By John McManus, Burgiatrist Emeritus
Grab a box of tissues.
This isn’t just a review of an extremely rare and beautiful cheeseburger; it is an emotional story of regret, awakening, and redemption.
I was once at the top of my field, recognized and esteemed by my peers. My accomplishments, along with the considerable rewards and respect they garnered, were accumulated with relative ease, thanks to my limitless passion for fine cheeseburgers and the practice of burgiatry. I was a leading academic, critic, philosopher, poet, and practitioner, contributing something noble to my fellow man: a deeper understanding of—and propensity for—burger bliss. With two of my beloved Ivy League burgiatric colleagues, Doctors Scott Blumenthal and Michael Marino, TheStraightBeef.com was founded, and we began to reach and better the lives of millions of people through our work.
Our vocational passion flared, and we accelerated our efforts, consuming and reviewing burgers with an unprecedented fervor. Simple erudite culinary criticism could not satiate our urge to share our burger love, and so we found release in more creative self-expression, in the forms of haiku, an advice column, and burger prose. I was honored by our academic community with the title of Poet Laureate of Burgiatry. And in these early days, we were lucky, happening upon such beefessence and bovinatious derivations as to pique our palates and inspire our industriousness. We drove hard together, with joy and fulfillment.
But by the third year, despite our continued success and ever-growing fame, I had become spiritless and utterly demotivated as a burgiatrist. I hid it deftly and painfully from my beloved TSB partners. The causes were myriad: the Wagyu/Kobe farce; the Facebook-esque ascent of the dry-ass Kaiser roll; the topsy-turvy build-order fad, with burgers sliding completely off their foundations of wet lettuce, sometimes traveling clear off the plate and onto my best gabardine, if not the checkered tile below. Primarily, though, my fall from grace was precipitated by the combination of an inordinate string of “3-town” (or lower) burgers on the rating scale, and the culmination of my personal despair at not having discovered an elusive 5.
I wanted to give a 5. But more than that, I wanted desperately to eat one. I knew they existed, as I had experienced the perfect burger once or twice before in my life, though I could not quite recall the details of the wheres and the whens to prove it. Rose-colored glasses and the temptation to round a strong 4.5 up would fool no one, least of all me, and I couldn’t do that to our loyal followers in good conscience! By this time, Doctors Blumenthal and Marino had each bestowed fives, which made me jealous and even more desperate…desperate enough to start sneaking out on solo recon missions to hasten my own discovery, which only led to more bad burgers and more frustration, resentment, and, eventually, a pitiful state of self-loathing.
That’s what led to the veggie burgers and the infamous paparazzi shots of me in the bushes with a mouthful of produce and Merita bun.
It was not, I declare to you, a secret love of veggie burgers. It was self-flagellation…punishment for who and what I had become. For having lost my passion, lied to my friends and family, and for feeling like a failure and a fool.
When the pictures came out, I did not blame the world of burgiatry and my beloved colleagues for expelling me. I moved my family out of state and, for these many months, continued to punish myself with veggie burgers while staring longingly out to sea for answers.
Then came Gas. No, no…not from the veggie burgers, but a restaurant in my new hometown of Saint Augustine, Florida, by the name of Gas, named for the building’s humble history as a gas station. Shortly after we arrived, I began to heard rumblings and whispers of a phenomenal classic cheeseburger there. At once I would take note and immediately remind myself that I had no interest in such things. As I continued to overhear more effusions and extolations of this burger, the self-reminders grew increasingly delayed and less convincing, until one day they didn’t come at all.
I placed my order and sat at my table, stoic and bewildered by where I was and what I was doing. My Diet Pepsi sat untouched as I waited, its white straw still floating high and leaning precariously to the right upon the edge of the dewy glass.
The waitress had given me the pitch: local grass-fed ground chuck, house-made bun, yada yada yada. In one ear and out the other. But when, behind me, she finally stepped out of the kitchen and into the cozy little dining area, I smelled of it, and something deep within me stirred. She placed it before me and, upon seeing a beautiful, house-made potato bun of perfect proportion, picturesque tomato and lettuce rich with color and in the proper build order, two juicy patties cooked to absolute medium perfection and dripping with juices and melted cheese, I freed my soul to hope again and bristled with anticipation of the first bite.
And with that first bite, my brain was awash in endorphins, and I swooned with that long-forgotten burger bliss. Inconceivably, it was the COMPLETE burger bliss that had been eluding me all those years. A FIVE! A unicorn! The Sasquatch of burgers! I was sitting greasy-faced and grinning on the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!
Tears. Uncontrollable laughter. Loud groans of pleasure. It was a shameless spectacle of satisfaction and celebration that nearly cleared the dining area of its uncomfortable witnesses.
In that restaurant, on that chilly late-winter evening, I awoke from months of a destructive fugue, not able to recall all that happened in it, but crystal clear on how lost I was, how I got there, who I had been before it, and overjoyed at who I would be again! I was Ebenezer Scrooge on his glorious and fateful Christmas morning!
I kissed my wife and children and immediately called my TSB brothers, who have since told me it was like hearing clear speech and lucidity from a loved one tragically lost to the great grips of insanity. More tears! More laughter! God Bless Us! God Bless Us, Everyone! God bless the miraculous and sometimes magical cheeseburger, and God bless Gas Restaurant in Saint Augustine, Florida, for bringing this burgiatrist back from the dead.
Burgiatrist: John McManus
Burger: Classic Rocks
The film version of this article is slated for nationwide release fall 2013. Starring Bradley Cooper, script by Nicholas Sparks, directed by Ron Howard.