Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Book to Live (or Die) By

Betsy discovered a book a year or so ago that caught her attention and we knew it needed to be included in our travel bag.  Hamburger America is a state-by-state guide to 150 best burger joints across the country.  For two girls that like burgers and are traveling the country, this book fit like a broken in pair of faded jeans – perfectly. 

We don’t buy many books because the campground “book exchange” is the one place in the campground that we never miss.  Many times we have scored some great books, some we were looking for and others that we just picked up by happen stance and that turned us on to new authors.  But the $15 or so dollars we shelled out to Barnes and Noble for Hamburger America has been well worth it.

The book exposes the drooling, stomach growling reader to burger joints that fill the gamut of mom-and-pop joints, nostalgic diners, roadside dives, and drive-ins.   Before entering a new state, one of us eagerly grabs the burger bible while the other anxiously waits to see if there is a noted burger joint in our near future.

Just so happens that our stop in Salina, Kansas had a burger hit.  The Cozy Inn was on page 114 of the hamburger bible and rapidly plugged in to our GPS for lunch.  The Cozy Inn has all the spectrum of food accolades that make it taste-worthy like “Best Burger Joint in Kansas,” one of “the top 50 burger joints in America,” featured on the Travel Channel and many more gastronomic praises.   The joint is 91 years old and still uses the same flattop.  Talk about well-seasoned.  The burger meat comes out in a little ball is pressed flat with a spatula and steamed with hand-cut raw onions.  The finishing touch is to put the bun (specially made for The Cozy Inn) on top for a quick steam, add a pickle and serve it up on a checkered napkin. Remind you of White Castle? Turns out both the owners of each of the legendary eateries knew each other and liked the tasty idea of how the combination of steamed onions on thin meat patties tantalizes the taste buds.

Even the snow could not keep us from making a pilgrimage to a Hamburger America mention.
The welcoming staff quickly recognized we looked dazed and confused as to how the restaurant worked. There were only six stools at the well-decorated counter and we tried to blend in with the locals by quickly taking a seat and waiting for guidance.  The menu was explained to us, “hamburgers come with onion and a pickle, if you want ketchup or mustard it's on the counter, help yourself to a pack of chips over there hanging on the wall, and what kind of soda do you want?” I like that "keep it simple and good" philosophy.

"I'll have a diet coke with my five burgers, please"
“We usually start off people with two burgers and keep the tab until you have had as many as you want” said the tall, thin waitress who looked like she did not partake it the same overindulgence that we were setting ourselves up for.  The burgers were good but we especially loved hearing the history of The Cozy Inn and how the locals have affectionately been stepping up to the counter for as long as they can remember.  As promised the smell of steamed onions melting into ground beef on an ancient flattop followed us home as our closes were permeated by the scent.  

I had to ask what was the record number of burgers consumed? Not that I was planning on being inducted to The Cozy Inn Hall of Fame, but I was curious.  The winner was a local man who ate 55 burgers and drank a 12-pack of beer in an hour and a half.  Sure that got a mention in the local paper but it also put him in the hospital with "plumbing problems" when the yeast from the beer and buns reacted in an intestinal explosion. Let that be a lesson to you beer drinking hamburger eaters.

So for you traveling burger lovers may I suggest you don't delay in purchasing a copy of Hamburger America.  Or you can choose to follow us around the country, hoping that we have eaten at all the pages, and are heading to the book exchange to make a deposit.  

To tempt you into abandoning your $15 . . . check out the following pictures from just a few of our burger adventures across the country.

There was the Missoula Club in Missoula, Montana

They come with grilled onions presented beautifully on a styrofoam plate.
Dirty Martin's Kum-Bak Place in Austin, Texas was a favorite of ours

Gott's Roadside (still called its original name Taylor's Refresher by the locals) in Napa Valley, California is not to be missed

Their ahi tuna burger rocks 

Hut's Hamburgers in Austin, Texas is a great local hangout but it can be hard to get a table

Matt's Place Drive-In in Butte, Montana was a great burger joint (that also makes awesome milk shakes) and was one place we got to share with great friends visiting from New Orleans.

That was just a sampling of some of our burger madness.  Book or no book, we will find more.

Please let us know of any hamburger joints in your area.  Remember the book only has 150 places and I am sure there are plenty more good burgers out there.  Good eats!


  1. Well, that was downright fun> I hope you haven't missed out on another truly historic hamburger joint, Hudson's Hamburgers in Coeur d Alene Idaho, same thing...pickle, onions, ketchup and hand ground meat. Been in the same place owned by the same family for more than 100 years. Your post made me miss my years in CDA, but of course there are lots of other places to explore.

    1. Whoops, we made the ultimate burger foul by not stopping there. And, Hudson's was even mentioned in the book.

  2. Guess we are going to have to get a copy of that book as Michael is a big hamburger fan!

  3. How did you know I was fixing a fried burger tonight? :)

  4. Forgot to mention that the Thunder Burgers at Ice Cracking Lodge in Round Lake, MN, are very tasty.

    1. Thanks for the tip. That was not mentioned in the book but we will pencil it in under MN.

  5. I have to buy that book. I didn't know there were places that actually have better burgers than McDonald's! ;c)

    1. McDonald's still ranks as one of our favorites. The book does contain some chain restaurants like In-N--Out burger. Yum!

  6. After reading your post yesterday, I had a serious burger craving so we stopped for some at Big Splash Burgers in Oklahoma! I think we need to get this book - we both love a good hamburger. If you go through Memphis, try he Rocky Burger at Alex's Tavern. Alex's is a total dive but that burger is amazing.

    1. Glad you mentioned the Memphis joint - we are going to head down I-55 after St. Louis. If you are looking for a great campground on I-55 check out North Abutment (USACOE) park near Grenada. Site 14 rocks as it has a great private patio and view of the lake.


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