I’ve been craving a big, fat, piled-high juicy hamburger for the last few weeks. I don’t know why. Romain told me, “C’est normal et culturel, Daveed.” I’m not entirely sure about that since I’ve never been a big beef eater. But lately, just the idea of lifting a hefty, rosy, big mess-of-a-patty of seared meat wedged between two fluffy, lightly-grilled cushions of bread with plenty of fixin’s, has been first and foremost in my little mind.
While l’hamburger is available at more and more cafés and restaurants in Paris nowadays, too often the dried-out burger is paltry, the bun is lame, and the much-anticipated le hamburger that arrives is wildly overpriced and nothing more than a glorified, microwaved sandwich.
(Although it’s always fun watching Parisians eating them with a knife and fork, politely resisting the temptation of picking up the darn thing and taking a big chomp out of it.)
Like most fast foods, the less you do to them, the better. And if you want to sample the best of any culture, usually you can’t go wrong by checking out their fast fare. From over-lit udon bars in Tokyo, bulging, beefy burritos in San Francisco, socca in Nice, hot pizza bianco pulled right from the forno in Rome, to gyros crammed-full of spit-roasted lamb in Greece, the big chains may have given ‘fast food’ a bad name. For my money, though, those meals are usually more satisfying than any multi-course Michelin repast.
So how did I find myself in a branch of the French chain, Hippopotamus?
Simple. I really wanted a great burger.
And since I walk by a local branch practically every day, I started checking out the burgers on people’s plates. And admiring their heft and apparent authenticity, I thought them worthy of a visit.
A Parisian neighbor confirmed my suspicion when I asked his opinion; “L’Hippo? (pronounced LEEE-po…as in “lipo-suction”) C’est le top!”
Unfortunately the burger wasn’t all that. Part of it may be my bias that certain things really need to be enjoyed on their home turf. Croissants should be enjoyed in France (even though their origin in Austrian), “shave ice” is best spooned up in Honolulu, and it’d take a mighty-good baker to convince me that they could make better natas than the ones in Lisbon.
My friend and I rated the burger at l’Hippo a tepid 6 out of 10. Even though we ordered the same basic burger, her patty was a good bit…okay…a lot larger than my (as far as I know, gluttony is still a sin so I turned down her generous offer to switch—although I’m not sure if burger-envy is on that list of infractions, too), and the bun was stale, not fresh and toasty-brown. The cool red Chinon we ordered was just the ticket, though. A plus was that when requested, the plastic bottle of ketchup was extracted from the nearby wine refrigerator and presented with all the pomp of the finest vintage in the house.
Yet I’m not complaining all that much.
Because sometimes, a guy’s just gotta have a burger. And although I got what I came for, I’m still on the prowl, unfulfilled. But not so much I want to give it a shot elsewhere and am thinking that maybe I should just stick to the local fare because a truly great burger isn’t going to be found all that easily, I suspect.
Still, a guy’s also gotta have his dreams, doesn’t he?
And I’m still dreaming of that perfect, oversized patty on a crisped, cloud-like bun…with all the extras.