For what it’s worth, here’s what I think I know about the story of the fried onion burger: It was originally created at a diner during a time of economic hardship when meat was pricey and onions weren’t. So, a thin burger patty was covered in a large amount of shaved onions which were smashed down into the meat while it cooked, charring the beef and caramelizing the onions, and lending the whole more substance. Like many dishes born out of times of hardship, it had fans who kept it going far past the point when it more or less stopped being necessary. Now, there are festivals devoted to it, and it’s a popular item on the fair circuit.
Or at least that’s the way I remember the story. And while I do dig carnival food, I have to admit that I had never tried an onion burger, or fried onion burger, or onion fried burger, or any of the other variations or names. My fair food consumption is pretty habitual at this point: Pronto Pups, fresh lemonade, candy apples, funnel cakes, whatever the latest deep-fried thing that shouldn’t have been deep-fried is…my point is, I usually restrict myself to things that you don’t generally just find in any restaurant, so I tend to leave the burgers alone. Then someone decided to open a restaurant in Meridian that showcased this interesting little regional/carnival curiosity, and now that I could try it at my leisure rather than trying to decide between it and a gyro or something, it finally seemed like the right time.
The first time I visited Shake ‘n Take (side note here: if you want to look at anything other than the front page, use something besides Internet Explorer), it was more or less the result of a mental coin toss. My dining companion and I couldn’t choose between burgers and barbecue. Of course both the places I was eyeballing were places that neither one of us had ever eaten at…I’m pretty sure my insistence on always trying new eateries and constantly taking pictures of everything are the two things that annoy people the most when dining with me…anyway, the debate had been going on for about ten minutes with no resolution in sight when I finally found myself full of conviction to try the burger place. So, we packed ourselves into the car and headed out.
Shake ‘n Take has been open for some time now, and I can only assume they have a pretty loyal customer base since they certainly aren’t in a high traffic area. They’re located in a strip mall on Ustick Road, between Meridian and Linder Roads. Just keep your eyes out for a kinda fancy-looking Chevron station on the north side of the road, and the strip mall is across from it. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see a bunch of window paintings in BSU colors and a monster truck.
|No, I wasn’t kidding about the monster truck|
This place surprised me from the get-go. First of all, it’s a lot smaller than I was expecting. As in four tables and maybe a dozen bar stools. Secondly, it’s literally wallpapered in Broncos stuff. To be honest, a lot of the time that kind of pisses me off because it’s such obvious pandering, but I get the feeling the owner is one of the sincere fans. Everywhere are calendars, posters, autographed pictures…and the monster truck thing is serious too. After you eat, you can buy high grade fuel additives kept behind the counter. Along the short wall right inside one of the doors is a pretty damned nice aquarium. When we showed up, the place was so packed that we almost turned right around and left. Still, I was even more curious now and we discussed the idea of getting the food to go. She went back to the car, and while I waited in line a table opened up. I rang her on her cell and told her to get back inside since I certainly didn’t want to relinquish my place in line. She made it in time to secure the table, and I placed our orders for two bacon cheeseburger meals, one with tots and the other with fresh-cut fries. That was about the end of it, as the onion burger is a pretty specific thing, so I wasn’t asked for a degree of doneness (is that a word? It is now!) or what type of cheese I wanted.
|Why do the tater tot fans always get the short end of the stick?|
Admittedly the place was a little disorganized, but I guess that’s to be expected since it was a madhouse at the time. A kid showed up asking to take our order mere minutes after I had placed it at the counter. Pretty quickly we got our sides, nothing much to say other than the tots were cooked perfectly and the fries were better than most of the fresh-cut varieties I’ve had around here.
|Not as evil as it looks…|
I had ordered the King Hamburger, a half-pounder with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and of course onions. Even though I had researched the history of this type of burger a bit, I was still surprised by how thin it really was. The bun was also surprisingly thin, and they didn’t skimp on the toppings. The overall effect is that you don’t really realize how much meat you’re consuming because you’re getting so much vegetation at the same time, and suddenly you find yourself stuffed because you’ve been consuming a half-pound sandwich, even though you’re not getting a lot of meat per bite. It’s an impressive idea, but it didn’t quite grab me as well as it could have. The first issue is a personal one: I don’t like fried onions all that much. Still, I ordered it the traditional way to see what it was like, and I was expecting to be underwhelmed by that part of it. The other issue is that if you char a meat patty that’s smashed that thin, pretty much all you’re going to taste is the char. Once again, this is a personal taste issue. I know a lot of people who like their burgers practically cremated, whereas I’m in the medium/medium rare fan club. Still, there’s something compelling about the sandwich, and I can see how the right kind of person would love it.
I had an opportunity to chat with the owner a little before I left about some pictures I had seen on their Facebook page. Apparently, someone will occasionally decide that what they really want on their burger instead of chili or pickles is a corn dog. Or a chicken fried steak. Or both. And Shake ‘n Take is happy to oblige. Seriously, go look at the pictures.
Believe it or not, I didn’t go all mad scientist when I returned. I had the toddler in tow and we were both starving, and suddenly I remembered that Shake ‘n Take also does foot long corn dogs. Since she loves corn dogs and I found the idea of seeing one that size wielded by a three-year old kind of hilarious, I decided to go for it. This time though, I ordered the quarter-pound patty, with cheese but no bacon, and asked them not to fry the onions, and of course the aforementioned corn dog for the kid. Interestingly enough, I wasn’t able to order meals because they don’t have them on the weekend (which I think is pretty shoddy), so I just got a half order of fries for us to split. Luckily, their “half” order is enough for two.
|One huge freaking corn dog|
The corn dog was great. Not just because it was bigger than the toddler’s head and she needed both hands to heft it, but because I actually tried a bite of it myself and it’s actually pretty good! Horrifyingly enough, she finished all but two or three bites of it. I have time lapse photos of this, but her mother will kill me if I post pictures of her face on here, so you’ll have to just imagine it.
|The not-so-fried onion burger|
Unfortunately for me, this version of the burger didn’t really grab me either. The onions were strong and piled high, which led to some pretty severe heartburn later that night. And the charred/burnt flavor of the burger still dominated the rest of the sandwich. Still, there’s something about the place and the way they do their food that does interest me, so I’ll likely go back and just steer clear of the burgers. I already know the corn dogs are good (and more MY kind of carnival food anyway), and I’m curious about the chicken fried steak sandwich that seems to be the only thing that is always available in a combo meal. And of course, there is always the Frankenburger option. However you slice it, the place is fun, different, and run by a pretty cool guy. In my opinion, that’s worth checking a place out at least once.
Final Grade: B-