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Home · Articles · News · Books · The Great American Hamburger
. . . .

The Great American Hamburger

Rick Coates - June 9th, 2008
The Great American
Hamburger
Where would summer be without it?
“Hamburger America”
By George Motz
The Running Press
$19.95



Sure, that old saying bills “apple pie” as American, but nothing says American like a juicy hamburger. Just ask filmmaker and author George Motz. Last month his book, “Hamburger America: A State-By-State Guide To 100 Great Burger Joints,” was released by The Running Press.
Now, usually movies are inspired by a great book, but “Hamburger America” was inspired by the documentary film Motz began in 2001. He had this idea of traveling the country, seeking out the best burger joints. The film focuses on what Motz describes as “eight historically significant hamburger counters in America.”
Released in 2005, the film won three Emmys, 12 Broadcast Design Awards, a Telly Award and a James Beard nomination for its contributions in recognizing America’s most iconic food. The documentary has even become required viewing for students at Princeton University who take the food course.

1,000 BURGER JOINTS
To identify these eight hamburger counters, Motz visited 1,000 hamburger joints over five years. After the success of the film, he was encouraged to write the book.
“The real reason for writing this guide was to bring to the table the vast importance of the all-American burger joint and shine a light on this nation’s favorite food,” said Motz. “Looking into the not-so-distance future I see the McDonald’s hamburger as a reference point for many as to what a hamburger should look and taste like. This is not a good thing.”
Now, Motz doesn’t lay claim to his list as being the “100 Best” -- it’s simply a guide to “100 Great” hamburger joints. “Hamburger America” overall does a great job painting for the reader the cross section of the diverse American burger and the roadside stands, nostalgic diners, mom ‘n’ pop establishments and college town eateries that make them.
“Hamburger” is easy to navigate and doubles as a great coffee table book and travel guide. The burger joints are featured by state, so the reader may flip through the book when traveling to a particular state, to find out Motz recommendations.
Each joint is profiled in a manner that captures the personality and atmosphere of the place in addition to its specialty burger. Motz gets behind the scenes and goes into great detail on the different techniques these diners use to make tasty burgers. For example, at Miller’s Bar in Dearborn, Michigan, Motz lets the reader know that the burger is ground fresh daily beginning at 4 a.m. and that “1,200 burgers are cooked daily on a griddle next to the bar that is no bigger than three feet.”

CHARACTER STUDY
“Hamburger” is loaded with colorful photos. The book has a nice combination of burger photos along with both inside and outside shots of the eateries. Each profiled hamburger joint has the address, phone number, hours and website clearly identified.
At the heart of what makes this book such a great read is that Motz has captured the character and characters of each hamburger joint. The best hamburger places all go beyond having great burgers; they have interesting people who own the eateries, and prepare and serve the burgers.
Here is how Motz captures the personality of Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger in Ann Arbor:
“A visit to Blimpy Burger can be a daunting but rewarding experience. Theatrically, the cooks behind the counter engage in a sort of Soup Nazi berating of the customers who do not follow the cafeteria-style rules for ordering.
‘Just answer the questions I am asking you,’ grill cook Brian told a group of newcomers the first time I visited. In reality, the rules are there to help you, not scare you.”
Motz also does a great job in giving the history of each diner. He includes comical tales of his travels, including his travel companion: his vegetarian wife. Most the of the burgers Motz has in his book are all under $5.
“Bigger and more expensive are not always better,” said Motz. “I tried to select burgers and places that capture the spirit of the American hamburger. I chose places that the reader would want to go and try.”
The book comes with a DVD of Motz award winning documentary, along with a fold-out “hamburger map.”
On average Motz ate five burgers
a day. He suggests that readers not try and do the same. He took breaks and stayed at “hotels that had exercise equipment.” Despite being a number one consumer of burgers, Motz has maintained his slender waistline. He attributes it to “moderation” (if five burgers a day is moderation, what amount is considered gorging?).
Certainly “Hamburger America” will become as much about who is not in the book as who is in. Everybody who loves burgers will have their case and argument for their favorite places. For me, Don’s Drive In, Bubba’s, Mode’s and The Chef’s Inn in Traverse City are all worthy of consideration.
The book does inspire the reader to want to gas up the car and head down the road in search of America’s best burgers. Though with gas prices now costing more per gallon than most burgers, that search might best be made closer to home.
For additional details on the“Hamburger America” book and documentary, check out hamburgeramerica.com.


 
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