Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Magoo's

Man, this entry is almost a year late! Sorry about that, Burger Fans. And now, without further ado, let me take you back to...

Sept. 28th, 2007

Aw yeah, head out on the highway, looking for excitement-- I mean, HAMBURGERS. My wife and I are being piloted through Toronto’s permanent rush hour by our good friend Mags and his little baby Emily, heading West across the city, past construction cranes and condos, heading ever onwards toward that Hamburger At The End of The Rainbow.

We drive on, past the giant windmill spinning down by the lake, past the huge crackling Canadian flag at the ol’ Exhibition grounds, past the landscaped ads on the highway embankment that used to be made of carefully groomed flowers but are now made of grass and gravel.

It’s a beautiful end-of-summer day, the sunlight bouncin’ off the lake, leaves on the trees still mostly green but some gold and red starting to sneak in along the edges. We veer off the highway onto the South Kingsway Exit and drive through The Kingsway, all Dallas-wide streets and huge stone houses. This is where Mags grew up and he points out the sights as we drive along: the ol’ sledding hill, his childhood school.

Then we pull into a Dallas-style strip mall and step out into the sunshine parking lot and breathe in the smell of fresh grilled meat-- oh yeah, that’s a positive sign. We have arrived at Magoo’s.

Mags used to work here, back in the teenage years, and he tells me a bit about the background of this particular burger joint. It’s owned by two brothers and a sister and even though they’ve been approached many times about franchising, they’ve always said no. With one restaurant, they have greater control over the quality of the burgers. Sounds good, I think, turning from the display of sponsored sports teams on the wall to take in Magoo’s bright primary colors: yellow and blue walls, yellow tables, red chairs. Behind the counter is what I’ve come to think of as The Burger Statement: “In the interest of both your good health and good taste, all of our Magoo Burgers are prepared daily on the premises using only the freshest 100% lean ground beef and are always well cooked unless requested otherwise.” I order a straight-up burger. Here at Magoo’s the condiments come later, Harvey’s-style: after your burger is cooked you tell the Burger Maker what condiments you want and the Burger Maker adds them on. Mags tells me the onion rings are good and damn, they do look pretty tasty so I order some of those as well. I take my receipt, stake out a table and wait for my number to be called.

Little Emily is laughing at the grill and she smiles and grabs my arm as I go up to condimentify (ATTENTION WEBSTER’S DICTIONARY! BRAND-NEW WORD ALERT!) my burger. I opt for mustard, red onion, pickle and lettuce. Lettuce? What am I, a rabbit?

I get my foil-wrapped burger on a blue tray, cart it back to the table and crack it open. Toasted sesame seed bun-- good, good-- and the burger looks nicely grilled. It smells damn delicious and I’m not waiting another minute. THE FIRST BITE floods my brain with grilled meat goodness. The pickles... Strubbs Pickles! Aieeee! Ain’t no such animal in Dallas, TX. The onion rings, however, are perfect: golden brown and crispy. (Man, I need to think of some more adjectives to describe onion rings. “Fantastically Ringy.” Well, I’ll keep thinking.)

Then Mags, my wife and Emily kick back and dig on burgers and rings and ice cream, Emily smiling huge in her pink zip-up sweatshirt, laughing as she rips her napkin into shreds.

Friday, 23 May 2008

The Rosedale Diner

Tuesday Sept. 11, 2007

Man, I’ve been dreading writing this entry.

That morning I was awoken by a phone call. My buddy Chris Turner was on the other end, and at first I was happy to hear from him.

“Turner! How’s it going?” And other happy small talk.

“Have you turned on your T.V. this morning?”

Instantly I knew something was wrong. “No-- what’s going on?”

“Turn on your T.V.”

So I did. Just in time to see the second plane hit the World Trade Center.

See, here’s where words fall apart. How can I convey the shock, the awful sinking feeling of that horrible morning? Staring at the billowing smoke-- the thousands of pieces of flapping paper-- the tiny ant-like dots that were people plunging to their deaths. The fear, the uncertainty-- reports of more hijacked planes coming over the airwaves-- newscasters already chattering about Bin Laden. How did they know so quickly?

I turned off the TV and did what everyone else was doing: I called my family. Everyone was safe and accounted for, Thank God. Then I went back to the television, staring at the screen, stomach seizing up with a tight and awful feeling.

My friend Anne called me up: she, and so many others, were leaving work. The downtown core was emptying: suddenly every building was a potential target. She came over to meet me and we took a cab up to her place. The cabbie was an Arab and I remember wondering if he was a terrorist and instantly I felt ashamed of myself for thinking that. Outside the grocery store near Anne’s house a man with a Star of David necklace accosted us and began spitting hatred. It was Syria’s fault, he said. He looked like a snake, an angry cobra. My stomach sank farther.

That night Anne and I made dinner and watched Bush’s speech on T.V. My buddy Deans called me up and said, “Dude, Afghanistan is f@@ked.”

I remember how strange it was, the following week, to look up and see no planes in the sky. And I remember the buzzsaw sound of the first plane I saw when the flight ban was lifted and how it sounded so wrong and how it looked like Death.

And I remember the outpouring of support. Walking around Toronto it seemed as though every store had the American flag in the window. I went by myself to the memorial service at Toronto’s city hall because I felt the need to grieve with other Americans. A few days after the attack I watched on TV as the Queen’s Guards at Buckingham Palace led with the American national anthem rather than the British for the first time in history. At that moment I loved Britain and The British people, even as I watched with tears in my eyes. I’m crying even as I type this, now, six years later.

That same dull ache, that same punched-in-the-gut feeling came flooding back as I stared at my computer screen and realized I had unwittingly scheduled a Burger Quest stop for today, Sept. 11, 2007. I feel sick to my stomach. Time for a burger.

My wife Emma and I head out into the fading summer, lurching along beneath gray skies, heading up to meet our friend Hema at Summerhill Station. For some reason the train is packed at 11:38 on a Tuesday morning. Is Toronto now like Mexico City with its never-ending rush hour? Not quite, not quite yet.

Hema and Emma and I step into The Rosedale Diner, which is unlike any other diner I’ve ever been to. This is a Rich Person’s Diner, in a rich area of the city. Sitting next to us are The Ladies Who Lunch, sipping white wine and dripping with gold. I’m struck with the sudden realization: there are no diner smells, no snap and sizzle of the grill. The kitchen is somewhere else, hidden, tucked out of sight.

I peruse the paper menu and find my burger. “The Organic Rosedale Burger. Toronto’s Best! Our Very Famous Ground Organic Chuck, with Frites.” Frites? FRITES? They’re called ‘Freedom Fries,’ boy, and don’t you forget it. Frites. La de dah, Mr. Snooty Burger.

The burger is summoned from the hidden kitchen and I blink. Burger looks good (maybe a little small), nicely grilled, but it’s served inside a pita. A pita! What the @#$%?

Hema looks over and says, “That’s not very Texas, is it?”

I shake my head sadly. “Not even close.”

THE FIRST BITE: tasty, beefy char-grilled goodness. Grilled meat taste lingering pleasantly on the tongue.

Hema says, “It IS a pretty good burger,” and I have to agree. This burger tastes like a burger should: charred beef. I am pleasantly surprised. The “Frites”, on the other hand, are shoestring-thin potatoes mixed with burned fried onions. Not good. Emma has a smoked salmon omelet that turns out to be overcooked. We leave the diner, heading out into the now-bright day. My stomach is full and I am with friends and loved ones but I am still searching for a little taste of America, of Texas, of home.