A few weeks ago, we spend Sunday morning at one of our favorite “monthly” events – Second Sunday. It’s an outdoor antique fair that occupies several blocks under the freeway in the city. We like to rise early, grab breakfast in town and then walk off those pancakes while hunting the many vendors for treasures. Sometimes we find great treasures – at least from our perspective – and other times we leave empty-handed. No matter, it’s a great way to spend the morning as a family.
The weather was perfect – and after spending a few hours at Second Sunday, we just weren’t ready to call it a day. Hubby suggested we take a Sunday drive up into the Foothills (better known locally as the Mother Load in reference to the California Gold Rush). The hills were beautiful – all decked out in spring green. Naturally, I had to visit my favorite store in Jackson – The Biggest-Little Kitchen Store. It’s a cook’s delight – you name it, you can find it there. If they don’t carry it, they will find it for you. Love that place. I’ve been wanted to try my hand at home-made pasta. I picked up a drying rack and ravioli mold. The guys headed over to the candy store up the street in historic Jackson, their favorite stop whenever we are in the area. With our purchases in hand, we asked the young woman at the candy store to recommend a place for burgers. She was happy to direct us to Mel’s Diner, just a block away on the main highway.
Mel’s Diner is actually short for Mel and Faye’s Diner, a Jackson establishment since 1953. It’s a small sit-down diner with counter and dining room seating and an adjoining bar. While the menu is diverse, good old-fashion burgers and shakes are the main attractions. The wait staff is fairly young, and very “peppy” by the expression on Kiddo’s face. Our first dining experience was pleasant all the way around. The service was quick, the burgers delicious – a winning combination. Mel’s served up a Sourdough Burger. It is similar to a Patty Melt, except the grilled onions are diced rather than sliced, the cheese is a cheddar, and the bun is spread with a “sauce” – which is really Thousand Island Dressing. It was good – a little different, but good.
Now I bring this up because yesterday we headed back up into Mother Load Country. We spend the day at the 29th Annual Celtic Fair held in Sonora, California. The fair is the largest and longest running Celtic Fair west of the Mississippi. While there are plenty of vendors selling all things Celtic, the main attraction is the music. There are two main stages with Celtic bands playing all day – twenty or so bands putting on several shows. The energy is awesome. People are dancing and twirling and just having one heck of a good time. Most people come in costume. There are peasants of old, bar-maids and Pirates, men in kilts, English Royalty, Knights, and Roman Soldiers, (yeah, Roman Soldiers – once upon a time what is now England, Scotland and Ireland was under Roman rule). In addition to the costumed attendees, there are strolling minstrels and jugglers – even a few belly dancers. What a hoot!
The drive home took us through Jackson. Hubby and I wanted to stop by Mel’s for a burger, so we made it a point not to fill up too much at the fair, saving room for Mel’s delicious burgers. Maybe it was an off night for Mel’s. Maybe our first visit was not the norm, and what we experienced on our second visit is more typical. All I know is that the experience was the WORST we have ever had. The service was slow. While the hostess took our drink orders right away, it was a long wait before the waitress stopped by the table. Their entire wait staff seemed completely flustered. The young waitress took our order and that was the last we saw of her for about 40 minutes. To add insult to injury, when the burgers arrived they were cold – as in stone cold. And smothered in ketchup. Kiddo’s tacos and fries were hot – but our burgers were so cold we could not eat them. We aren’t sure just what happened, but we suspect that someone grabbed the burgers from the window, and they were served to the wrong table. (Which would explain the ketchup since that’s not how they are supposed to come, as well as the fact that they were so very cold). We made several attempts to flag down our waitress, who seemed to be avoiding us. (She also avoided the table next to us, as they were having issues of their own). When we told her that the burgers were cold, she first offered to have the kitchen “warm” the food. Naturally, we declined the offer. She then offered to take the burgers off the ticket, but said “You’ll still need to pay for your sodas that you drank.” Hum, not the best approach to calming upset customers, but fine. We then asked to speak with a manager. It wasn’t just to complain – managers cannot fix problems if they are unaware of issues. Bad experiences are bad for business. (Hubby and I make it a point to let management know when we’ve had a wonderful experience, too. That type of feedback is just as important – if for no other reason then to let people know they are doing a good job – praise goes a long way, too.) Much to our surprise, the waitress said management was unwilling to come to the floor. That told us how many complaints there must have been. Hubby and I went home hungry. Not a good end to an otherwise wonderful day.
Still craving a Mel’s burger, I decided to make them for dinner tonight. After all, there’s more than one way to get your burger fix – right?
Sourdough Bacon Burgers
1 1/3 lbs Fresh Lean Ground Beef
8 Slices Bacon, cooked crisp
8 Tablespoons Thousand Island Dressing
8 Slices Sharp Cheddar Cheese
1 Large Onion, chopped
2 Tablespoons butter + enough soft butter to lightly butter bread and grill onions
8 Slices of Sourdough Bread
Salt & Pepper to Taste
Shredded Lettuce – optional
Sliced Tomato – Optional
Hamburger Pickle Chips – Optional
Form ground beef into four 1/3 pound oblong patties, slightly larger than sourdough bread slices. Season burgers with salt and pepper, set aside until ready to cook.
Peel and dice an onion. Place in a skillet with just a little butter and cook until tender and just beginning to caramelize. Set aside until ready to use.
While the onions are grilling, fry up the bacon strips on a flat griddle until crisp. Set bacon aside on a paper towel to drain. Wipe down griddle, leaving a small amount of bacon drippings to add flavor to the burgers. Spread onions over griddle in approximately the same shape as the patties. Place formed patties over the onions and press down slightly to encase onions into the burgers. Grill burgers over medium heat until cooked to your liking, about medium, turning mid-way through.
Remove burgers from griddle, top with sliced cheese. Tent loosely (so as to NOT touch the sliced cheese) and hold in a warm oven. Wipe down griddle.
Butter four slices of sourdough bread. Place on griddle, butter side down. Spread Thousand Island Dressing on bread while it is grilling. Place burgers on bread, cheese side up, and top each burger two slices of bacon. Spread Thousand Island Dressing on remaining four sourdough bread slices. Place sourdough bread, Dressing side down on top of burgers. When bottom bread is grilled to a golden brown, flip burgers and continue to grill bread.
Serve with lettuce, tomato and pickle chips on the side if desired.
Naturally, these Sourdough Bacon Burgers go well with French Fries or onion rings on the side.