Normally I try to avoid writing about made-up food holidays, but National Cheeseburger Day on September 18 is a little more relevant this year with the recent passing of Jimmy Buffett, songwriter of the ultimate elegy to food: “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”
Lots of restaurants claim to have served the cheeseburger that inspired the song, including Cabbage Key Inn & Restaurant on the tiny island of Cabbage Key, Florida. I dined there last year, right before Hurricane Ian ravished the island and, indeed, had their cheeseburger. While it was delicious, I don’t believe it’s Jimmy’s burger because it had American cheese on it, not the Muenster Jimmy said would be nice.
Cheeseburgers are paradise for many Americans traveling abroad who grow weary of the local food and crave the Americanness of a cheeseburger, even if it’s influenced by local flavors.
My friend Lance Koppa waxed poetic about a burger he had while visiting family in Tuscany, Italy.
Though the menu contained mostly regional Italian specialties, “I elected to try the hamburger because the toppings included truffle and crispy bacon.” Lance told me. “Sounds interesting, right? In our family, I’m known as the one who will order a hamburger at a restaurant that specializes in so many other fabulous dishes. It’s all good; I’ll take that label any day.”
Sounds more than interesting. It sounds divine.
Cynthia Drake, a travel writer friend, also sought the comfort of an American cheeseburger while abroad. “I had just spent a month living in Seville (Spain) and though I had some fantastic food there, I became very homesick and just NEEDED a burger. We were in Madrid and spotted the Hard Rock Café. I swear that was against everything I stood for as a travel writer, but that bacon cheeseburger was the best darned cheeseburger of my life.”
I also heard countless stories of travelers who succumbed to the temptation of McDonalds and Burger King while abroad. One friend’s daughter bought a Happy Meal in Italy and got a knob of Parmesan Cheese instead of a cookie. Another friend was deeply offended by the seedy, spicy Germanic mustard slathered on his Whopper in Bratislava.
America has some pretty righteous cheeseburgers besides the one in Cabbage Key. Minetta Tavern, an upscale bistro in New York, is well-known for its $30 Minetta Burger, with cheddar and caramelized onions. I recently had the best burger of my life at The Cherry Cricket in Denver. It included white cheddar, a house-made chile relleno, and the chef’s Denver-style pork green chili. If you find yourself in Milwaukee, go to Kopp’s Frozen Custard, which serves a salad-plate-sized burger made with seasoned beef and American cheese. Simple and perfect.
Dallas is no slouch when it comes to burger joints. Fellow food writer Sarah Blaskovich proclaimed Burger Schmurger the best spot in Dallas in a recent Dallas Morning News article. Other friends push “their” burger spots that include predictables like Maple & Motor, Hunky’s, Liberty Burger, and one of my faves, Rodeo Goat. Parkies are loyal lots who swear that there’s nothing better than Chip’s, unless it’s Burger House or Goff’s.
Less obvious choices to celebrate National Cheeseburger Day are José on Lovers which just launched a lunch-only Fundido Burger that uses a short rib/brisket blend, triple cheese fundido, poblano rajas, and elote crema; Parigi, which has daily burger specials such as a burger with fennel slaw and cotswold cheese, and Il Bracco which sways Italian with aged provolone, Calabrian chilies, arugula, fennel, and red onions topping the burger.
Burgers can be an edible memorial, too. Knife Steakhouse Chef John Tesar named a burger after his late friend and food writer Joshua Ozersky, which happens to be Knife’s bestselling burger.
The most expensive burger in town might be Crown Block’s Rosewood Ranches Wagyu Burger at $29, which sounds like a better deal than Hillstone’s overpriced $21 burger. I’d gladly have a $6.59 ShackBurger over either of those options.
If you’re a vegetarian and you’re still reading this, thank you. For the record, I have never eaten imitation beef, and I never will. However, I will write a story on veggie burgers someday, so reach out with your favorites.
Cheeseburgers are, indeed, worthy of a national holiday. If I missed your favorite burger place, please drop it in the comments so I can check it out. In the meantime, Happy National Cheeseburger Day, whether you’re having it in paradise or Preston Hollow.