On Saturday last, while tending the dying coals of a yard sale outliving its useful purpose, I began to peruse the latest issue of Garden & Gun. Feeling little compunction and laissez faire for the luck of the draw I flipped the magazine open and right there, through the wonder of the non-fickle finger of fate, was an article about hamburgers - In particular, Cuban fritas that possibly fostered the progressive heritage of some styles of the American hamburger. Famous author-foodie, John T. Edge shared his thoughts and preferences for burgers on the American scene and concluded that his favored versions are Miami based - present day.
From the early twentieth century, fritas served up by Habana street vendors, consisted of shredded beef topped with potato sticks and drowned in tomato sauce held by a bun of fresh Cuban bread. These days the hamburger version of south Florida comes smothered in everything from fries to fried eggs and plantains, soft, sweet bread or tostones (hard/crunchy). Contemporary saucing will range from Mojo to salsa caliente and most likely in a man cave somewhere you could find one or two ways to cancel out your taste buds with ghost peppers!
As I am want to do, my old south nostalgic recollections are fueled by their relation to the senses that are still recognizable in my time besotted mind. That would be centered on things that I used to do well, or thoroughly enjoyed, or both, that I can now only ruminate about. I suppose sex should be thrown in for good measure too. However, its slice of the life experience pie chart is barely discernable these days. And I do not recall ever eating a hamburger, or a taco even, while having sex.
My youngest daughter, “Jerrin the Tango dancer” and I are headed for Cuba this winter. On my “don’t miss” list will be jazz, Mariel Harbor, fritas, ceviche ( the original), Vat 16 rum – just a shot - and perhaps a few of Havana Club.
Mr.Edge mentions pimento cheese burgers of Georgia – South Carolina roots. My best encounter here was at a social experiment in the ghost town shopping district of Bamberg, South Carolina. I have “people” there who have farmed for six generations. They are better, and funnier, than blood kin. And, they don’t work at it.
Anyway, at the time the only business being done in downtown Bamberg was the Peoples Grocery, a Jiffy Stop self serve, gas station and the social adventure I just mentioned. The nearest movie theatre and/or any semblance of entertainment was up the road about fifty miles.
Jimmy John inherited some money and decided to open a restaurant, bar, and dance hall. He spent a couple of thousand on an old dress shop and got a mini bottle, on premise, consumption license. A two ounce mini of Jack Daniels cost $2.50, plus the mixer. A shooter of Grants Standfast scotch only cost $1.50 because it didn’t sell worth a damn until my friend Boudreaux and I noticed the single malt elixir hiding on the top shelf behind the bar. After that bad turn of events the Grants turned a profit for the house at $3.00. Jimmy didn’t charge us for the club soda; we were the only ones that drank it anyway. A big spender’s discount.
Jimmy John’s place was named by its patrons before he could do it himself. It was known far & wide as the No Name Place. Jimmy opened Friday nights and that was monopolized by families, as was breakfast on Saturday.
Come Saturday lunch time, things got serious and rambunctious. It was Fall. Hunters, football fans, farmers, truck drivers, and gussied up women doing shots and depth charges.
Lunch, showcased the complicated mind of Joe Ed Thataway, cook/chef extrordinaire. His first menu big hit was the pimento cheeseburger with everything, including big yard stink onions topped off with Durkees cut to a liquid state with Crystal hot sauce and tamed with a smidgen of sugar. The tomatoes in the burger changed weekly from regular ripe to fried green, my favorite version.
Underage customers, poor accounting and the fading novelty, took the gloss off this rose right after Thanksgiving. It was a good run but Baptist blood pressures needed the relief and they got it sooner than they thought they would.
There is always hope, but I doubt for me that there is a burger that could ever equal the simplistic genius of Louis Pinnisi’s “secret recipe” hamburger. The Pinnisi’s lived across the street from us in Gainesville. He had two boys. Fred and Tommy. Louis immigrated from Sicily in 1922. He started in the ice cream business and in 1928 opened Louis’ Lunch on SE 2nd Street, in a white stucco building he built himself with $1,500 dollars he borrowed. He got the idea of hamburgers from a couple of women at a fundraiser party who sold burgers for a nickel. He thought about those and felt he could do better. He settled on his mother’s recipe for meatballs. Of course, he had to experiment some to get from a meatball to a patty, but he did and then he stuck to his beginnings and cooked the burgers in a cast iron skillet, too- He and his sons did it that way for 82 years Louis or his boys were faithful to the secrecy imposed by him regarding the recipe. When I moved to South Carolina I would come back to Gainesvlle, and the first thing I would do was go down to Louis’ and buy a whole case of patties from Tommy.
Swift had a processing plant in Jacksonville and Louis was getting the secret burgers made on their assembly line. Everybody pestered Louis and the boys for that recipe. The closest I got was “hamburger, pork, breading, and spices.” No portions, no hint. The breading explained the crispy outside and moist inside, resulting from cooking in oil in the skillet. That was enough to satisfy my curiosity. However, something else was truly secret in this culinary mystery.
I had the genuine article. I had a seasoned skillet. I had watched the Pinnisi’s cook the burgers over and over again. Hell, I watched like watching a magician do a trick that you loved and craved the solution for. It didn’t make any difference. There was no slight of hand either. My Louis hamburger didn’t quite measure up to the diner created original article.
C’est la vie! And, too short to sweat the details.
Louis’ like all good things of earlier birth, died on its own footprint from the lousy economy and main drag fast food. His oldest, Fred, was shot dead in a robbery in 1993. Tommy took over and ran the business until it closed in October of 2010. He was 77 Louis lived to be 106 years old.
While writing this my mouth watered in a continuously profuse tribute. Here’s to great things, small, that are lost in the bigger panorama of the universal life flow.
I Said It Too
I actually like the screen version of Marco Rubio. It's the real life complete picture that kills it for me. I've talked about his financial indiscretion and his tendency to blow in the wind of popularity when it comes to policy.
Daniel Ruth is a Tampa Times columnist who comments on things politic and this recent column is a perfect example of Mr Ruth's acumen and my amatuer take on the same subject.
Click below for the complete article.
Rubio's Financial Wizardry
Don’t believe something just because you didn’t read it in the papers. Wait until you haven’t seen it on television.