Monday, July 13, 2009

Ted's steamed cheeseburgers

En route to New Hampshire for Lisa's wedding, Jenna & Rob & Priya & I decided to stop for dinner at Ted's Steamed Cheeseburgers in my hometown of Meriden, CT. Jenna and I had grown up eating steamed cheeseburgers at parish festivals, local restaurants, after Little League games, whatever... and Priya had heard of them because Kenny Shopsin, a fan, includes them on his menu at Shopsin's.

Ted's is a tiny, run-down little Meriden joint (although it's looking a little more spruced up now that it is reportedly under new ownership). It has almost no menu items except for steamed cheeseburgers and variations on them (for example, a steamed hot dog with cheese, or "cheese fries," which are just home fries topped with steamed cheese). A big metal steam cabinet sits atop the stove, and shelves of removable metal trays contain either white Vermont cheddar cheese or ground beef. Steamed, the extra liquid is poured off, and a tray of gray, grainy beef and a huge blob of melted white cheese is placed in a poppy-seed roll for eating.

We got a few orders of cheese fries and a bunch of steamed cheeseburgers. I like mine with only light accoutrements: ketchup, maybe onions, MAYBE pickles. Jenna puts vegetables on hers, and Rob went for the bacon (which I usually love on cheeseburgers, but I don't think it's the best on a steamer).

Sometimes people absolutely love their first steamed cheeseburger, but often they won't know quite what to make of it. This is because they are approaching it with the wrong mindset. When I gauge how delicious a burger is, I usually pay special attention to the flavor of the medium-rare beef, how juicy it is, etc. A steamed cheeseburger, on the other hand, is not meant to highlight the beef, which is steamed gray (and then the fat is poured off!). The point of a steamed cheeseburger is the cheese, a monstrous white glob of it, puffy and melty. The grainy beef just adds texture and a flavor under the cheese; in fact, you can get just "steamed cheese" on a roll and be perfectly happy with it. (Priya, asking out of academic curiousity, wondered if you could just get a steamed hamburger, and Jenna and I said NO simultaneously, in horror. I mean, you could order it, but it would suck).

I noticed a few little changes in this visit to Ted's: the buns no longer had poppyseeds, and came from plastic bags instead of paper sacks from a baker; there was no longer a picnic-basket-sized block of white cheddar sitting out (health board? who knows), and the cheese even seemed a little less sharp than usual. Still, it was a delicious experience, and one that exposed two new people to the central Connecticut delicacy of steamed cheeseburgers.


Anonymous said...

Ted's steam cabinet is marvelous, but using a covered dish, a clear vision of your chosen result, and some experimenting
it can all be done in a microwave in less than 3 minutes. Ken.

-puck- said...

God, I did love Ted's

Sadie said...

I never had a steamed cheeseburger at Ted's, but I did try one at the esteemed Meriden bar Quality Time. It was...unique. I think I am spoiled for kitschy cheeseburgers forever by Shady Glen, a Manchester landmark.