Is Montgomery a Hamburger Town?

By on 1 August, 2019 in Food, Karren Pell with 0 Comments

I’m still working on the new book  (Montgomery’s Classic Restaurants) with Carole King, and unable to think about much of anything else except the heat this summer. So I decided to share some of what I have learned about food in Montgomery and in the process give you a “taste” of the book to come.

It seems folks in Montgomery have loved hamburgers for maybe as long as there have been hamburgers. What? You didn’t know hamburgers were invented? Before I provide a bit of Montgomery hamburger information, allow me to share a bit of hamburger history.

Check out this definition: “The modern hamburger was a product of the culinary needs of a society rapidly changing due to industrialization, the emergence of the working class and middle class, the demand for mass produced affordable food that could be consumed outside of the house.”

Hamburgers as we now know them were probably right here in the United States sometime between between 1880 and 1905. This first food item was just a steak being slapped between two slices of bread. Credit for its progression in what we now know as a “hamburger” is probably shared among several inventive cooks. Who made them first and how? That’s apocryphal at best, but here are a few possible origin stories.

In 1885, Canton Ohio natives Frank and Charles Menches were selling pork sandwiches at the Erie County Fair but ran out of pork. Their supplier suggested that pork was not such a good choice anyway, due to the heat, and suggested they use beef instead. The fair’s hometown was “Hamburg,” so the new food was named “the hamburger.”

Wisconsin’s Charlie Nagreen is next in line for credit. At the young age of 15, Charlie was selling food at the Outaganu County Fair. His hamburger steaks were not selling well because folks wanted to walk around. So young Charlie put those steaks between two pieces of bread and sold out in a hurry. Those sandwiches caused Charlie to become known as “Hamburger Charlie,” and an annual Burger Fest celebrates his invention in Charlie’s hometown of Seymour.

Finally, there is Fletcher Davis, known as “Old Dave.” In the late 1880s, Old Dave is credited with slamming beef between two pieces of Texas Toast to accommodate his customers who were in a hurry. I can’t help but notice that folks wanting to eat while they move around as a major element in the innovation. Dairy Queen Ice Cream made a documentary about the origin of hamburgers and credited Old Dave. Ronald L. McDonald wrote a book titled The Complete Hamburger, also crediting Old Dave.

Now, back to Montgomery. I haven’t found evidence of hamburgers much before the 1900s. But by the fabulous ’50s, they were all the rage. Drive-ins, restaurants, curb side delivery — again, people not wanting to stay still — all offered burgers. Tom Connor’s popular Montgomery Advertiser column, “Remember When,” said that Sundays in the past often found cars were parked three deep to get hamburgers (and other quick food) in downtown Montgomery. Even the fancy Pont Rouge restaurant had a cheeseburger on the menu — although there was no drive through for the third story dining room. The hamburger was not only popular, it was cheap. Connor maintains there were 5 cent burgers in Montgomery. When the Toddle House’s burgers went up to 30 cents, the entire town was evidently shocked and horrified.

Montgomery’s still into hamburgers. Fabulously popular hamburgers can be found in small restaurants from the Hamburger King (547 Decatur Street) to Vintage Year at (405 Cloverdale Road). At Hamburger King, Hunter Harrison holds down his family’s hamburger tradition. Hamburger King’s burgers have won contests, awards, and the love and loyalty of any knowledgeable hamburger fan in Montgomery. Hunter says that his secret is fresh ingredients are his secret. His motto is: “If we don’t eat it, we don’t serve it.”

In Cloverdale, you’ll find burgers on the menu of the Vintage Year. In fact, Tuesday night is burger night, and if you want to go, you’d better get a reservation early because the tables fill up. There is even a veggie burger — so everyone can enjoy! While I’m writing about a veggie burger — don’t forget that Montgomery was chosen as a test city for Burger King’s “Impossible Whopper,” a meatless hamburger. And, Vintage Year is in the running the for James Beard award for a “blended burger,” one made with a combination of beef and mushroom or another meatless protein. Times they are a-changing (again). Wonder if Hunter over at Hamburger King might get in the meatless game?

Only time will tell. What do you think? Is Montgomery a burger town?

Karren Pell is a writer, teacher, and performer who lives with her husband, Tim Henderson, and an assortment of cats and dogs in Capitol Heights. She is the author of three books. Her musical compositions range from commercial songs to theatrical works, with five musical adaptations to her credit.

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