Happy Birthday to Me

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Well, today is my birthday and not one of you people even sent me a lousy card. Thanks a lot, readers! Just kidding. You really should have sent PRESENTS—expensive presents. Just kidding again. Okay, I’m being funny (sort of) but I’m not kidding about today being my birthday. It really is, honestly. Having to write a column on my birthday doesn’t thrill me much. What I should have done was write my column a few days ago so that I would have had my birthday off but I didn’t plan it out very well. Even at my advanced age I still don’t plan things out very well. So here I am, typing on my birthday instead of out having a good time somewhere.
Of course the phrase “having a good time” is relative. At one time it might have meant going out and cavorting with young voluptuous maidens ‘till all hours. You know, wine, women and song, and all that jazz. Today “Having a good time” means going out for a really good hamburger. And speaking of which, I intend to do just that in a couple of days. My precious sister will be taking my wife and I out for my birthday lunch and I’ve decided that I want to go for a burger this year, a really good one. But where to go? That’s the rub!

‘That means just the right amount of bread—not too much, not too little—and it better be fresh and tasty…’

I have my favorites, the usual suspects, so to speak. Tommy’s for a great chili burger and In-N-Out, the best of the chain fast food burgers, but there are others. The Smoke House has a terrific charbroiled hamburger (with good French fries). Gary Bric’s Ramp is another good bet for a tasty burger, and the guacamole burger at the Granada Mexican restaurant is really good too. Over in Glendale, Damon’s Steakhouse has a burger well worth the drive but I was there about three times during the holidays, so I think I’ll give it a rest.
Another good burger joint is really a bar in a shopping center in Sherman Oaks called Pineapple Hill Saloon and Grill. Sometimes you can find truly great burgers at a bar and grill. The Pineapple Saloon is a comfortable place where you can get a great tasting burger, fries and a cocktail in a nice, cozy atmosphere. The only draw back for me, personally, is the fact that this place feels the need (as so many other places do today) to have at least seven television sets playing all at once whether anyone is actually watching them or not. This is an intrusion and an assault that I strongly resent but that’s a rant for another column on another day.
Over the hill, there’s the Apple Pan in Westwood, always a wonderful destination for a great burger and a slab of pie. And on 6th Street, there is (or there used to be, not sure if it is still in existence since I haven’t gotten back to it in a few years) a somewhat famous burger joint called Cassell’s, which specialized in prime beef and offered a cold salad buffet which was included in the price of every burger. The ambience is nothing, sort of like early butcher shop with the sterile white walls and a long counter. The burgers were good and unique, which brings me to another important thing for a burger to be considered really great: it must taste like no one else’s burger.
For a hamburger to be one of the great ones, it should have that special grilled taste, a little greasy but flavorful. And the bun has to be good too. That means just the right amount of bread—not too much, not too little—and it better be fresh and tasty to complement the meat. Constructing a great burger is a delicate balance of the four important ingredients: A) meat; B) bread; C) sauce; and D) all the other stuff.
If one of the four ingredients overpowers the others, it can destroy what potentially can be a great burger. In some rare cases, if one of the ingredients is incredibly outstanding, it can actually make up for the lack of greatness in the other ingredients. For example, Tommy’s chili does that for the Tommy burger.
When I began this column, I thought if I wrote about all the great burger places it might help me make up my mind as to which one I feel like going to this week but I still don’t have a clue. Hmmm.
And then there’s always Pink’s for a chili dog or Langer’s Deli for a pastrami sandwich. Or Johnny’s pastrami, or Art’s Deli in Studio City, or…

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