Back in the Day: The best burger joints anyone can remember

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The following Back in the Day column appeared in the Fairfield Daily Republic on Sept. 1, 2011

By Tony Wade

The Daily Republic’s annual “Reader’s Choice” survey asks residents to choose the best bank or pizza place, etc. On the “I Grew Up in Fairfield Too” Facebook group, I asked members to choose the best burger joint from back in the day.

One contender was Sid’s Drive-In, which used to be on the corner of Travis Boulevard and North Texas Street where the old Heart Federal Savings building is. Nanciann Gregg was a car hop there in 1959 and 1960. She swears Dave’s Hamburger disciples would switch their allegiance if Sid’s was still around.

“People lined up to eat there,” Gregg said. “The Sid Burger was served in a basket with fries and there was a toothpick on the top of it with an olive. The secret sauce was mayonnaise and ketchup mixed together.”

There was a rivalry between teens who frequented Sid’s and ones who preferred Fosters Freeze. Both were places where real-life scenes from “American Graffiti” were acted out every weekend.

“We each thought we were the in crowd,” Gregg said. “And A&W didn’t even count. That’s where you went with your parents. It wasn’t cool.”

Ouch. Later on, in the 1980s, I indeed thought I was the epitome of cool pulling into the A&W Drive-in (where Little Caesar’s now sits on East Tabor Avenue). Something about having that Papa Burger in a basket and an ice-cold root beer float suspended on a tray on your car’s window enhanced its deliciousness.

Beamer’s was later in the same place as Fosters Freeze (presently Yo Sushi) and sold 29-cent hamburgers. The price was right, but the burgers weren’t the greatest. I’m not saying they were dog food, but others might.

“We used Beamer’s hamburgers to teach our Lab to ride in the car,” Ada Householder Postlethwait said. “We’d put him in the car and go get a Beamer’s burger. Only took a few trips, and we never had any problem getting him in the car. We went to the lake one day and drove by Beamer’s without stopping and he cried all the way to the lake. We stopped on the way home and got his burger.”

The Sno-Man, which used to be on Union Avenue, has been described as a shack, but with tasty food.

“Sno-Man had great burgers, shakes and everything I try to stay away from now,” Lacy Rexroad said. “But if it was still there, I’d make a special trip!”

“I bought my lunch there in the beginning of my high school years. One day, I walked there during lunch and the whole building was gone,” Eric Rahn said. “Today I can’t even pinpoint where it was. I was starting to think I dreamed the whole thing.”

That brings us to the heavyweight champion of the local Burger Wars — Dave’s Giant Hamburgers. Burgers that need fries to augment them are like Batman who relies on his sidekick, the Boy Wonder Robin, to make him seem more awesome by comparison (and to unnecessarily add the word “holy” to everything).

Dave’s fries-less hamburgers are more like Superman who needs no sidekick. The supreme example of less being more.

Perhaps I went a little heavy on the hyperbole as others simply cited Dave’s grilled onions, perfect convergence of flavors, old-timey feel and the fact that unlike others, the restaurant continues to thrive, but I was on a bit of a roll.

Patty Blakeley worked at Dave’s and called it one of her most fun jobs.

“We could eat anything we wanted,” Blakeley said. “Dave would even let us bring home pies if we wanted.”

Clay Sharps wrapped up the Burger Wars quite nicely.

“If you wanted the best burger in town, Dave’s; if you had a serious lack of funds while cruising, Beamers; if you needed fries, Fosters Freeze; and for a drink nothing ever beat A&W root beer!”

I suspect what makes us look back fondly on a particular burger joint has less to do with what kind of secret sauce they used and more with the scrumptious, delightful nostalgia we often slather on our remembrances.

Chuck Davis put it best when talking about the winner: “Dave’s wins the great burger with a side of memories award every time.”