My friend always chuckles when I go to a diner or a whole-in-the-wall, family-owned restaurant and order an Old Fashioned. It’s what I call a traditional, classic burger.
You know the kind. Toasted bun, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, and some mayo. Oh, and the best part is a patty that looks like it’s been smashed down by the cook with one of those flat metal tools. It’s not perfectly shaped, and the edges of the patty are the right kind of crispy.
Not all hometown restaurants serve an Old Fashioned, but they all should. Menus evolve, and so do tastes, but there is always room for the Old Fashioned. It’s the kind of meal that isn’t pretentious. It knows what it wants to be, and you know it doesn’t want to be much other than good tasting and always the same.
In really good restaurants, the kind that have been owned by one family for decades and have employed the same cook for generations, the Old Fashioned is extra special. They serve it to you in one of those red basket oval-shaped containers. It’s cradled next to a pile of hand-cut fries, the kind where they are all slightly shaped differently, and you could tell that they were salted by someone who knows how to work a salt shaker.
Nothing beats an Old Fashioned. Not the latest craze in foods like avocado toast or birria tacos. Not burgers with fancy names like the Atomic Burger or the Goliath Burger. Those names try too hard to tell us what they are trying to be. The Old Fashioned doesn’t.
Naming something old fashioned can mean what you want it to mean, and it usually means more than the simple fact that it’s been around for a while. When I order something or read about something called old fashioned, I know it’s somethOzing so good it hasn’t been messed with for some time.
I like things that no one messes with, things that are left alone. When you mess with something, you usually end up breaking it. Like the flavor of Coke, or the way ice cube trays are made. They used to be made out of aluminum with a handle in the middle that you would pull out, releasing all the cubes in one move.
Old fashioned ice cube trays are just better, and so are hamburgers. When you think of something American, the short list of things that comes to mind always includes a hamburger. Why mess with something that is deeply rooted in our national spirit?
When we visit other countries, we like to order food emblematic of that country. France has croissants, so we want to taste what an authentic, classic croissant is like in its home country. I imagine visitors to these United States of ours want to know what it is to order something classic, something truly American.
I do too. So, when I visit another town, when I stop at a place I’ve never been before, I look for the Old Fashioned. Each time I do, I hope I will get what I know eaters at that place have experienced since they can remember.
Something that stayed the same. Something that never changes. We all need something that never changes in our lives. We all need an Old Fashioned.
Abe Villarreal writes about life and culture in America. He can be reached at email@example.com.