Thursday, September 25, 2008

"I'd like my burger rarebit, please."

I may never have mentioned this to you but I have been on an unofficial food Quest for a long time. So long that it was forgotten! To bring you up to speed on the specifics, here's an inquiry I wrote to Gourmet Magazine four years ago.

My note to them

To: Gourmet, Feedback
Sent: Friday, September 17, 2004 3:53 PM
Subject: in search of a great cheddar sauce

When I was a teenager, my mother brought me to a local low-down restaurant for dinner one night in town. The town = Cranford, NJ; the place = Dunn's Garage.

I was thrilled to eat their cheddar burger and haven't forgotten it. You would walk up to the bar and order, and the bar man took the bare, juicy burger and ladled on a heap of warm, thick and gritty cheddar cheese sauce.
To this day this is my favorite burger memory. Since Dunn's Garage has been closed for ages, do you at Gourmet know of a recipe for a similar type of pourable, thick real cheddar cheese sauce for topping burgers? I have tried to recreate this at home with no luck.
Regards, Marly

Their initial response was sent an hour later!

From: Gourmet, Feedback
Sent: Friday, September 17, 2004 4:46 PM

I'll send your note around, but I think it's a long shot. I did notice the following listing: Dunn's Garage Automotive (908) 245-0108 601 W Westfield Ave Roselle Park, NJ 07204. It sounds like an actual garage, but perhaps someone there can help you. If I get anything back from anyone on staff I'll let you know.
Best, James

On the following business day they wrote again...

From: Gourmet, Feedback
Sent: Monday, September 20, 2004 5:01pm

I just heard back from one of our food editors:

"I don't see why the Welsh Rabbit sauce wouldn't work. We did it in the Dec. 2003 issue, p. 206*. As for the gritty part, I don’t know exactly what that means, but I'm wondering if it is an indication of overcooked cheddar-- where the cheese has broken down from being heated for too long. If you do the Welsh Rabbit rabbit, you can always increase the amount of cheese to taste."

Hope that helps.
Best, James

(*see recipe from Dec. 2003 issue, p. 206 here)

Well. I was very pleased with their quick response, even though I don’t eat rabbit. (Welsh Rabbit rabbit?) Although I’d heard of rarebit, is that what they meant? Perhaps I heard it first as a child when watching the Bugs Bunny show. There was an episode with a play on words--rabbit vs. rarebit--with reference to when someone wanted to cook Bugs, they told him he would be served with "wish-te-shish-te-shire sauce.”

Anyhow, in later foodie days, I came to know rarebit as some old British Isles recipe where you take a Cheddar cheese sauce and pour it over toast. Sorta a grilled cheese, though with no pan since the cheese is already melted. Imagine this on a burger. Instead of a stiff, separatist slice of cheese that merely half melts, I’m talking about a cloud of oozy cheesiness that dominates the burger and slides down its sides like lava. Yes I believe we understand each other now.

For some reason unknown to me, after the Gourmet letters I dismantled the Quest. Ok really, I just forgot about it. Until two nights ago. I met up with Neil at Tam O’Shanter’s, a delightful old Scottish pub and restaurant near Glendale that's a part of the Lawry’s Prime Rib chain, yet not a chain itself, and it's been operated by the same family since 1922. It is cozy and has a charm all its own--a great place to go!

The unofficial plan then two nights ago was to order a drink and a snack. Neil’s plan was to order a drink and dinner. His plan was better. After almost ordering a French onion soup and salad, an item called the “1922 Tam Burger” jumped off the page at me. This is its menu description:

1922 Tam Burger
Certified Angus chuck served open-faced on toasted sourdough bread with Neuske's smoked bacon and Thousand Island dressing topped with Scotch Rarebit.

Did that say “Scotch Rarebit”?? OMG could it be? Hmm, I also saw they had this appetizer on the menu, which pretty much confirmed it:

Scotch Rarebit
An authentic Scottish recipe of cheddar cheese, beer, cayenne and nutmeg. Served with buttery sourdough toast.

OK. Wow. So there was no question. I ordered the 1922 Tam Burger. It…was…the Quest! A burger on toast (not part of the Quest but who cares), with crispy high-end bacon (which is always a Quest), plus a molten heap of thick Cheddar sauce on top and dripping down the sides. The Quest! It tasted just like the Cheddar burger of my youth. And there were bonuses!... 1) enough cheese sauce to use as a dunk for the crispy fries, and 2) the smokiest bacon ever. I’m talking campfire smokey, lapsang souchong tea smokey. Looove it!

Now that my Quest has been fulfilled, I must start exercising far more (More x Zero = Zero?) in order to eat enough of these 1922 Tam Burgers to make up for the lost years. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Until we eat again,


christy said...

I would like to try this and then follow it up with some yorkshire pudding and then chocolate souffle, and by then we will have covered all the major food groups.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Honey. Just to remind you that Dunn's Garage is now the Sun Tavern in Cranford. Only the location is the same --- the food is now Italian. xoxo