March 25, 2012

If you hate liberals, but you love hamburgers...

Just on the other side of town... just nearly on the other side of town... nearby where Hildebrand crosses Blanco Rd, sits a ram-shackled, barred-windowed, screen-doored, gravel-lotted gem of building. Four concrete walls, pocked with time and neglect, and a faded awning that runs the length of three of them. It is textbook unassuming, and I mean that in the most off-putting sort of way. 

Not only does it hide impressively from passers-by on Blanco, it seems to actively avoid them, flanked as it is by some place that purports to be in the business of window tinting or car stereos or something. Windowless beer joints with hand-painted signs for "Free Pool Everyday" dot the landscape, interspersed with dollar stores and used car lots and the like. 

By all accounts it's a forgotten structure, lost in a sea of the nondescript and dilapidated. But if you were to stop for a moment, pause to take notice and walk through that smoked-out screen door, you would discover something quite unique: Joe's Hamburger Place. 
(Mr) Joe, a German I'm told, opened up shop in 1942. Rough timing. Shortly thereafter a woman goes to work for him, ends up taking it over. Woman's daughter starts helping out in 1967, and in 1973, when the mother passes away, daughter takes over full-time. The daughter was Phyllis, who runs it to this day and runs it her way. Limbaugh on the radio, politics on her mind, peppered with a bit of noss-tal-guh for the old neighborhood. A place where the electeds and the lawyers and the businessmen go to talk shop and chew bull atop one of the six stools in the house. 

Fresh ground chuck is purchased every morning and she cooks 'til it's gone. Large or small burgers, those are the options. Phyllis grabs a handful of chuck from a plastic bag and drops it onto a flat-top griddle that looks old as the building and stays seasoned by virtue of the fact that it probably never gets cleaned. Just re-heated and scraped. Long spatula presses the patty flat against the surface. Once the burger is nearly ready she'll drop the bun on top to let it soak in some of the grease; the details, that's what it's all about. 

Next the toppings: mustard, miracle whip (which she'll call mayonnaise but you shouldn't), chopped onions, salt, and hot chili simmering in a pot on the grill. All wrapped in thin white paper and dropped onto a formica countertop that'll double as both receipt and cash register. Large cheeseburger, bag of Fritos and an RC Cola: $2.53.

Right about the time I was leaving, a black corvette pulls up alongside the building. Out steps Big Boy in a wide-brimmed cowboy hat and shirt-cuff monograms biggest I've ever seen... "RJC". Hardly notices me as he grabs a bag of Tom's Potato Chips, rips them open and douses them with Louisiana Hot Sauce. Then he and Phyllis fall back into a conversation they'd left off just days before.    

2423 Blanco Road
San Antonio, TX 78212


GSV JR said...

And like a trillion xs more satisfying that a chain burger place or even one of those new fangled jobs that are popping up everywhere.

She didn't want her photo taken, huh?

I've got one of these close to me, Ann's Snack Bar, but the WSJ declared it best burger in the US so the wait's a little bit much now.

Amatourist said...

Couldn't agree more about the satisfaction. And Philly-Gumbo... it's not so much that she was camera shy. More like I got the sense that excessive photo taking in lieu of listening to her spin yarns was going to end in my forehead meeting a billy club. Should've seen her face when I started to read the paper.