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Steak ‘n Shake: Frisco Melt

By • Aug 24th, 2010 • Category: Burger Blog

Wanna start a food fight?  Wander into an online chat room full of hamburger connoisseurs and announce in all caps that your favorite kind of burger is a patty melt.  Then sit back and watch World War III erupt.

Die-hard foodies will get downright violent in telling you that a patty melt is NOT a cheeseburger. They’ll point out that an authentic patty melt has just four elements, all of them non-negotiable: a thin beef patty, Swiss cheese, sauteed onions, and rye bread.  That’s it, plain and simple.  No deviation whatsoever allowed.  And it must be griddled, not toasted.  To the true patty melt purist, even the shape of the patty is of utmost importance.  (It must be oval to match the rye bread; a round patty means an automatic fail.)

So what’s the thing that pushes the patty melt over the burger fence for these folks?  Rye bread instead of a bun?  That the whole thing is griddled instead like a grilled cheese sandwich, only with a layer of hamburger in it?  Seems like a pretty fine line, doesn’t it?  I mean, if we disqualify a burger as such because of non-bun bookends, then the Luther Burger, currently enjoying a sweet resurgence on the summer fair circuit, would be out.  So would McDonald’s wraps.  Same with the Double Coronary.  Sure, those items may stretch the definition of “burger,” but I don’t know many people who believe they need their own dedicated food group.

Yet, sitting down at my local Steak ‘n Shake recently, I noticed that they have a “Steakburger” menu, along with a separate “Melts” menu.  The SNS Patty Melt is 2 Steakburgers, American cheese, and caramelized onions grilled on rye bread.  “Rogue cheese variety” notwithstanding, it’s as close to the tried-and-true patty melt as you get.  But there’s a pretty devoted following for the next item on the menu, the Frisco Melt:

One Steakburger is topped with American, one is topped with Swiss.  Then comes a layer of Frisco sauce, and it’s all sandwiched between pieces of sourdough.  Patty Melt Nation flips out about the presence of American cheese and the use of sourdough.  The sauce, too, is the cause of great debate. Plenty of old-school diners who do a proper patty melt will slather it with Thousand Island or even Russian dressing, even though the loyalists opine that the use of any condiments is detrimental to the patty melt’s already-perfect taste.  (Most online copycat recipe sites estimate Steak ‘n Shake’s Frisco sauce to be a 2:1 ratio of Thousand Island dressing to either French dressing or ketchup.)

What I know is that the Frisco Melt is a tasty little sammie. Put off by way too much bun on my last Steak ‘n Shake burger, I welcomed the flattened sourdough toast, which seemed much more proportionally-appropriate to the double Steakburgers.  I liked the interplay of the two cheeses, with the American and Swiss working well together in a kind of United-Nations-of-Cheesy-Goodness.  And while I’m generally not a big condiment fan, the Frisco sauce provided just the right tangy kick.  I’ve always been a Frisco Melt fan, and this latest visit reminded me why.

Maybe it’s not a true Patty Melt.  Some will argue it’s not even a legitimate cheeseburger. Call it whatever you want.  But serve it up with some skinny fries and a tall bell glass of Coke-with-a-shot-of-vanilla, and I’m a happy guy.

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