An Onion Burger Odyssey
New Orleans has blackened redfish and beignets, New York has coneys and slices, Chicago has Italian Roast beef and hot dogs, and Santa Fe has its green chile. In Oklahoma City, we have fried-onion burgers. Hey, it’s a start!
Of course, we imported from the faraway land of El Reno, where during the Great Depression H.W. Davis and E.C. Cannon found that supplementing raw patties with an inordinate amount of thin-sliced onions increased profit margins. Turns out people liked them, too.
El Reno is still the fried-onion burger mecca, but some version of the dish can be found in burger joints across the state.
In that time, the fried-onion burger has evolved a touch. The classic version entails pressing a ball of ground beef directly into a wad of thin-sliced onions and subsequently onto a white-hot griddle. The onions and burger become one. The result is what the great Argentenian chef Francis Mallman calls a dissonance in food – two flavors fighting each other. The burnt surface of the onion is crunchy and bordering on bitter, but as it passes across the palate and dissolves the sweet soul of the onion is borne. But this technique isn’t for everyone. Other griddle the onions in advance then top a raw patty with them as it cooks. When the patty is flipped, the partially cooked onions get one last gasp of heat. The result offers no dissonance, but is still sweet and tasty. While I prefer the original, this type of onion burger is perfectly acceptable in a different kind of way.
The first place I ever had one was the old Super Onion Burger when it was out in the Bethany area before the members of the church across the street, who if memory serves objected to the joint’s S.O.B. sign. I followed S.O.B. where it went until it all ended with a failed experiment on Memorial Drive. The experiment involved barbecue, seemingly harmless. But when S.O.B. adjoined with Kansas City Blues Barbecue, the restaurant was never the same and closed not long after. You can still get what is called a Super Onion Burger at the Kansas City Blues Barbecue restaurant on Britton Road, but a recent visit was proof that S.O.B. is indeed dead. The S.O.B. at KC Blues is nothing more than a solid burger with some fried onions unlike the old Mother-in-Law and the condiment bar that came with it. I was mostly disappointed with how few onions were beneath the patty.
In the 1990s, my old friend Dale Saviers and I, both members of the same night shift, would often meet mid-afternoons before work at Bunny’s, 5020 N Meridian, for a fried-onion burger and bowl of chili. Bunny’s is still at that spot, having recently reopened after a fire, and now have a south location at 1023 S Meridian.
We met there two to three times a month and in between bites cussed and discussed the state of our dysfunctional social lives, which we blamed
on our dysfunctional working hours and equally dysfunctional bosses. Blame our ire on youth and stupidity if you like, but it was mostly hunger brought on by the onset of boredom. Dale had his Nintendo and apartment full of old televisions, and I had “China Beach” reruns and a garage apartment within walking distance to another iconic fried-onion burger joint, Abraham’s. I ate their weekly during the summer, less frequently when I had to compete with uniformed McGuinness students.
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