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COOK'S HUMOR

By CAROLE BRANZ WAHLER Published: July 19, 2017 12:00 AM

I have never denied that I am a fast food junkie. In fact, I proudly admit it. I love fast food. Pizza, Arby's roast beef and French Dip, Kentucky Fried Chicken, pulled pork sandwiches and everything on the Taco Bell menu board.

But my bestie of all fast food is a good old hamburger. Set me down with a burger and a side of fries and you can have your Chateaubriand. Most any pink-on-the-inside burger will satisfy my craving, especially a Whopper or more recently, a Culver's Butter Burger. And here's why those burgers have a place in my heart.

It all started when I was a kid in Lafferty, Ohio, where shopping for anything but groceries was not an option. The only commercial entities in our little spot on the map were two grocery stores, two churches, two gas stations, and six beer joints. So when you needed a new outfit or a new pair of shoes, the only alternative to the Sears Roebuck catalog was a 20-mile trip to the big city of Wheeling, West Virginia. And back then, traveling that far was an all-day affair and required considerable long-range planning.

On that wonderful day of days, we'd wake up early and anxious, dress in our Sunday best and count the moments till the show was on the road. My Mom, my sister and I would walk to the railroad crossing, where would board the old Red Star Lines Bus which would transport us to St. Clairsville. There we transferred to the ultimate in long-distance travel the amazing Greyhound! Those shopping arrangements must have been a real inconvenience to my mother, but we loved it.

Doing lunch was one of the side perks of this eight-hour shopping expedition, and the high point of my day. Around 11:30, we'd head up Market Street toward 12th, and there on the corner in all its glory was the mother of all fast-food joints The Hamburger Inn.

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Stepping into the inviting doorway, you could smell the wonderful beefy aroma of burgers frying, the most heavenly scent this side of Belmont County. Bidding you welcome was a long, narrow black and white checkered tile floor flanked by a row of red leather booths on the right and a waist- high counter on the left. A dozen swivel-top stools, sorely in need of WD-40, were aligned parallel with the counter, creaking and squeaking out a painful tune as their ever-changing orchestra of occupants turned them to and fro, musically announcing their arrival and departure.

Performing behind the counter in grease stained aprons and high white chef hats were the Inn's renowned hamburger fry-cooks; agile, speedy, and legends in their own time. Brandishing their spatulas and flipping hamburgers faster than a speeding bullet, they waltzed up and down in front of the grill, echoing in a sing-song rap style chant the orders called out by waitresses with Andrew Sisters' hairdos lawfully contained by hairnets attached to starched pink headbands.

This impromptu mealtime operetta never failed to mesmerize me, but even better than the entertainment were the hamburgers themselves tiny crispy-thin grilled patties of ground beef sizzling on a pungent bed of fried chopped onions topped with a single slice of dill pickle and served on a tiny warm bun. You could scarf down four or five with French fries and a Pepsi and still have room for a jelly donut from the six-tiered pie rack on the counter. It was as close as I could come to heaven on earth!

And now you know the heart-wrenching story of how I fell in love with hamburgers. Unfortunately, my dearly beloved is definitely not a junk food junkie, so I don't get to indulge nearly as much as I'd like and maybe that's for the best, health-wise. But every now and then when someone pops in for a visit and I need a little snack for the ice tea or beer to wash down, I hasten to make a dozen little burgers to pass around and they all love them. They call them sliders now and they seem to be all the rave at the fast food restaurants.

This recipe calls for cheese, which everybody likes, so that's how I make them except for a couple right in the corner, where I omit the cheese, grab them right up for myself, and I'm back in heaven on earth.

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PULL-APART CHEESEBURGER SLIDERS

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 onion, diced

1 lb. ground beef (I use 80/20)

Kosher salt to taste

1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

12 slicer buns (or dinner rolls)12 slices cheddar cheese4 Tbsp. butter, meltedSliced dill pickles for garnish

Preheat oven to 350°. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saut onions until soft. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the ground beef and stir to break up meat. Saut until cooked through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove skillet from stovetop and drain excess fat. Coat a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray. Place the bottom halves of the slider buns in the dish. Top with cooked beef mixture. Place a slice of cheese over each slider. Place the top halves of the buns on top. Brush the tops of the buns with the melted butter. Sprinkle garlic powder on top. Bake at 350 until the cheese melts and everything is warmed through, 15-20 minutes. Pull apart, pop on a dill pickle slice and enjoy!


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