It's not really fair, but every June it's the same: I'm banned by friends and family from backyard barbecues.
Here's what happens. Although as a guest I'm not the cook, at the first site of blood leaching out of burgers on the grill, I reach for the spatula and (much to the shame of my wife and daughter) start screaming, "flip them or they'll be overcooked!"
I need my burgers exactly halfway between rare and medium rare or I get crazy. I piss off waiters all the time when communicating my preferred cooking temperature request. Let's not mention my attempts to serve pink pork, which results in my mom screaming the reformed Jewish mother's battle cry, "You'll get trichinosis!"
So when my brother sent me home after accusing me of trying to feed my 10-year-old niece "raw" meat, I found myself on Father's Day with no place to get a burger. I packed my wife and daughter into the car and drove two hours to Connecticut.
Louis' Lunch in New Haven, the purported inventor of the hamburger dating from the 1890s, was closed. I've been to Louis' several times and they have their own crazy rules, namely no ketchup and no buns. But with Louis' closed, I decided to head north to Meriden for an even more controversial burger at Ted's Restaurant. Since 1959, Ted's has been serving up a unique hamburger style — the steamed cheeseburger, or, as they call them, 'cheeseburgs.'
The critics overwhelmingly love Ted's. The Sterns on Roadfood, Adam Richman of Man v. Food and even Hamburger America guru George Motz are all big fans. Only fellow food blogger Nick Solares, aka Beef Aficionado, is repulsed by the steamed cheeseburger. I had to find out for myself. Ted's is a charming three-booth, 10-seat counter joint with outdoor tables. There are two metallic cabinets sitting on the counter, which are perpetually steaming. Each is filled with little file drawers containing either meat or slabs of white Cheddar. Packages of Vienna (kaiser) rolls line the shelves.
It's fascinating to watch the red raw meat get shaped into rectangles before they're slid into a sauna. What emerges can only be described as "grey matter." Still rectangular in shape, there is fortunately plenty of room for condiments on the large round uncooked out of the package roll. Gooey lava-like melted steamed cheese is then poured over the meat, camouflaging it entirely — almost as if they're ashamed of the color.
For my first burger I opted for just raw onion and a little ketchup (sorry Louis') so as to be better able to judge Ted's hamburg. While the cheese would have enhanced any burger, the meat was not only devoid of color, it was devoid of any discernible seasoning and fairly lacking in flavor.
Having learned my lesson, I ordered another with sautéed onions, pickles, ketchup, and very importantly, salt and pepper, which, laughably, was added to the cheese after the burger was cooked and covered. Nevertheless, the condiments much improved the result.
That grey color still had a pronounced effect on my grey mood although the hash browns, which you can get with or without that cheese, were awesome. My wife, worried I would demand my next burger "rare to medium rare," pretended not to know me and ordered a steamed hot dog with cheese, which retained its lovely pink color even after its visit to the steel sauna. My daughter, perhaps the smartest of all, was quite happy with her order at Ted's: double cheese on a roll, hold the meat.