30's this time of year.

So, what to do with my day off? I didn't want to waste a warm winter's day inside. Outdoor activities were out (or is it in?) with the wet weather. No hiking. No picture taking. No kayaking with the kayak I still haven't bought.

A while back, I read a book I totally loved named Two for the Road by
Jane and Michael Stern. They live in Connecticut but travelled throughout America discovering new eateries before finally exploring some of the restaurants in their home state. One of their discoveries was a little place called Ted's Restaurant in Meriden and their relatively famous steamed cheeseburgers.

The story goes that steamed food became popular in the 1920's because people believed steaming to be healthier than frying food. Apparently, the town of Meriden holds the claim to inventing the steamed cheeseburger around the same time. In a few places in and around Meriden, it's done the same way today as it was then. They put meat and cheddar cheese in separate little trays and place them inside a metal steam box. In a few minutes, the meat is done and the thick, syrupy cheese is poured over it.

So today I decided to take a ride up to Ted's. After a few side trips along the way, I arrived at Ted's about 1:00 o'clock.

When I pulled up to the place, it was tiny. The building is ridiculously small and there is no parking lot- you have to find a spot on the street. I opened the door and was shocked. With the name Ted's Restaurant, I assumed a place with tables and waitresses. Nope. There were a few booths and about seven counter stools where you sit elbow-to-elbow. This place makes a college dorm room look spacious. There was also a line of people getting to-go orders.

I grabbed the last seat at the counter (luckily right in front of the steam box!) and immediately was asked what I wanted. I looked around for menus but there's no such thing there. They have
a sign over the counter listing what's available but it basically comes down to a cheeseburger or a hot dog. I ordered a cheeseburger with onions and lettuce and the homefries with a Pepsi.

One minute later it was all served, the huge burger (about 5" high) and homefries on small, matching paper plates and the can of Pepsi with no glass. It couldn't have looked any better!

The burger was, indeed, like no other. Between the meat and the cheese it was, um, I guess the word would be oozing. I definitely needed both hands. Both the burger and the home fries tasted great.

The best part, though, was watching the burgers get made. The cook was Ted's son, Paul and running the show was Ted's nephew. He takes the orders and calls them out to Paul. Paul puts big hunks of meat and thick sticks of cheddar cheese into the little pans and keeps the steam box loaded with them. The box probably holds over 30 burgers at a time. Every time he puts one in or takes one out, the steam billows around him. When they are done, he dumps them onto waiting buns already with the toppings and the nephew grabs them to serve or wrap up. Peak lunch crowd and nobody was waiting more than a couple of minutes for their take-out orders.

After watching the show for awhile, I paid the bill ($6.25- it seemed like a bargain) and headed home. It wasn't a bad way to spend a dreary, rainy day and I certainly will be back.


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