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Hamburger America: Burger Porn on DVD

By • Oct 30th, 2010 • Category: Burger Blog

George Motz never set out to be “the burger guy.” He’s said so in interviews.  Motz considers himself a filmmaker, but a curious thing happened once he finished shooting a documentary on great burger joints.  Hamburger America premiered on the Sundance Channel in 2005.  That spawned a book of the same name, considered today to be one of the bibles of the burger biz by chowhounds and road-trippers everywhere.  Today, Motz maintains a popular burger-centric website, and will publish Hamburger America 2 in 2011.  So, like it or not, George Motz has become “the burger guy.”

Lucky for him (and us), Motz enjoys the role.  He’s clearly a burger-lover of the highest degree, a fact that comes through loud and clear in his 2004 documentary, which I tossed into the DVD player on a recent got-the-house-to-myself-for-a-few-hours afternoon for a hi-def foodie fix.  (Hey, some dudes dig girl-on-girl action; I go for porn of the cheese-on-beef variety.)

At just 54 minutes, it’s a quick watch.  But in that time, Motz takes us from New England to the Great Southwest to introduce us to 8 stellar burgers.  A few are familiar names to cheebiephiles, like the steamed cheeseburgers at Ted’s Restaurant in Meriden, CT… or the famed green chile cheeseburger at the Bobcat Bite in Santa Fe, NM:

A couple are more off the beaten path, like the peanut butter-slathered Guberburger from the Wheel Inn Drive-In in Sedalia, MO… the half-pound Longhorn burger served up on a 7-inch bun at The Meers Store in Oklahoma… and the butter-drenched Butter Burger at Solly’s Grille just outside Milwaukee (conveniently located next door to a heart hospital).  Other joints are literally underground, like the Billy Goat Tavern, hidden under an overpass in Chicago.  Never heard of it?  Well, you’ve seen their schtick.  It’s the real-life inspiration for SNL’s classic “Cheezborger, cheezborger, cheezborger!” skit.

There are some fascinating stories, too.  Like Dyer’s in Memphis, where they deep-fry your burger in grease that hasn’t been changed or replaced in over 90 years.  Sure, they top off the grease as needed, but they’ve never chucked it out and started over in almost a century of operation.  In fact, when the restaurant moved to a new location, the precious grease was poured into 5-gallon buckets and given a police escort across town to the new kitchen.

Motz’s camera also spends time at Ground Zero for hamburger history, Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, CT, the establishment that invented the hamburger in 1900.  Louis’s Lunch still serves them on toast they way they have for over 100 years (because burger buns obviously hadn’t been invented yet), and they still grill them up (vertically!!!) inside the three original cast-iron broilers, which were made in 1898.  Yeah… during the William McKinley administration.

Watching Hamburger America, you won’t get any recipes… although maybe you pick up an idea or two if you’re so inclined.  Motz never appears on-camera and never rates the burgers or tells you how they taste.  That’s for you to wonder about… and truthfully, it probably doesn’t matter anyway.  In fact, Hamburger America isn’t even a film about burgers.  Not really. It’s about the people who make them and love them.  It’s less “I’d love to try that burger” and more “I’d love to go to THAT place and sit next to THAT guy and hear HIS stories… and try that burger.”  There’s a huge difference, and George Motz gets that.  He is, after all, the burger guy.

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