March 11, 2012

THE STINGY GOURMET Hearts Hamburgers

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From the moment you reach the tip of the Commons, you will find yourself with a dining dilemma: With so many options, where do I eat? As college students, we are faced with the trials and tribulations of searching for food that is cheap and filling. Though not exceptionally cheap, Ithaca Ale House presents a solution to this conundrum.  Last weekend, with just over ten dollars in my wallet, I went out searching for a perfectly satisfying meal. For me, this meant I had to get a burger. The hamburger makes up one of the essential college food groups: It both fills your deliciousness quota and helps sustain general well-being and happiness. The Ale House makes it easier for us to appease this necessity. As I flipped through the pages of the menu I did not find a lonely section of burger options, but instead I happened upon an entire burger page. Most restaurants will provide three or four selections of burgers — the Ale House gives you eleven. With so many choices and fun, enticing names, such as “The Bastard Burger,” “The Big Sexy Burger” and “The Fat Kid Burger,” I find it difficult to order anything but a burger when I’m there.  A highlight: the “Surf and Turf Burger,” which comes topped with a crab cake, doused in Cajun chili aioli — three words whose combination I can hardly resist.  Today, however, I went with my first instinct: “I’ll have ‘The Perfect Burger,’ please.” With little time for deliberation, the gametime decision at the point of ordering is always a risky business.  Yet, it’s hard to believe something called “perfect” would not serve my stomach well, so I waited for my burger in eager anticipation. After a short while, my waitress returned to the table holding an enormous stack of lettuce, tomato, onion, bacon, cheddar cheese, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and pickles, all hugging my Black Angus Beef burger, held together by two fluffy ends of a hamburger bun and a steak knife down the center.  I believe my jaw dropped just a little as this monument to food was placed slowly in front of me. I started on my crispy french fries, not knowing yet how to handle “The Perfect Burger,” and began strategizing for my first bite. I tried to arrange the lopsided tomatoes and cumbersome, curling bacon in such a way that my first bite would fit everything in, from bottom bun to top bun. I easily failed at this. Nevertheless, with such a surplus of ingredients, I didn’t feel too bad extracting excess toppings — like the heaps of lettuce, onions and tomatoes — or the pickles I didn’t really want. I set to work, losing some onions and melted cheese on the way, all the while savoring my decadent burger. After eating as much as I could before becoming uncomfortably full (a mark which I may have passed), I looked upon the war zone that was my meal.  Half-eaten French fries, burger-soaked bun and many more unidentifiable parts lay strewn about the hot sauce-streaked plate.  At $11, “The Perfect Burger” provided me with not only an indulgent, delicious feast, but also the challenging and rewarding endeavor of taking it all apart. The Ale House gives us a wonderful testament to the happiness one can achieve with a decent burger and a couple bucks.

Original Author: Carolyn Scheinberg