Classic Indiana: The Breaded CheeseburgerBy Todd • Aug 9th, 2010 • Category: Burger Blog
A recent family vacation had me “Back Home Again in Indiana” (native Hoosiers and anyone who has attended the Indy 500 over the past 30 years now has Jim Nabors’ velvety baritone voice stuck in their heads – you’re welcome) for a couple weeks of R&R.
My trips back to Indiana- like most homecomings- are typically filled with as much nostalgia as I can pack in: seeing family and friends, taking trips down Memory Lane, revisiting sites from my past. Not that long ago, all I wanted was to move away… and now when I go back, I revel in all the little things that are unique to the place I call home.
One Midwestern tradition that’s hung on through the decades is the root beer stand. Not “faux-retro” like Sonic, these largely-independent, often-dilapidated mom-and-pop drive-ins are the real deal.
They’re not retro because a design team came in and made it look that way during the last week of construction; they’re retro because they’re really damn old. This roadside sign would fetch an eBay fortune as “vintage Americana,” but here, it’s just their sign.
That’s the B-K Root Beer Stand in Warsaw, Indiana, a city of 13,000 in the middle of the state’s North Central lake country. Despite the “Best Kind” notation on the sign, B-K really stood for “Bergerson and Kenefick,” the 1940s-era founders of a small chain of such stands in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio.
At one time, there were 238 of them, according to records. But now, they’re few and far between in a world where McDonald’s isn’t satisfied until they’re selling wraps and smoothies on every street corner and Burger King has cold beer and free Wi-Fi. These places struggle to survive, each a tiny oasis of remember-when, where the owner himself takes your order with a pencil and notepad when you roll your car window down and brings your food on a metal tray that rests on the glass.
The centerpiece of this lunch was another Midwestern classic, the kind of menu item that you’ll only find in the right kind of place. Among cheeseburger fanatics, it’s practically a Great White Whale, an elusive mystery that exists in fables but is ever seen by just a lucky few. Ladies and gentlemen, now presenting… the breaded cheeseburger.
The pork tenderloin sandwich is Indiana’s unofficial state dish, a plate-sized piece of pig that’s pounded paper-thin, breaded, deep-fried, and served right-out-of-the-oil hot with pickles and mayo (or mustard) on an absurdly-small bun. The breaded cheeseburger is its close cousin.
A thin cheebie is given that same crispy coating to seal in the cheese, which turns into a molten liquid just a tad cooler than fresh magma. Biting into one end of the burger often causes the back side to rupture, resulting in a fiery fromage freefall. It burns like hell, even through standard-issue cargo shorts.
The taste is a strange thing to describe. Very hot and juicy, since the breading seals everything in. But it’s small and relatively thin, and that can make the overall experience feel like a letdown, since we’ve all been numbed by the industry-wide Big Badass Burger Syndrome. My breaded cheeseburger was a nice little nosh that I enjoyed with a not-quite-frosty mug of handcrafted root beer…
And nothing more. Or so I thought. I mean, honestly, it didn’t taste discernibly different from a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich… just a lot smaller. So what’s the big deal, right? But damn if I didn’t find myself literally craving another one within the hour. Blinded by nostalgia or not, THAT’S the mark of a good cheeseburger.